The absurdity of overwhelm and why you can't teleport

You can't write 100 articles at once. You can't create the next Instagram at once. In my case yesterday, you can't scan 106 drawings at once.

Almost no significant work has been done in one brilliant stint, yet the brain tells many of us exactly that when we think of work we have to do, eliciting a feeling of overwhelm.

You can't teleport

Understand that work unfolds one task at a time, one tiny step at a time, understand that overwhelm is pointless and absurd.

Think of it like this: a single step in a direction will rarely get you anywhere. It won't get you outside, it won't get you to the fridge, it won't get you to a bus stop. However, take a single step a 1000 times in a determined direction, and you might end up on a different continent (if you're at the airport).

You can't get from A to B via teleport. It doesn't exist. Sometimes you can bike, drive, take a train, or take a plane (= shortcuts, hacks, system exploits), but you can't teleport.

You can't do it all at once (with a few exceptions), you have to go one by one.

Knowing this, the immediate gut reaction to feel overwhelmed, as though you have to move a mountain right this second, is absurd!

Accept that our brain is stupid in this way. Why be upset?

However, you can move a mountain a wheelbarrow or truckload at a time.

Become a step-by-step expert, step by step

Multi-step processes are everywhere and I bet your work also includes a ton of them. A queue of emails, a bunch of support tickets, slides of a presentation, lines of a sketch, lines of code,...

Multi-step processes are a frequent part of complex work.

How to deal with them effectively?

Embrace each step

Each word, each line of code, each scan,... They are the steps along the way. You cannot teleport, you have to go step by step.

Train yourself to associate each small step with pleasure.

If you become familiar with the multi-step pattern, in the minute scale (say by folding a basket full of laundry), then it will also be easier to do big scale things (setting up a new business).

Experience it to see the truth of it (don't just read this):

1) Find the first multi-step process you have to deal with.

2) Find the first step you can take and do it.

3) Repeat at least 5x

Do you see now how tiny steps add up?

Really do this, it will take you some minutes or a few hours, but it can seriously shift your view of work.

Rarely do you jump from 0 to 100 % straight. Rather, it is a process of adding .5 % or even .1 % every day.

Feels slow, but can be more fun. How?

Reward yourself

If you take 5, 10, or 50 steps in one session, take a break. Do something you like or take a bite of your favorite snack.

Since long journeys don't always incorporate strategically interspersed motivating rewards, you should make some up. Big ones and small, symbolic ones.

Dan Ariely said in one interview that people who make progress (in the long-term) have a meaningful short-term goal. A reward in the form of an enjoyable activity like a coffee with a friend or a piece of high quality chocolate can be a solid substitute for a short term goal.

We like being praise and rewarded, so use that to your advantage.

Take the first step today

If you don't take the first step, you have 0 % probability of success.

If you take it, you're off to the races!

Now is always the best and only time we can truly affect our future. If you've been putting off a multi-step process, do it. Step by step.

Coffee fuels my creative life. Buy me one, kind stranger?
All articles