In Robert Prisig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he tells us of a student in rhetoric who was staring at writer’s block.
Her assignment was to write a five-hundred word story about her town. The student was stuck – her town seemed small and unremarkable. What could she possibly write about it? Her teacher then changed the assignment. He told her to write about the front of the opera house opposite her classroom in that very town. He tells her to start with the upper left hand brick. At first, she was confused, but the moment she started writing, she had twenty pages of flowing prose to hand in the next day.
This parable points to the value of being specific and breaking down our task to induce forward motion. Once a big, fat, hairy project is broken down into a list of small to-dos, each of which are concrete and specific, we surprise ourselves with how much we can get done. The key here is to keep the tasks and the lists small. It matters less how large your project is – a bathroom renovation or building a new airport. The size of each task matters more. It matters less how many lists you have. The number of items on each list matters more.
Clarity and forward motion are self-sustaining – they attract more clarity and forward motion. And once we get going, we are done before we know it!