During my two-week Christmas holiday break, I was determined to complete a yard cleanup that has been overwhelming, to say the least. There were trees to remove, fence-lines to clear of brush, tree roots to be extracted, gardens to be cleared and construction debris to be cleaned up.
It’s entirely too easy to let a task such as described in the above paragraph overwhelm you to the point where anxiety takes over and it becomes difficult to keep moving forward with the project at hand. Anxiety turns on that little voice in your subconscious mind that begins to give justifiable reasons to stop and take a break, delay the project till a better day, or quit the project completely. You begin to think there is no way this project will ever get done. Your work pace slows even more as you lose hope of finishing the task at hand. This has happened to me in my younger years until I came up with a way to combat my mind from letting me fall into this hopeless progress killing state of mind.
Let me step back in time to lessons I learned in my youth and young adulthood. The first story is about painting the fence of my parent’s paddock. As a young man, one of the tasks that fell under my responsibility was to paint the rough cut oak fence that outlined the paddock for our small horse barn. The boards were difficult to paint because they were rough-cut oak lumber straight from the local sawmill.
When I looked at the task of painting the paddock fence it was overwhelming as it seemed like it would take my WHOLE SUMMER school break to complete. The task of painting the fence was getting the better of me until I started to break the project down into smaller sections. I set goals as to how many sections of the fence would be completed each hour.
Each time a section of the fence was completed there was the satisfying feeling of euphoria by reaching a goal. Guess what happened next? My attitude improved along with my pace which led to the early completion of the paddock fence painting project.
There is another lesson from my youth that still helps me complete tasks like the one at the opening of this story. I had the bad habit of starting full of exuberance and working at a speedy pace which in itself was not a terrible habit. The part of this practice that would derail my project was that I would do the easy parts of the project first. What would end up happening was all of my energy would get used up on the rapid completion of the easy portion of the task. Now there was less energy left to keep pushing forward and the effort needed to keep moving forward was far greater.
I still recollect the repair project that cured me of the practice of doing the easy portion of a task first for good. There needed to be some repairs done to our family's “farm” pick up truck. I buzzed along taking out all of the easy bolts and when the last bolt was tackled all of the weight of the part hung on the last bolt to be removed. After some skinned knuckles while trying to proceed forward, the decision was made to reinstall some of the easier bolts to help support the part while the difficult bolt was extracted.
The lesson learned was that if you often find yourself having problems with the last bolt of a project, it may be a good idea to reevaluate how the determination is made in deciding which part of a project comes first or last.
To this day, these two practices help me not only complete difficult tasks but also help me plan out my day while transporting goods on our nation’s highways.
1 – If possible I try to put in more miles before my mandatory ½ hour break than after.
Running more of my miles before break typically makes the second half of my day easier to complete without feeling fatigued. The second benefit of putting as many miles behind me as soon as possible before taking a break is that it affords me more room to put together a plan “B” should the need arise.
2 - DO THE HARD PART FIRST!
When presented with a task like tarping a difficult load, take your time, pace yourself, pad all of the sharp edges, and do not take any shortcuts. This practice works for many other tasks we face while we ply our trade. It does not matter if it’s cleaning the interior, washing the exterior, making a repair, or securing a load. Tackling the most difficult aspects of the project along with safely pacing yourself play highly into the successful outcome of any given task.
3 – Breaking a project down into smaller more manageable tasks.
I find it much easier to complete a large task by reducing the big overwhelming anxiety-inducing task into smaller goals. For example, let’s say it’s snowing and the roadways are passable, you have a large number of miles to cover, and it's windy! The first course of business should be to communicate with your customer that the likelihood of there being a delay in the arrival time of delivery is great. At this point, I begin to break the trip down into smaller sections where there are safe places to wait out a storm. The most important part of this is to remove the pressure of “having to get there” off of your mind. Take each section by itself and typically before you know it, the task is completed.
As of this writing, the task that inspired this post is nearing completion.
On a side note, the tarps seen in the picture are from my old flat-bedding days. Those tarps were purchased new in September of 1996 and were still serving me well at the time when Albert Transport switched to pulling dry van trailers in the year 2007.