Do you feel overwhelmed when faced with a challenging task? Be it a writing project, home improvement, doing your taxes, or even cleaning your house, not knowing where to start can leave you feeling paralyzed. Often, even after starting, you might abandon the task instead of completing it.
In her book “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” Anne Lamott shares valuable insights and practical tips to help you tackle overwhelming tasks. Here are some lessons from her book that can help you get started and stay on track.
🐦 Bird by Bird: A Lesson in Breaking Down Tasks
When Lamott’s brother was 10 years old, he had a writing assignment about birds. Despite having three months to complete it, he procrastinated until the day before the deadline, feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
Upon seeing his distraught son, his father, who was also a writer, gave him this advice: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” This simple yet powerful reminder teaches us that every big project is made up of many small pieces. To make progress, focus on completing one small piece at a time, and over time, the contours of your project will take shape.
🔇 Silencing Negative Voices with a Mason Jar Ritual
When faced with a daunting task, you might hear negative voices, both from others and yourself, saying things like “You aren’t up for the task” or “You can never do that.” To silence these unhelpful voices, Lamott suggests a simple ritual:
Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute until the chatter starts up. Isolate one of the voices, imagine the person speaking is a mouse, pick it up by the tail, and drop it into a mason jar. Do this for each voice. Then close the lid and imagine the jar has a volume control. Turn it up to listen to the voices for a moment, then turn it down all the way and get to work.
🔫 Stay Focused with an Imaginary Gun and Pomodoro Technique
It’s not uncommon for your brain to resist thinking, as it consumes energy. To conserve energy, your brain often distracts you with other tasks when you try to focus on a challenging project.
The Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in 25-minute intervals, can help you overcome this problem. In combination with this technique, Lamott suggests holding an imaginary gun to your head to force yourself to stay focused. Whenever you feel the urge to do something else, remember the imaginary gun and continue working.
🚗 Trust the Process: A Lesson from E.L. Doctorow
Lamott shares a quote by E.L. Doctorow that beautifully illustrates the importance of focusing on the process rather than the end product:
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Instead of fixating on the final result, concentrate on what you can see and do in the present moment.
🖼️ The One-Inch Picture Frame: A Reminder of Small Steps
To remind yourself of the importance of taking small, consistent steps, consider keeping a visual aid nearby. For Lamott, a one-inch picture frame serves this purpose. When feeling overwhelmed, she looks at the frame, reminding herself that she only needs to write as much as she can see through that small window.
Think of something that can serve a similar purpose for you, reminding you to focus on the small steps that make up your journey.
📆 Daily Progress: The Key to Overcoming Overwhelm
Lamott emphasizes the importance of wearing down the feelings of dread and low self-esteem by making progress every day. Establish a habit of working on your task daily, even if it’s just a small amount.
Decide what you want to accomplish, such as writing 500 words a day, and use a 30-day challenge sheet to track your progress. For example, you can create a template resembling a necklace with 30 beads. Each day you complete your set task, color in one bead. The goal is to form a complete necklace by the end of the month.
📣 Take Action Now!
To tackle overwhelming tasks, remember the mantra “bird by bird” and apply the lessons from Anne Lamott’s book:
1️⃣ Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable pieces.
2️⃣ Silence negative voices with the mason jar ritual.
3️⃣ Use an imaginary gun and the Pomodoro Technique to maintain focus.
4️⃣ Concentrate on the process, not the end product.
5️⃣ Keep a visual reminder of the small steps you need to take.
6️⃣ Make daily progress to overcome feelings of overwhelm.
By incorporating these strategies, you’ll be better equipped to face your challenges and see your projects through to completion.