027: Eating the Elephant: Creating Personalized Systems | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
July 18, 2017   |   Episode #:

027: Eating the Elephant: Creating Personalized Systems

In This Episode:

How do you accomplish your big goals and tasks? Start by eating the elephant! Using systems, like this and others will positively affect productivity, relationships and overall goals. In today’s episode, learn exactly what systems are and how to personalize them for you and your environment.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Systems simplify life.

Questions I Answer

  • What kind of systems will make me more productive?
  • What’s the best way to create productivity systems?
  • How can I easily break down big projects to make them easier?

Actions to Take

Key Topics in the Show

  • Discover how to be more proactive instead of reactive with your systems.

  • How to customize your system to work for you and your environment.

  • Why you should Eat the Elephant: take bite-sized steps toward goals.

  • Actionable tactics you can use to break down big tasks, projects and events.

Resources and Links

  • Steps to Creating a Productivity System:
    • Assess: Reflect on your relationship to the elephant. Is it your elephant? Are you setting a goal to make someone else happy? If it’s not YOUR elephant, decide one how much power you want to give it. When you look at your ultimate goal, what is it you want to achieve. Look at where you are in relation to that goal. Next, ask yourself what your obstacle is in getting to that elephant. Look internally and see what is holding you back.
    • Break It Down: Figure out a sub-task of the larger task. Go into it with the expectation of how long you’re going to work – it could be 10 minutes or 40 minutes. You can even put on a podcast or music, depending on the task.
    • Celebrate Your Wins: Reward yourself when you do your work and after your focus time. Commit to stay focused during your set time.
Show Transcript

Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton and this is Episode 27. Today is actually the first episode of Season 3. And this  one promises to be a good one. I am so excited about the episodes I have planned  over the course of the next 13 weeks. Plus, I have a really big announcement that’s  coming out later on this season and there’s a couple of changes in place.  

 One of the changes I wanted to talk to you about right away is that I have  started taking on sponsors. Now, I really wanted this podcast to continue to be a free  resource for you to use for activities, exercises, strategies, tips all those good things  for productivity. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy to really put forth  the best episodes possible. And I’m happy to do that. But when FreshBooks  approached me and offered to sponsor our podcast I took that really seriously  because I thought to myself I only want to promote and align myself with brands that  I feel strongly about, who I feel really do enhance productivity and help streamline  parts of your life and that’s what I found with them.  

 So if you’re not familiar with FreshBooks, they’re a simple way if you’re a  freelancer or an entrepreneur to be more productive, to get organized and more  importantly, to get paid. So I’ll be sharing more about FreshBooks later on in the  episode in a quick little segment for our sponsor. And then, the rest of the episode  will run just like our normal episodes do.  

 So let’s go ahead and get started. I wanted to talk to you first of all about this  season because it is going to be a great one. This season is dedicated to talking all  about systems, or automated processes that you can implement into your life to get  the right things done at the right time. We’ll be talking about some mindset shifts,  like walking away from perfection, why eating the frog doesn’t work, and the power  of choices.  

 Most of this season is going to be a deep dive on actual tactics that you can  use right away, like batching your tasks, creating habits, using a priority list,  automations, technology systems and I’ll be interviewing some really great people  this season. But I don’t want to ruin the surprise and I’m not going to tell you who I  have lined up already, but I am really, really excited about it.  

 If at any point you have questions, I’d love to hear them. I’m going to be doing  at least one Ask Tonya episode this season. So you can submit questions at  Inkwellpress.com/questions. Okay.  

 So what exactly do I mean by systems. Well, systems are a collection of actions  that work together to accomplish an overall goal. So it’s actions, processes and  

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outcomes. And these all work together and you use ongoing feedback to make little  tweaks and adjustments because the key is that you want your systems to work for  you. So they can range from very simple to very, very complex and essentially they  harness these patterns of events and they make them happen automatically.  

