Productivity Tip: What to do when something feels WAY too big to even begin

What overwhelms you? Your to-do list? Email inbox, dirty house, or the blank page of a major undertaking you keep putting off? It seems like the bigger the thing, the more we want to put it off. It’s possible to spend more energy on worry and anxiety about doing the task than it takes to just do the task, right?

Some of the most useful advice ever given to me was from my first writing mentor Jennifer Meyers, a prolific professional writer who took me under her wings many years ago, when I had nothing more than promise and a winning smile. She taught me how to face the blank page and get thousands of pages written on deadline.

I asked her one day, in the midst of familiar anxiety about a huge project ahead of me, “How do you do it?! How do you face the blank page every day and get so much done, without panicking over the deadline?”

Her answer has guided me through countless moments of overwhelm ever since:

“It’s like gardening. Don’t look out at the whole field of work to be done. Just focus on the row in front of you. Pick one weed at a time.”

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, size up your field, then tackle it one row and one weed at a time. Make to-do lists with items that don’t take more than 10 minutes to complete—weed-sized items. When you’re done with one list, figure out the next step in the sequence—keep moving down the row.

When you look up, you’ll have it all done.

About Jane: Jane Cavanaugh is an internationally acclaimed business leadership and career coach who has helped more than 6,000 professionals develop their career and leadership skills. Jane is creator of The Passionate Professional: How to Make Your Ordinary Career Extraordinary, a guided career transition program, and a co-author of Breakthrough! Inspirational Strategies for an Audaciously Authentic Life. Contact or visit Jane at

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Success Stories

Ed Martin, VP of Learning & Development, Pandora

Success Story: “I’ve known and/or worked with Jane for over 4 years, and somehow, in her inimitable style, she not only coached me without me even knowing it, but also filled that role for other senior people in our [former] organization.

Whether Jane’s facilitating, running training sessions, or coaching executives, it’s not a contrived method. She comes at it from a place of curiosity. Jane is naturally curious about people, organizations, and processes, and she asks good, thought-provoking questions to get us to think. This is the mark of a good coach. Even though coaching programs can teach this skill, it’s best done as part of the coach’s natural DNA – and this describes Jane. I would call on her anytime to help me with any issues I’m add…