Chunking: Work on a Project

Chomp! You take a bite of something and yikes its so big you are having trouble chewing it. That is what happens when you start working on a project. There are lots of ways to deal with a project, but why not do it in such a way that your brain will gobble it up like candy.  First a little bit of anatomy. The pre-frontal cortex, that part that makes up your brain behind your forehead, is a very powerful part of your brain. One of it’s duties is to organize things, another is motivation and innovation. Now at first glance, it may not seem apparent but these two things are inextricably intertwined. Read on and you will see how.

Back to the project you just took on.  Looking at the entire project, as a whole, can be quite daunting and can lead to procrastination. It’s like walking into a candy store. You have some money in your pocket but there are so much candy to choose from. You could end up walking out of the store without a single purchase. From your perspective, you could plunk that project on your calendar or to do list. You would probably end up slowly inching it forward in your day-timer and re-adding it to your list each day.

There is a psychology of feelings that steps in at this time. The task, stated as a “Project”, can feel overwhelming. Day after day of moving it forward is demoralizing. Guilt, stress and anxiety builds as the task slides forward through the pages of your agenda. How motivating is that? See the connection?

Organized = Motivated

Now when you go into that candy store and purchase a variety of candy, do you then pop the whole wad into your mouth? I, personally, would want to savor each piece individually, relishing the tastes and textures in my mouth. A project is like that. A project is a whole bag of candy. And make no mistake, candy for the mind, it is! You’ve got an entire bag of goodies that would light up your brain with the thoughts, challenges and problems you will solve. Sound motivating? You bet it is!

Take that bag of candy, called “the Project”. You know all the pieces in there. You know which ones you want to eat first. You are smart enough to know all these components. When you do this, the process is called chunking. Your brain prefers to have individual pieces of candy. Your pre-frontal cortex steps up to the counter and strongly desires to have you break down and prioritize what you have in your bag. As silly as it may seem going to the candy store with a list is just what the brain ordered.  And of course that list starts with your most favorite choice.

Now it might not be your most favorite thing to do. Your favorite choice can and is certainly the most important. This list is not just a random writing of what you want but it is also in order of priority.

How does your mind feel when you’ve broken down the project and prioritized the tasks? Well it rewards you with motivation. The simple choice of breaking down a Project into chunks and putting them in order of priority makes your mind sing.

You might have a couple of issues pop up after doing this so here are some suggestions that I use and often offer to my clients.

  1. If you find your day-timer or To-Do list isn’t helpful there are a lot of tools out there to help. I have a list of applications and paper and pencil tools that I recommend to clients. Sometimes a framework is useful. There is an added bonus to using a tool for organizing. There is something psychologically pleasing and rewarding about physically crossing things off a list. How could you refuse another opportunity to motivate yourself.
  2. Sometimes a client will talk about continually moving a chunk of the project forward. I tend to ask this question: How many steps are involved in this task? If you find you are adding more than two things to get this task done it probably needs to be broken down more. If not you run the risk of losing motivation to complete the task.
  3. Sometimes the pre-frontal cortex can be a fickle thing. Even though you know the steps to get something done and you’ve made your list of goodies ….the door to the candy store is locked. This is a message from your brain that you need the following: decide what tools and resources you need to move forward on the task and/or you might be having trouble deciding how to start. Both of these are great coach-able moments. And I can help with that.
  4. Personally, my pre-frontal cortex is a very willful child.  Despite my good intentions I can sometimes get hijacked once I step through the doors of the store. I open the door and a lot of times my store will have more things in there than just candy. Distractions! I use a simple tool to get me back on track. Its called utilizing my Golden Moment of Choice. To see more of how that works check out this article by Stephanie West-Allen.

What sorts of tools do you use to break down, organize and proceed on a project?
What are some of your stopping places?
What sorts of things motivate you to move forward?

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