 Systems can also be the interrelations of people and different departments  and how they work together. So the key is that you’re recognizing larger patterns of  these interactions and focus on the structures to create behaviors that determine  certain outcomes or events. So it’s about being proactive rather than being reactive.  So being a little bit more in charge, being a little more in control of your productivity.  

 And systems really do a lot to help you. They relieve your stress. We’ve talked  a lot about how much stress can negatively affect your health. If you have good  systems in place that deal with a lot of those tasks in your life, you stress less. There is  less worry that you forgot something and you trust that what you’re working on is  what you need to get done.  

 They make you more effective. When you externalize your worries and your  tasks into a system, you focus better on the task at hand and you effectively mono task and you know how I feel about mono-tasking. We’ve talked about that before.  

Systems also positively affect your relationships because the best way to build  relationships is to be trustworthy and the best way to do this is to keep up with your  commitments and your correspondence. If you’re organized and productive, you’re  going to keep them because really productivity is largely about managing some of  these commitments.  

 Remember that this doesn’t mean that you’re committing to everything or  being tied to your email. It means really having rules in place about what you say yes  to and then managing expectations of when you’ll be communicating with people.  And the other thing that’s great about systems is there is a place for everything. This  varies from person to person but with systems you designate where and when things  and tasks belong and they get done. When everything is in place, nothing falls  through the cracks.  

 To me, the most important part about creating systems is that they are  personalized. They are customized to you. And for many people, when they’ve tried  systems, this si why they haven’t worked for them in the past. It needs to be set up  for your successes and combat maybe your personal style of procrastination or really  allowing you to focus on the things that are important to you. And this is why I  believe your systems need to be customized and personalized to you.  

 You want your systems to seek harmony with their environment and everyone  has a different environment. So the right system for one person that’s harmonious  with their environment maybe won’t be the right system for somebody else’s  

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environment. Systems that aren’t in tune with their environment they will reach a limit  and this is why there’s a possibility that you’ve probably started and quit a bunch of  different ways to try to keep yourself organized, because they really didn’t work for  your environment. They weren’t customized to you.  

 Everyone is different and everyone reacts to expectations differently. Gretchen  Ruben has divined four different tendencies for how people react to these  expectations and this reaction can make a big difference in how a system will work or  not work for you. For example, a lot of people do really well with having their  obligations written down where they can see them often. For others, this makes them  want to do things even less, even if it’s something they really want to do.  

 And along those same lines, we really encourage having accountability  partners to check in with. But some people this completely turns them off to the idea  of getting things done or it scares them away from doing the task. So building the  system to work with your reactions and to harmonized with your environment sets  you up for success. Even a system you design for yourself, your reactions and your  harmony, will always need little tweaks and adjustments over time. Just like you  change over time, your systems will be changing with you. You’re not the same  person you were three years ago. Things change. You become a different person.  Things in your life, your environment change and that’s a natural part of just being  human.  

 So you want to make sure when you’re setting these systems that there is a  little bit of flexibility and some white space in there so you can make these  adjustments. I’ve heard people say that when it comes to big goals or big dreams you  have to do it scared or do something that scares you. But there is really no need for  that kind of sensationalism. Don’t do it scared. Do it empowered. Feel strong about  the path you’re choosing to take and you can do that by making your systems work  for you. Make it bite sized so it’s not scary at all. Make it achievable so you look  forward to that feeling of accomplishment when you’re getting each step done.  

 I say do it with systems. So let’s start by taking the scary part out of it. Let’s  eat an elephant. Have you heard that phrase before? Eat an elephant? It’s very loosely  based off an African proverb which says, “The best way to eat the elephant standing  in your path is to cut it up into little pieces.” Makes sense, right? Well, Creighton  Williams Abrams, Jr. was a United States General and he popularized this idea when  he famously said, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”  

 He, of course, as a general, was talking about war. But it really applies to  anything that feels big and overwhelming. When you’re doing something difficult or  something that feels so big, do it slowly and carefully. Don’t look at the big picture.  Take it one bite at a time. It’s really easy to become overwhelmed by big tasks and  goals where you just don’t know where to start. But every long term project or goal  

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that you have you can break down into those small bite sized pieces. You can eat that  big elephant one bite at a time.  

