Getting started, one bite at a time

US Army General Creighton Abrams once said, “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time." Good advice on most matters. I’ve been away from my work for most of the last month, obviously there is a lot of work to attend to as I return to the office. I know people who get paralyzed by the prospect of tackling a backload of work, tasks, commitments, planning, etc.. I certainly understand. As I was taking the bus to work this morning I was wondering what I would do first, how I would get it all done, worried I might leave something out.

Then I remember the quote and realized that while I would not get it all done today I would leave the office tonight feeling deflated and defeated if I did not make some headway. So I came with a list in my pocket. I had also left a list of things I knew I would need to address on my last day here in June. Combined these lists would help me get a start, even if I did not get them all accomplished today I would leave at 9 pm tonight feeling I was back in the saddle, things were looking manageable, there was light at the end of tunnel. And most importantly having now turned the corner on the backlog I can have some fun along the way.

People who have seen me work assume I am all work, no play. What they do not know is that I can be, I am, a very silly person. But I know that if I am going to have the space to have this fun I need to first get all the “must-dos” accomplished so there is no nagging sense I am leaving work behind. I am fortunate to have work I love, to work with people I like, to know that the work I do, connecting to people, is work I am eager to accomplish. So in addition to the ten things I planned to do when I left the office on June 30 and the ten things I listed last night I will also be going through the Church household list, alphabetically, to think about how each person is doing and call them if I feel there was a loose end I left unclarified when I went on vacation.

This morning I got into the office an hour early, before anyone else could drop in to ask about my vacation. All of the non-relational things on my two lists were done by 9 am. Whew! When people came into the office I was able to give them all the time, no looking at clocks or worrying about what I had not yet accomplished.

I feel when it comes to stress in the workplace we underestimate the value of planning ahead. Being spontaneous is important, but it helps to know that you’ve done all that you can up to that moment so that when the other comes across your radar you have no thought other than what the person in front of you is saying. While this ambitious agenda may sound unsustainable I can assure you that taking a short time each day to make these lists, and then to focus on the lists like a laser beam at the beginning of each day, releases me from untold worry and stress.

The bite of the elephant has been small today. It was rather tasteless. But my worries are less, my stress is less and the spontaneous moments were many.