By The Yard It's Hard...

by Mary Hand
(Murfreesboro, TN)

One of my best study tips is to remember a wise quote that my father taught me:

"By the yard it's hard, by the inch it's a cinch."

When I have an assignment, I look at it and take the first step to begin. In my mind I imagine it in segments and set goals to accomplish until the entire assignment is complete.

This works for studying, working in my office, and even for housework. This amazing quote has guided me to be able to complete reports, study for important exams, or plan an elaborate banquet for student teachers and their cooperating teachers from surrounding school systems.

I shared this tip with my students as a sixth-grade teacher, and later as a university professor.

Several students have told me that they achieved success when applying this to their own lives. One support specialist in our office reminds me regularly that she uses this quote to keep her work from becoming overwhelming.

* * *

This is such a great tip for getting started on any project that seems overwhelming.

Yes, long term goal setting and planning are important, but what matters most is that we actually do something. In other words, it’s all about action.

Breaking it down into manageable sized chunks is what stops us from feeling overwhelmed. The more something is broken down, the less resistance we feel to doing it until we get to the point at which we eventually do something (that is, hopefully, relevant).

There are two ways to break it down:

By Task

This is the method you mention that you use. It hinges on your ability to see all, or at least some, of the big picture of a project.

Creating a master to-do list means you can scan through to pick your next task or sub-project.

Many productivity experts advocate the habit of asking yourself “What’s the next action?”

Breaking down tasks right down to physical actions is a hugely effective method for overcoming procrastination because the path forward is so clear, as this article explains.

By Time

This method of moving forward is seriously underused, but it’s incredibly effective.

Again, you need to know what to work on – everything hinges on that anyway – but you can produce focused work for as long as you feel like doing it.

Depending on the task or project there’s an optimum time for working this way. For example, a ‘two minute tidy’ makes a surprisingly big difference to a desk or workspace. On the other hand it won’t make much of a dent in a report or assignment.

A good rule of thumb for productivity efficiency is to actually work for at least twice as long as it takes to prepare for it.

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