 Small bites give you something concrete to focus on. Small bite sized wins  build momentum and bring you a little bit of satisfaction at a time. So you build on  that satisfaction and life satisfaction is a lot higher if you view your life as a series of  many small milestones instead of one huge, big, looming milestone that you may or  may not achieve. I often equate this idea with running because I’m a terrible runner.  So when I run, which is not often, mind you, I make tiny bite size markers for myself. I  don’t think about running a mile because if I do, it’s going to scare me. I think about  what’s going to make it doable for me.  

 So okay, I think to myself. I can make it to the green car, which mind you might  only be 200 yards away. But then I make it there and I feel that sense of  accomplishment. And I don’t want to stop. Now, I’m on to the stop sign and then to  the brick house and so on and so on, until I meet that mile. But if I had set out and  said I’m running a mile and I just thought about that whole mile, I might not have  even put my shoes on because it overwhelms me. And you do this over and over  again until you’ve gotten that entire elephant stuffed down your throat so to speak.  And in this case that I’m sharing with you, the elephant is the run. Make sense?  

 So this concept of breaking down big things into pieces works for tasks, works  for projects and events, it works for basically anything big you want to tackle. I like to  think of this category of things to accomplish as goals because well, that’s essentially  what they are, big things that you want to do. Those are goals. You need to get a big  

presentation finished for your team? That’s a goal. You have a big daunting event  that’s coming up? That’s a goal. Big events, tasks and projects? They’re just goals.  

 And there is a direct connection between goals and that life satisfaction that  we’ve been talking about. Don’t believe me? It’s a scientific fact. Psychologists say  that people who make consistent progress towards meaningful goals have more life  satisfaction than those who don’t and there is a cycle between subjective well being  and progress on our goals. Making progress on your goals represents an increase in  your subjective wellbeing, which then enhances further action and progress. So it  works as a cycle.  

 The catch is that the task and the goal have to be meaningful to you. You can’t  just be working on something that you have to do. This can be hard at times but you  can change the meaning of a task to identify it. There’s a concept called Self Determination Theory that says the more we internalize and identify with a goal by  understanding the value behind it or even simply the importance of the task, the  more likely we are to act autonomously. So we’re not more likely not just to do it but  to feel good once it’s done. And hey, who doesn’t want a little more satisfaction in  their lives, right? I know I do.  

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 So we all want to feel good but how do we go about eating these elephants?  Well, we’re going to start by assessing the elephant. So first, reflect on your  relationship to the elephant. Is it your elephant? Are you working on what you think  you should be doing? Are you setting a goal to make somebody else happy, even if  you don’t want to do it? If it’s not your elephant, decide how much power you really  want to give it. What choices can you make about it? Can you say no? Can you  delegate? Things like that.  

 The more true to you your intentions and goals are, the more likely you are to  take action and then commit to completing them. Now, obviously there are times  when sometimes we have to work on elephants that aren’t ours, like a work situation  where you’re required to do certain tasks. Sometimes ones that we don’t necessarily  enjoy. But if we look at those elephants as part of the path to climbing the ladder or  the path to getting you where you want to go, you can start to look at that elephant a  little bit differently. Put a little lipstick on that pig or elephant so to speak because if  something that is down the road going to bring you fulfillment, that elephant is really  your elephant.  

 So, now we know how to assess the elephant. How do we break down that  elephant? And that’s what I’m going to talk about next, but first I’m going to jump in  really quick with a short break to share a little bit of information about our sponsor  FreshBooks.  

 As I mentioned to you earlier, this episode has been brought to you by  FreshBooks. And as I mentioned, I’m pretty picky when it comes to sponsors, but I  am so happy to sing the praises of FreshBooks because I love how their software  really helps boost productivity. It makes it easier to focus on what you really love  about your business and not spending all your time chasing down invoices from your  clients. With a simple interface, it’s almost like having a personal finance assistant to  help you know where to start and you know I love that, right? Just a few clicks and  you keep your finances in check. I love that.  

