How to 'Slice the Elephant'

This post is based on a simple idea: If you have a lot on your plate or a big project coming up – slice the elephant. That means break down that ‘super huge and overwhelming thing’ into pieces. And then make a plan for handling these pieces.

But as simple as this idea is, the hardest part is often to get that this is what you need to do, especially when you are stressed. And it is totally normal to be stressed and overwhelmed once in a while.

I get stressed out, just like everyone else, if there is too much, that is put on my plate in one go. Especially if that includes things I haven’t done before or that make me feel insecure for some reason. For example if there is too much change all at ones, so I do not really have enough orientation within the different life areas. But once I actually see that it is manegable what I have to do, I feel way better about it. Confident, that I can do it.

So: At the end of last year there was a strategic change at work, which put me in the place to manage 7 different projects, out of which one is really big, five are about medium and two are “just” concepts. So I felt totally overwhelmed and like I did not even know where to start.

So what I did is

  1. I wrote down all the projects and what I have to do in each of them.
  2. I also created an overview of my every day & weekly tasks.
  3. Then I wrote down the deadlines for each of those projects and the critical steps within the project.
  4. In the end I took out a piece of paper, wrote down the weeks of Q1, planned in the hard deadlines first and then planned in the other pieces of the different projects, so I felt like I would be able to manage the amount of work within that week.

That means: There is still a buffer within each week for spontaneous work, that coming up. And I made sure I would have enough time to certainly finish everything for the hard deadlines.

So: I sliced the elephant. I broke the big thing down. Simple enough.

But as simple as it sounds, it has some profound advantages:

  1. You bring, what you have in your head, out of your head. So the work you have to do does not feel like that overwhelmingly big thing anymore. I feels manegable.
  2. Every time, you start to feel overwhelmed again: you can tell yourself you sliced the elephant. You have planned everything in and you have an exact idea about what it is exactly, that you need to do.
  3. Once you have a plan like that, you can put it into a project planning software (like Trello, Asana, Jira), which will make it even easier for you.
  • You can share your board with other people and also give tasks to them, if possible. Also if you are coworking with other people, they will know what is on your plate currently.
  • You can share the information within the tickets easily.
  • You get a roadmap with all the important deadlines.
  • And you can blend out the tickets, that will only be important in the future, so you are not hit with tasks that might only be done in five month to come.
  • You have a single point of truth on where to find the work you did already.

Side note: Before you actually try ‘Slicing the elephant’, definitely ask yourself, if you have to do everything. Prioritization is there for a reason and saying no is an important skill 😉

Hope it helps.

If you have any additions and or questions, let me know.

All the best