“If you have to swallow a bowl of goldfish, swallow the largest one first. Then it gets easier from there” a supervisor told me once. Thankfully, his advice was metaphorical. Unfortunately, it has always seemed to be incorrect for me.
Whether it has been cleaning the house, working on a school project, or learning something new, I have always been served better by starting with the easiest steps, accomplishing them, and moving on. I have conquered more goals this way. Why?
I do my best work by turning small progress into large progress. Take for example how I clean the kitchen. I first start with emptying the sink of dirty dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. Then I move to the smallest countertop. Then I go to the larger countertop. Then I move to the kitchen table. Even if I’m way behind on the dishes (and with my schedule, I usually am), I can feel like I’m making lots of progress by getting a bunch of small tasks done.
My work day usually begins in a similar way. I review my email. Then take care of daily small tasks. I schedule writing time during a 10:15 break. And then try to get a bigger task done by lunch. After lunch, with the exception of some more writing time scheduled during a 3:15 break, I try to accomplish a much larger project. By setting my day up this way, I’m constantly gaining my momentum towards the end of the day.
I picture my productivity like a 18-wheeler gaining speed going down one hill, to help make it up the other.
The good news is I’m not alone in this advice, Dave Ramsey encourages building momentum in finances by paying off the smallest debt first. Michael Hyatt encourages authors of non-fiction books, to start with the table of contents and the easiest chapters first.
I’ve tried using the “go for the big goldfish first” method in my life, and I always get frustrated and derailed. If I started with my largest project first, and if I got it done before lunch, I would come back from break with only 1 win under my belt.
But if I have knocked out 3-4 tasks before lunch, then the day probably has felt good, the work has been enjoyable, and the day doesn’t seem as long.
So, when you can, start small and finish big. You’ll swallow a lot more goldfish that way.