Stop Procrastinating and Tackle the Project: Chunking Down and the Sexy Sticky
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
Ahhh, procrastination. The thief of time, momentum, and internal peace. It’s no new phenomenon. Some scholars maintain that the etymology of the word Procrastinate dates all the way back to the mid-1500s. Well before the advent of television, Internet, and smart phones. That’s right, somewhere back in time, our ancestors were occasionally complacent with their To Do lists. Time and time again, history teaches us the pitfalls – the frustration inducing side effects of putting things off for another day. So, knowing what we know, why do we continue to procrastinate the big stuff?
To put it simply, there is so much barking for our attention, we don’t often know where to begin. So, we choose not to begin at all. But what if I told you there’s a better option? That you already have the tools you need to tackle big projects? Want proof? First, let’s start with why we procrastinate.
Why We Delay
We’ve all been there. Feeling so overwhelmed by a task or a project that we ignore it until it becomes a trigger for stress, a little voice at the end of the day whispering, “you can’t relax yet.” Maybe the task is complex. Maybe there are parts that you’d rather walk barefoot through a field of thumb tacks (or Legos- if you have small kids, you know this is absolute torture) than take on. Or maybe you’ve just procrastinated so long, what once was a grain of sand is now the size of an elephant?
You remember the old adage of how to eat an elephant? Say it with me: One bite at a time. But how many of us have actually sat down in front of said elephant and thought about eating the whole thing? Or worse, how many of us believe we need to dive in energetically at the beginning, hunker down through middle, and somehow exhaustedly find yourself at the finish?
My friends, there is a better way. Let’s talk about it.
How to Tackle Big Projects: The 4 Basic Parts of the Framework
1- Chunk Down
Don’t think of a task or project as linear. It’s not linear. At least, it doesn’t have to be. An elephant does not need to be eaten from trunk to tail. Chunk it down to manageable pieces and don’t think about starting at the beginning. Instead start where you can get a quick win to build momentum.
2- Sticky Note-It
Put each chunk of the elephant on a separate sticky note. Cover your wall, your bathroom mirror, your desk at the office – it doesn’t matter where you stick ‘em, you just need to see it. Now I hear the naysayers out there—“Haven’t we moved on from stickies? Don’t we have apps and software so that we don’t need stickies anymore?” I hear that. I too use PM tools like Asana, Clickups, and all the bells and whistles in the marketplace. And yet… when there is a project that’s been procrastinated on, personal or professional—a digital reminder just won’t do.
3- Start with the Sexy Sticky
The Sexy Sticky is nuanced, so let me give you an example.
Laura, someone I’ve worked closely with, needed to write a business plan for her marketing company. She had been putting it off for years. Not weeks, not months… years. Profound procrastination. Yet many of us have done similar. Why? She didn’t know at first what was at the root of her procrastination.
She said she was busy- she was.
She said she was overwhelmed- she was.
She said she was didn’t know how to do it- this was only partly true.
Once we got curious about why she had never begun it- the answer emerged.
It was because she didn’t want to write the introduction. It wasn’t “sexy.”
This project that she very much needed to get done was the thing holding her back – from funding, strategic planning, and leveling up her business. All because she didn’t want to start with the introduction. Writing the business plan had felt like this big old elephant she had been staring at, and she thought she had to start at the beginning and eat the whole thing trunk to tail.
So, what did we do? We employed the game changing power of the sticky note.
The average business plan is made up of roughly seven parts (hint- this isn’t just business plans, almost any project or goal can be broken down similarly). I had her begin by writing each of the parts on individual notes and put them up, directly in front of her, on her office wall. From that moment on it was no longer a 10,000-pound project. It was a project with seven manageable parts written on stickies.
I know what you’re thinking. It isn’t rocket science by any stretch, but it is wildly effective, and you’d be surprised how many people are quick to dismiss it – often at their own peril.
Do you have an elephant, a 10,000-pound project that is weighing on you? I bet you do.
What is the sexy sticky? Alright, let’s get into the next step – the sexy sticky. What is a sexy sticky, you ask? Easy. It’s the one that is the most appealing. The one firmly in your wheelhouse. The low hanging fruit you can quickly bang out.
Sometimes formidable problems (i.e. not wanting to write an introduction/executive summary) call for straightforward solutions (starting with the sexiest sticky first and skipping the boring/overwhelming/unknown part).
Laura loved marketing. She lived it. She breathed it. It was, and still is, her business. Therefore, of the seven business plan parts, I challenged the standard practice of prioritizing task number one and ending with number seven. Instead, I had her begin with her third sticky note – marketing – the part she was excited about. I knew that if she made progress on that third sticky, then she would have the momentum to keep moving forward with the others. This is how we leverage her psychology, and it works.
Here is the key concept – the pro tip– ANY goal that you set can be achieved through project management. But alas, we are human, and humans tend to complicate stuff. We internalize it and assign it all this emotion. We inadvertently blend our personal stories into our general processes. But if we were to set all that aside, it all boils down to project management. And this doesn’t only work with business plans, work certifications, educational targets, etc. – this simple methodology could be used across a spectrum of objectives, business or otherwise.
I recently had a client who runs his own law practice say, “It sounded too simple because it was sticky notes. I have paid programs, software, and this worked better!” Folks, don’t let the simplicity fool you. Sticky notes work. And up front all it will cost you is a few minutes of your dedicated attention, and an investment of maybe $3 or $4 at your local office supply store.
4- Cross Off, But Keep Up
Last, but not least, as you complete one of your sticky note tasks, do not rush to remove the sticky from your sight. Instead, take out a big ol’ red or black marker and strike a thick line right through that note. This is called leveraging the perceived gain in your achievement. Instead of focusing on how far you have to go, you appreciate just how far you’ve come.
When you are tackling a project, especially one you have been procrastinating on, follow these 4 simple steps:
1- Chunk Down
2- Sticky Note-It
3- Start with the Sexy Sticky
4- Cross Off, But Keep
Now this article is only focused on overcoming procrastination on a project, but there are lots of tips and tools we give in PivotMe Academy on managing your time and focus during the execution of the stickies. Alas that will need to wait for another day.
Let’s be honest, our brains don’t naturally want to help us succeed in every endeavor. The brain’s primary function is to protect and maintain comfort – two crucial biological necessities that can work against high performance. So, what do we do when our biology is actively at odds with our ambition? We stop allowing the grain of sand to turn into an elephant. We create a framework of manageable tasks that minimize the overwhelm and maximize output.
You don’t necessarily need fancy tech, costly software, new apps, or extra time on a therapist’s couch to get big projects done – you can use the tools you already possess.
Stop letting procrastination steal your time, your momentum, and your internal peace. Grab your sticky notes, and let’s get to work!
Interested in learning more about crushing procrastination and getting more done in less time? Would you like to connect with April LIVE? We are hosting a live virtual event, check it out at https://go.pivot-me.com/virtualevent
This article first appeared on April McKeegan-Garcia LinkedIn page.