The Power of Chunking: 5 Steps That Radically Reduce Burnout

Use this strategy to be productive without overwhelming yourself

(Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock)

Busy executives can always find ways to become … well, busier. This often means that burnout is literally just around the corner. When you’ve got a lot on your plate, you need to prioritize what’s important and trade in your “to do list” for a system that works. Chunking—which is essentially reducing a goal into its smallest components—is an effective way to identify what’s important and avoid becoming overwhelmed, while making meaningful progress toward your goals. And, whether you’re focused on one goal or 10, this system works to streamline the pathway to results, which is exactly the point.

Once you’ve learned to effectively “chunk,” you’ll hardly miss juggling the ever elusive to-do list— I promise.

Here are five critical steps to chunking:

Define the goal. The most important place to begin chunking is to define your goal. Not clear about what you want to accomplish? Stop. You’re not ready to move forward. So, get clear—crystal clear. Clarity is power. Ask yourself exactly what result you want to achieve and be specific. Vague descriptions will only hinder your progress. Think about it. If you told your trainer that you wanted to lose 35 pounds (as opposed to “get in shape”), you would be in a far better position to achieve meaningful results. With a specific and measurable target, you can determine exactly what’s necessary to produce the results you desire.

Deadline it. Every goal requires a deadline, period. A goal without a deadline (also called a “shelf life” or “life cycle”) quickly becomes stale and loses its efficacy. Why? A deadline makes a goal real and fuels your motivation to achieve it. It also enables you to timely and effectively delegate resources. But, be careful. Make sure that you understand what’s required before haphazardly selecting a deadline. Being impulsive can cause you to be premature in your assessment, while being overly cautious can cause you to delay unnecessarily. In any case, remember that goals with deadlines have a greater likelihood of being achieved than those without them.

Identify underlying tasks. How do you get from A to Z? Not in one fell swoop. Successfully accomplishing any goal means that you’ve also completed a series of smaller, related tasks that helped to frame the big picture. What are underlying tasks? They are the individual activities related to a goal’s ultimate achievement—separated into discrete parts—and accomplished independently. The point is to break the behemoth down—all the way down—into bite-size pieces. If you don’t, the goal becomes larger than life and too overwhelming to engage. For example, paying off a major credit card in 6 months involves far more than a series of routine financial transactions.

What else might you need to do to successfully accomplish this? Create a budget, allocate sufficient funds to savings, monitor spending, forgo extracurricular activities, take public transportation, prepare daily lunches (instead of buying them), etc. Make sense? Whatever they are, write them down and become intimately acquainted with them.

Understand how they help you accomplish the big picture. Underlying tasks are the foundation for every goal and understanding their role will help you to develop a powerful strategy for success.

Plug underlying tasks into your schedule. Accomplishing any goal requires momentum. You build it by plugging in those key, underlying tasks where they can be seen and felt —your daily agenda. Have you ever intended to do something important, but ended up forgetting about it because it wasn’t accessible? Wasn’t top of mind? Of course; it’s happened to all of us. But, you can stop “letting” it happen now. Once you have determined which activities are germane, be proactive and begin scheduling them in your Day-Timer, calendar, electronic device—or whatever you use to organize your day. Make it a ritual to review your schedule at regular intervals (both daily and weekly at specific times) so that you can prepare to engage those tasks and move closer to accomplishing the goal. And remember, just like with deadlines, be sensitive to when and how these activities can be best accomplished. Schedule them accordingly.

Assess and acknowledge progress. The journey towards accomplishing any goal requires that you “check in” and see whether the prescription you’ve written is in fact, working. Just because you decide to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right something and therefore, you need to regularly assess the difference between where you are and where you want to be. You may discover that “course correcting” is necessary. You are you own best barometer. But, you’ve got to trust yourself and be honest about what you find. And, don’t be afraid to celebrate the progress you make along the way.

Acknowledging your victories is equally as important as discovering your blind spots, which will help to fuel your momentum and ultimately drive your success.

While learning to effectively “chunk” won’t happen overnight, harnessing its real-world power will take you and your “dreams with deadlines” to brand new heights.

Just try it. You’ll see!

Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her Website, WordSmithRapport.com.

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