I know that we’re all familiar with the horrible feeling of looking at something and saying, “It’s too much” or “I don’t even know where to start”. Whether it’s an assignment at work (welcome to my world), a household task (personally, I love to cook but always feel deflated when it’s time to clean up the kitchen), or a personal project (today I struggled to start writing this post), we often have a strong aversion to starting, and continuing, something that we know is going to take a lot of time and energy. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the big list that all I want to do is put it away and watch Netflix for five hours.
Conventional wisdom says that you can’t get too focused on the details that you miss the whole, but sometimes it’s actually good to ignore the forest and focus on the trees. Simply shifting focus from the big task to the small task and thinking, “Yes, this is manageable. I can do this” is often enough to get us going. Here are a few reasons it’s sometimes good to forget about the forest for a while:
It keeps you moving forward
I can’t emphasize enough how much looking at the whole sometimes causes us to sabotage ourselves. It’s so easy, in the middle of a huge task, to find reasons to quit, take excessive breaks, or just sit there thinking about how hard it is. A tree by tree focus makes you more likely to start (and finish) something, because it seems much easier, and each tree is a step in the right direction. Each tree we tackle makes the next one seem more manageable, and reinforces the idea that we can do that because, after all, we just did this.
It allows for choice
Sometimes you have to do things in a linear fashion, but other times you’re able to pick and choose. Focusing on smaller tasks lets you ration your energy and decide what you feel capable of tackling right now. Do you need to take care of some of the simpler things to help you get into the groove? Should you do something difficult to get it out of the way and feel better about the whole process? If there’s something you’re particularly dreading, can you afford to wait on it so it isn’t crushing your overall motivation?
A lot of times getting started can be the hardest part, so accomplishing something, even something small and simple, can break the mental deadlock.
It provides feelings of accomplishment
I’ve written before about how small victories have a huge impact on our attitude and ability to keep going. With a focus on the trees, you dramatically increase your opportunities to feel accomplishment, which helps you feel better about the situation and increases your motivation.
Do you find yourself focusing more on the forest or the trees? How do you keep yourself moving forward?