How to Complete Daunting Tasks: One Step at a Time

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eat That Frog!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does taking work one step at a time help you complete daunting tasks? Why does a productive workday start with a clean workspace?

The best way to overcome procrastination and make a big job doable is by breaking it into smaller steps and focusing on one step at a time. To make it easier to get focused and keep going on an important task, make sure you start with an organized and clean workspace.

Keep reading to learn how you can accomplish daunting tasks by taking them one step at a time.

Step One: Maintain a Clean Workspace

To make it easier to get focused and keep going on an important task, make sure you have everything you’ll need in front of you before you begin, so you’re not distracted by looking for things later. There are probably countless projects that never get done because people fail to prepare for the job in advance.

It’s like preparing to cook something—you assemble the ingredients and utensils on your counter before you start so you don’t have to look for something in the middle of following the recipe. Once you start your work task, you need to be able to keep going without interruption.

Start with a clean workspace by setting aside unrelated work so you have only one task in front of you. Assemble all the documents and materials you’ll need and keep them within easy reach. Ensure that your work area is comfortable and as distraction-free as possible. An organized and clean workspace is easier to work efficiently in.

Once everything is ready, start immediately. Develop the confidence to begin by behaving confidently. Sit up straight and lean forward away from the back of the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Tell yourself, “Let’s get to work,” and jump in

Take one step and the rest will follow. Also, don’t strive for perfection at each step—get it 80% right, move on, and make changes later. Once you start, press on until the job is done.

One Step at a Time

The best way to overcome procrastination and make a big job doable is by breaking it into smaller steps and focusing on one step at a time. Lao-tzu wrote: “A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step.”

Most important things in life are done one step at a time. For instance, you don’t achieve financial independence all at once—you save a small amount of money every month for years. You reach health and fitness goals the same way, you take one step at a time.

Author Brian Tracy crossed the featureless Sahara Desert in Algeria this way—by focusing one at a time on oil barrels that were placed at five-kilometer intervals to mark the route. He kept an eye on each barrel until he reached it, at which point he could see the next one.

Similarly, in completing your task, go as far as you can and, as you reach each milestone, you’ll be able to identify and move toward the next one. Focus on one step at a time and have confidence that, when you complete it, you’ll know the next step.

Alternatively, imagine your large task is a salami that you’ve cut into thin slices, and you only need to eat one small slice at a time. 

One factor in your favor is that humans have a psychological need for closure or completion. You have a subconscious need to get tasks done and not leave things hanging. When you’re pushing toward completion and when you finish a task, you feel happy because the completion triggers the release of endorphins. Finishing each step of a bigger task can make you feel good and motivate you to press on to final completion. Completing the task in its entirety makes you feel even better.

How to Complete Daunting Tasks: One Step at a Time

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Brian Tracy's "Eat That Frog!" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Eat That Frog! summary:

  • What it means to eat a frog
  • How your daily distractions get in the way of doing important work first
  • How to make a habit of doing the most important thing first, every day

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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