 FreshBooks has generously offered a free, unrestricted trial for my listeners. So  just go to FreshBooks.com/paradox and in the section that says how did you find us,  type in Productivity Paradox and you’ll be all set to go. Okay. Let’s get back to that  elephant.  

 So we’re going to start by sizing up our elephant. We’re going to take a good  look at it and we’re going to ask ourselves a couple of questions. We’re going to ask  ourselves, when you look at that ultimate goal, what is it you want to achieve? And  now look at where you are in relation to that goal. Then we’re going to look ahead  and ask what might be an obstacle I have in achieving that goal, in getting this  elephant, right? And then if you say there’s no obstacles. I promise you, you’re wrong.  There’s always obstacles.  

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 So even look internally. Is there something you believe or don’t believe about  yourself that might hold you back from accomplishing it? If you feel there is  something holding you back from achieving what you want, perhaps your  unconscious has a different idea about what should be happening for you. So take  some time to assess whether this really is your elephant if that’s the case. Then we’re  going to create the roadmap.  

 We went over this in Episode 3, and if you haven’t listened to that, I’ll have the  link in the show notes because I go really in depth on how to take this large goal or  these large elephants and work backwards to set the time frames and set your action  plan in place. And I know that we’re talking goals for that episode, Episode 3, but as I  mentioned, these big projects and tasks are that. They are goals and they need to be  treated very similarly. So we want to take these goals and take just one small timed  bite and get us started with eating our elephant.  

 So figure out a task you can work on, especially a sub-task of the larger task  and go into it with the expectation that you’re going to stop after ten minutes of  work or set a different time if that makes more sense to you. 15, 30, 45 however many  minutes that work for you. For some people, you can do this by tying into something  enjoyable like a TV show or a podcast like this one. You know, put on a little bit of  entertainment and before you know it, you’re done listening to the episode and  you’re done working.  

 For some tasks, this can be too distracting. So just know what you can and  can’t do with noise in the background. So you’ve heard that performance athletes  make a playlist of music, right? This is why most of them do it. The music is timed to  allow them to focus on an activity, an exercise for a certain amount of time. The  music keeps them on track while making it more enjoyable. So when time is up, it’s  okay to stop in the middle of a task. The work you did still happened, and it was  necessary to move forward. You can come back to it next time or if you’ve left your  schedule flexible, which I encourage, set up another block of time and keep working.  Just make sure that you’re rewarding yourself for doing the work.  

 So it allows you to have some laser focus during this set period of time. It can  be easy to be distracted during long blocks of work time. So committing to stay  focused during your set block of time. Remember, you have choices at each step  about what to say yes to and what to say no to and how and when you move  forward. Don’t feel like you get stuck on a process or a certain way of doing things.  Focus on the outcome. Celebrate your wins, acknowledge your progress, channel that  energy into the next step.  

 And as always, it’s important to enlist support. Real life elephants are never  eaten just by one person. It can take a whole village, friends, family, mentors, advisors  

can all help you eat your elephant in different ways, even if it’s just inspiration and  encouragement to keep moving forward. All of that helps.  

 Okay. I hope this talk about eating your elephant has gotten you fired up about  talking about systems this season. I am going to be talking to you next week about  one of the biggest traps that many of us fall into when it comes to eating our  elephants and that is perfection. It’s a big one and it’s something that we’re going to  be working through, something that I am a recovered perfectionist myself. So I know  it first hand. But we’re going to be working on it together.  

 I’m really excited for us to work together this season. Please feel free to  contact me. Ask me your questions at inkwellpress.com/questions. Feel free to  contact me on social media using the name @inkwellpress. I’d love to hear from you.  

 All right. Until next time, happy planning.  

**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.

Tanya Dalton is a productivity keynote speaker, time management author and host of one of the best podcasts for women.