Eating the Elephant – How to Tackle Tasks of Any Size, Simply

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Photo by Harvey Sapir from Pexels

The maxim of eating an elephant is well known. There is only one way to tackle a Herculean task (or perhaps even more disconcertingly because of its size or difficulty that as a result induces procrastination): start!

Regardless of the type of person you are, we all hit a brick wall from time to time.

Getting a task started is easier said than done. Then once underway, tackling it one step at a time (or multiple steps at a time) can be daunting.

Hercules and the Nemean Lion

Hercules (Heracles) is considered the role model of the superheroes we have come to enjoy: flawed, had bad days, made mistakes (some were monumental) but heroic at the same time.

The bottom line: the Greeks told stories about human life as it was, the pathos of life. No excuses. Life’s tough. Yes, Hercules was often miserable because of others. However, he didn’t waste time on blaming those who made his life tough. He got on and did something about it!

You may be familiar with Hercules and his 12 labours. Because of these labours, we always associate Hercules with great strength. The reality is though, the 12 labour’s each represent a key issue in Greek society and reflect how the Greeks saw Hercules at the same time: intelligent, resourceful and committed.

So, how did Hercules eat his elephant? Answer: He prepared a basic plan:

  • He knew he needed to consult relevant stakeholders. In this case the Delphic Oracle (Apollo) regarding the 10 original labours;
  • He also knew he needed to understand who the main protagonist was, or the person he needed to satisfy regarding the 10 initial labours – turns out to be the king (who was his cousin and would go on to assign a further two labours);
  • Further, he also understood he needed to identify who would help him along the way e.g. Apollo, Athena and who would try to stop him e.g. Hera, the king and who might actually be neutral but he could use to an advantage e.g. Atlas.

In a final word, Joshua J Mark in his article “The Life of Hercules in Myth & Legend” points out that Hercules inner strength and ability to endure hardships made him an inspirational figure to the Greek people and a symbol of stability in the midst of chaos, even if it was something he himself had caused in the first place (though not on purpose).

Like all great heroes, Hercules went on to undertake more famous adventures and tragedies before his passing and ascending to the top of Mt Olympus to live with the gods. How cool is that?.

Brainstorming – A Mind Map

In our world today, how do we eat that elephant? How do we tackle those Herculean tasks. One way is through a technique known as brainstorming. It is a simple method to help identify and break down the key steps required to complete a task or project. There are many types of brainstorming, but the one I am going to discuss today is mind mapping.

Making mind mapping work – 6 Key Steps

This technique is simple and can be used on a personal level, individually at work, or on an expansive level across a team, working group, committee, board and so on. I have undertaken small, medium and large (some vast) projects in my time. I have used all types of mechanisms and software. However, one thing I have learnt is to keep it simple and use a very simple approach to flesh out the key components with any group you lead. It seems to stick in everyone’s mind better without getting too stressed about it all.

The brainstorming cycle I use consists of six steps. They are:

Starting at Step 1 work your way around the brainstorming cycle. Each step is set out in the following slides:

Step 1 – Identify The Desired Outcome

What is the outcome you require? Who is your client? Once you understand who your client is and what they are about, then you can formulate the appropriate outcome.

Step 2 – Determine Inputs and Outputs

What is the environment you are working in? What are challenges does this present? mapping will help identify the outputs, the inputs required, the steps to make this happen and feedback (measures if required e.g. metrics, survey)

Step 3 – Plot Out The Steps

Identifying the pieces to the puzzle. Your puzzle may have a handful of pieces or there may be just too many to count. Either way, you need to work out what he pieces are and in what order they are pieced together.
You can use: a sheet of paper, a whiteboard (electronic or otherwise), a tablet or desktop with apps that allow collaboration, video conferencing software that has similar share features and so on. You can even use Power Point or Keynote as I have done here.

Step 4 – Put Each Piece In Order

You can use a simple table, spreadsheet or dedicated project management software or app. The trick is to use whatever saves you the most amount of time. Even if it’s a piece of paper that’s fine. Just make sure it is recorded somewhere.

Step 5 – Fill Out Each Step

Each step once set out can be broken down further into its constituent parts using the same matrix

Step 6 – Produce The Final Cut

If you can, use software that will convert the mind map into a presentation or report. There are some brilliant ones out there and they will save you not just hours, but days!!!

My Herculean Task Last Weekend

Last Saturday, I constructed a cubby house and sand pit for our grandson. It took me six hours to do. It should have taken me less time, but I followed the instructions 🤣 They were not the best instructions in the world, so I had to re do some parts of the project three times. There were over 200 screws alone! Then, when I was finished, I had three pieces of wood left over, which was a concern momentarily, but I then satisfied myself that they were additional to requirements 😊My overall thoughts? It was far more enjoyable than putting a bike together 😂

So, do you have any projects in your near future that require a bite sized approach?

2 Comments on “Eating the Elephant – How to Tackle Tasks of Any Size, Simply”

  1. I’ve heard about mind-mapping a few times, but I haven’t really tried it yet. It was one of the suggested methods of note-taking mentioned in a pre-college course. That particular use didn’t work for me, but I can see how it might fit the task of organizing a goal. Maybe I should give it another try!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I use mind mapping all the time, especially when I want to make sure not to miss anything out when developing a policy, procedure or the key elements of a project goal. That’s interesting re using a mind map to take notes. This approach wouldn’t work for me either. I like to write/type notes down or use a yellow highlighter when digesting copies documents.

      Liked by 1 person

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