Insurmountable Tasks

The primary skill required for dealing with any situation that seems insurmountable is patience. Most people find patience hard so we can all forgive ourselves this foible. The main thing to remember is that the patience required is not just with the task itself but also having patience with yourself. The stress of complex tasks can create anxiety, anger, and an entire range of uncomfortable emotion particularly if it is something we are not entirely keen to be doing. So we cannot push ourselves too hard – a moment for self-care, reflection, or time out can make a big difference. It is also important to remember that large or complex tasks cannot be resolved immediately. We have to take one step or one chunk at a time and work through it – slow but steady progress is better than no progress at all. Perseverance is always the key to success – you will not finish if you stop or give up. It is also important not to swing too far the other way into procrastination – set reasonable goals and work methodically until the task is complete.

When we come up against a big problem or task, the first question we have to ask ourselves is whether the goal in mind is something that is worth the effort we are going to invest to achieve it. Sometimes this is obvious but there are some situations where this might be less clear. It is worth taking the time to find clarity on this point before investing your time or money in trying to achieve this goal. In some cases, when reviewing whether something is definitely wanted or needed, new ideas or options come to the fore as we gain more information about how we will approach the situation or problem. Is this definitely what we want to do? We have a tendency to attack problems using methods that we know and have used before but sometimes different ways of achieving something can save time or money. This can apply not just at the micro level of the detailed steps required to achieve something but also at the macro level of understanding whether this is the right path for our lives. If we are going to invest a lot of our time and energy into something, we want to be sure that what we end up with at the end will be worth the effort to the quality of our lives overall. A regular review of effort versus reward is definitely a good idea for any large project or task.

For something that is difficult or long running, it is also definitely worthwhile making some notes about what you are doing even if this is just a skeleton list of tasks with some dates beside them. For small projects, it is very easy to hold things in your head and make sure you get them all done. But for very large or complicated things, invest in a notebook or open a file on your computer and start making a list. If things start to go wrong and you get stressed, you will not be able to recall things as accurately or easily. This does not have to be fancy but it’s good to do a “brain dump” and use your notes to help you organise things. Reorder the tasks, make notes in the margins, and keep track of your progress. Carry this notebook with you and write things down as they occur to you or have a means of capturing anything that occurs to you when you are out and about. Mobile phones provide an array of options like voice memos or note taking apps. You can add it back to your main notebook when you get home. This record also allows you to see the progress you have made when you are short on motivation or inspiration. Being able to see how far you’ve come will help you to keep going.

Managing your time and energy is a very important part of finding success with big and complex goals. Understanding that your time and energy is a resource and that it can be depleted will help you in the longer term. If you are too tired and don’t protect your health and well-being, you will eventually fall ill or worse. You have to set a realistic time scale to complete tasks and where possible to be quite conservative in any promises about when something will be completed. The accuracy of any estimates will depend on how experienced you are with what you are doing and how well you understand the task in hand – particularly any potential issues. If you have never done it before or you are learning as you go, you will need to give yourself lots of time to achieve your aim. Those with lots of experience and lots of resources can get going faster. As you progress, you will gain knowledge and understanding through your time investment. With more experience, you will also gain speed but when you are starting there is no other option but hard work and patience.

A final note of warning is to be careful when you are feeling desperate or excessive urgency to achieve something. This is not always a problem but some of us suffer from an obsessive-like nature that wants to get to an end point or resolution as quickly as possible. If you are feeling this way, take a step back and review what you are doing and why. Be very clear and honest with yourself about the reasons for this urgency. Many a bad course or decision was taken in haste. If you are feeling pressured in your choice, this may be a bad sign. Some opportunities really are too good to be true and usually there is a slower route to the same destination that does not involve so much pressure or risk.

I have tried to keep this very generic so that it might apply to a number of situations. Please feel free to email me if you want to ask a question about anything I’ve said. I would also recommend the following book to help work through some of the issues around prioritising our tasks and making best use of our time: Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork Start the Work That Matters.

And as always, take time to choose silence and take care of yourself. You are the only resource you have and you, your health, and your well-being are valuable. Take care.

When not to choose silence