After moving into my house, there were a lot of boxes to unpack. The sheer number of boxes — not to mention the quantity of stuff inside the boxes — was daunting. Day after day, I'd resolve to unpack the boxes. And day after day, I'd sort of wander around amidst the stacks, kind of moving things around, kind of putting things away, but mostly feeling stuck, perplexed and overwhelmed.
Needless to say, I did not make much unpacking progress.
Finally, I called my mom and asked her for help. (Fortunately, she obliged — and even insisted she was happy to help.) With her assistance, boxes got unpacked surprisingly quickly. So for a few weeks, Mom would pick a day or two and come over for a few hours in the evening to help me. And I made tremendous progress, without feeling overwhelmed, perplexed or stuck.
As always, Mom had a few tricks up her sleeve that turned a Big, Overwhelming Project into Can-Do-Able Steps & Momentum. Here are six of those tricks.
1. Get started. Where you start is less important than actually getting started.
Standing amidst the piles of boxes, I felt like every single one needed my attention all at once. I couldn't figure out where to begin. I spent a lot of time considering all of my options and weighing out which one would be the best starting point, rather than just simply starting.
Mom briefly considered the options, and then would decisively point to a box and say, “Let's unpack that one.” So we did. Then she'd point at another box and say, “Let's do that one next,” and we did. Having someone there to help me actually start doing, rather than losing time in endless mental pirouettes around the options, meant that I spent time actually unpacking rather than thinking about unpacking. Big difference in the outcome!
2. Set manageable blocks of focused work time.
When Mom came over, I knew we had about two to three hours to work together. So we'd chat a bit about what room to focus on that day, then we'd work for a couple of hours, and then she'd head home and I'd head to my computer to continue my biz work.
Keeping the work time focused but brief ensured that I got a lot done, but I didn't burn out by doing too much and I didn't give myself so much time that I lost momentum or got un-focused.
3. Acknowledge what you accomplish.
One of the last things Mom would do before leaving would be to stand with me at the doorway to whichever room we'd been working on and point out the areas where we made progress. Plus, she always kept a running tally of how many boxes we'd unpacked that day, and she'd tell me at the end.
Her reminder to acknowledge what I'd done helped keep me motivated and helped prevent me from thinking only of the work that was left to be done (which could have sent me straight back into overwhelm & tanked my momentum). Acknowledgment is important, and it's a step we often forget to build in to our processes.
4. Set specific, can-do-able steps & build in gentle accountability.
Before Mom would leave, she'd usually suggest some additional action for me to take before she came back next time. She might suggest that I dust off the bookshelves so that the next time she came over, we could work on unpacking books. Or she'd suggest that I work on unpacking the one last box of DVDs we didn't get to and have that finished up before next time.
Setting specific, small steps helped keep my momentum going, helped me get more accomplished, and made it that much easier to jump back into the project the next time around. Knowing that she'd be coming back over in a few days and would be expecting those “next steps” to be done built in some accountability so I didn't perpetually let myself off the hook. Not that I ever do that. Ahem.
5. Add some fun to the project.
There were a lot of laughs shared through the course of our unpacking hours. We burned scented candles we liked. We usually had my iPod on, playing a mix of tunes we both enjoyed. Dad made homemade sugar corn a few times, as a post-unpacking-session treat for us.
Unpacking boxes isn't something either of us particularly love doing, but adding a few elements of fun to the mix made it tolerable — and at times, even truly enjoyable.
6. Don't put yourself in solitary confinement.
I do most of my work by myself, both biz work and personal/house work. But when it comes to Big, Overwhelming, Stuck-Inducing Projects, flying solo is usually counterproductive. It helps to have someone else there holding the space with me, working alongside me, offering up support or new perspectives or just a reminder to acknowledge what went well.
There you have it: six tricks for doing those projects that seem too big or overwhelming. What are your tricks for getting through the stuck-inducing, perplexing or overwhelming projects?
Image Credit: Skrewtape | CC License
P.S. Taxes got you feeling stuck or overwhelmed?
If preparing your taxes (or dealing with getting the “stuff” gathered up to take to your tax preparer) feels like dealing with towering stacks of moving boxes, Inspired Tax Relief can help. My Mom won't actually be one of your guides in that course (that would be Jen Hofmann and me), but we do use a lot of the same kind of magic ‘n mojo to help you get your taxes done as Mom used to help me get my unpacking done! Click here to learn more — registration closes this Friday, the 11th!
Thanks for the credit on the six steps, although I believe most of the credit comes right back at you. It is many of your own techniques that I put into action. You just don’t recognize them as yours when coming from me! I will take credit for creatively disguising them, though. And yes I had a blast most of those sessions.
Ha–well, further example that we all teach what we most need, I suppose! Sometimes, no matter how good you are at what you do for others, it’s just not possible to turn the mojo on for yourself. And in those times, numerous that they are, I sure am glad to have you in my corner helping me out.
Thanks, Mums. 🙂
Your Mom is a smart cookie! No wonder she nurtured a Can-Do-Ologist!
My Mom is a godsend for things like that too. When I had my kids, she came over for a week, and just got stuff done.
Long live Moms!
She is indeed a smart cookie! I recall Grandma doing the same for her too–being there to help out with kids. Or moving. Or holiday baking. Or… just because. 🙂
Having Moms with can-do-ology in their blood is absolutely a godsend. You are spot on about that! #Grateful
One of my tricks is calling on *you*.
Great list. That focused blocks of time thing is so important. I think that’s why some folks like to use a Pomodoro timer, or thrive on a deadline. Deadlines are so good for me to just. get. it. done.
I have a bag of tricks… and now I’m IN a bag of tricks! I love it! I’m glad I can help. 🙂
I’ve never used the exact Pomodoro technique, but I have used setting blocks of time to help myself focus. Setting boundaries around my time is huuuuugely effective for me. If I give myself amorphous blobs of time, I always wind up filling them up feeling busy and getting nothing done. If I put boundaries around the time, suddenly I’m all focused and effective. Time boundaries = magic!
This post made me warm and happy to the tips of my toes. I love the picture of you guys working together, plugging along and getting it done. I’ve got piles to sort out after swapping some rooms in our apartment (err…8 months ago, I think), and these 6 may be just the ticket to finally (tho gradually) getting it done. Thanks so much 🙂
Gradual is a perfect way to go about it. There’s really no point in hurrying it to “done,” only to find out that half of the stuff you put away is in a place that doesn’t feel right, makes it less usable, throws off how you use your space, etc. That only leads to more shuffling! I’m all in favor of a gradual process that gets you to a space that works for you… rather than a space that’s “done,” but totally doesn’t work for you at all.
Here’s to gradual getting-it-done-ness! 🙂
Outstanding post that takes elements of what we all know, combined with aspects we all overlook from time to time, and puts them into a format that is motivating, inspiring, warm, and super effective. LOVE this post. It’s now in my Outlook calendar as a recurring reminder to re-visit and re-read regularly. :o)
Thank you so much, Jess! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and that it’s useful to you. Neat idea, too, to put certain posts in your calendar for future re-reading reminders. I keep things stored in my Google Bookmarks for later re-reading, but I like the idea of putting calendar reminders in place, especially for the ones that really light my inspiration or motivation fires!
Thanks for the realistic steps. Everything else I’ve read assumed that all the boxes and items were neatly organized from the start. Yours has truly helped.