How to Eat an Elephant in 10 Minutes

Do you have an elephant?

You know, that big task that you have not gotten around to?

The one that you are dreading…

The one that has been hanging around….

The one that is too obvious…

It’s in the middle of the room and no one wants to talk about it.

What is your elephant?

And how are you going to deal with it?

Just A Little Bite

I had an elephant recently.

It was to clean up the garage. (Sound familiar?)

It had become piled up with “stuff” after the holidays.  From boxes to recyclables to just… well, stuff!

I was not looking forward to cleaning it up.  I kept telling myself that I would get to it.  That I would spend an entire Saturday and do it all at once.

Well, several weekends came and went.  It got put off each time.  After all, taking a whole day out of your weekend is difficult.

So, one morning when I was up early, I decided I was going to eat the elephant.

But, just one bite.

I went out in the garage and cleaned for 10 minutes. I threw some things out. I re-shelved a few other things.

And then I stopped.

Then the next day, I did it again… for 10 more minutes.

By the third day, I was setting a timer. (Really!) And for exactly 10 minutes, I cleaned again.

I was eating this elephant 10 minutes at a time!

By the end of the week, 80% of my elephant was gone!  All with only a few minutes of effort a day!

Taking care of the rest was going to be a cinch.  And I had momentum on my side.

Eat Your Elephant

What is your elephant?  What big project have you been avoiding?

You know you need to do it.  But, it seems too big to start.

It could be a creative project. It could be a report. It could be a book. A skill you need to learn. Or it could even be routine stuff like cleaning the car or house.

All of these are good projects for 10 minute attacks.

Start by breaking it down.  Take just a small bite.

Here are some tips to help you….

  • Just a Few Minutes – Go into the task with the expectation that you will stop after 10 minutes.  Several hours of work can seem overwhelming, but only 10 minutes is much more doable.
  • Set a Timer – The timer can be both a boundary and a motivator.  You may find that you increase your productivity while racing the clock. You will find some days you spend more than 10 minutes.  That is OK!
  • Stop in the Middle – The goal here is little bites. Do not hesitate to stop in the middle of something when the time is up. You can come back to it next time.
  • Break Off a Piece – For really large projects, it can help to attack a smaller subset of the work.  For example, for a report, maybe just gather the necessary research materials. The next time you return, it will not seem as daunting to start.
  • Laser Focus – It is easy to focus for 10 minutes.  In short bursts, your productivity can be extremely high. For long tasks you will find yourself getting distracted by other things. Like when you are writing that document and suddenly find yourself surfing Wikipedia. Stay dedicated to your elephant for the full 10 minutes.

Not So Big After All

When faced with a large task that seems overwhelming, sometimes it is best to start small.

Don’t think you have to do it all in one sitting. Take a big task and attack it for 10 minutes a day.

You may think that 10 minutes is not enough time to “get in the zone” for large endeavors. However, you will be amazed how much you can actually get done in that short timeframe.

After all, doing something for 4 hours is not fun, but 10 minutes is not so bad.

Take smaller pieces… bit by bit… bite by bite.

Soon, your elephant won’t seem so big after all.

What is your elephant? How do you deal with it?

22 thoughts on “How to Eat an Elephant in 10 Minutes

  1. Great suggestions, I think that most people get overwhelmed by the size of a project and are unable to see how to tackle it because of its size. By breaking it down the single next action becomes very clear and once it is done it an create momentum to keep coming back to it! Thanks for the post.

    1. @KerryBrown Thanks, Kerry!

      I like your point. I see this often in corporate environments. Projects are often too big… both in scope and timeframe. Often, they need to be broken down into shorter, more achievable projects.

  2. You know, I’m fortunate to say I don’t have any really consistent/persistent elephants to mention. But occasionally I bite off more than I can chew and THAT’S when learning to break things down because more and more obvious as an essential skill to have when working. Once I bite that huge piece off, I then have to reassess how I’m going to finish that meal and it’s often times done by doing exactly as you described: “Take smaller pieces… bit by bit… bite by bite.” Even when you feel you’re “almost full” or hit a wall, you just push through and finish that elephant once and for all!

    1. @JMattHicks No elephants? 🙂 Guess that is a good thing.

      Thanks for your continued support. Really appreciate it!

  3. Love, love, love this. There are so many tasks that can be handled this way. Homeschoolinng often means that I only have 10 minutes. That’s long enough to tackle a drawer, dust a shelf, or fill a grocery bag for goodwill.

    My next elephant will be my laundry area and the adjacent shelves. I’d like to enjoy doing laundry again.

  4. How do you eat an elephant? PART BY PART…Good suggestion…I think many people should know this…

  5. Funny and practical way to handle this self management topic. Enjoyed your tips and feel more motivated now. Thank you

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