Communication essentials: how to eat an elephant

I think you know I check out a lot of podcasts, read a lot of articles and generally try to stay on top of the trends our industry is dealing with daily. And do you want to know what almost everyone is talking about right now?

No, not a return to work, believe it or not. Right now, it’s all about how to prioritize your day and manage your way through what is a daily onslaught of issues, headlines, distractions and more.

So today’s ‘communication essential’? How to eat an elephant.

A podcast I was checking out had a guest that mentioned this when talking about how people feel today trying to tackle everything on their plate, every day. Compounded with the fact that we are doing it in an environment that feels like it’s moving at 1.5x faster … well, it’s a lot.

The quote—and the lesson—comes from Desmond Tutu. Tutu was a South African Anglican cleric and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1984. He famously asked, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ when talking about how you go about facing large challenges. His answer to his own question, of course, is a bite at a time.

He doesn’t say how many bites to take in a day. How long it should take to eat the whole thing. Just … a bite at a time. That’s really all we can do some days when staring down a large to-do list. A busy day. A crazy week. A hard month. To rush through and finish everything in one day is to falsely assume the next day won’t be as hard. Is to ignore the likelihood that something unexpected will pop up. Or assume you will have no personal interruptions to your day.

Rather than look at one day as an accomplishment, the goal should be to look at each task as an accomplishment, especially those that are of higher importance or priority—personally or professionally.

Of course, this is a leadership blog. And while we all are facing a lot on our plates, we are also trying to understand how to help our teams with this. But—surprise, surprise—if we don’t set the tone and the example ourselves, what can they learn from us?

I’ll leave you with a quote I heard this morning that may help you—and help you counsel your teams:

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

– Stephen Covey