Big Trees

Mike McGough
May 2018

It happened during a late winter storm. The tree had been a sturdy pine that would have easily measured more than 100 feet. Now it was a mass of bent and broken branches that covered about a third of their backyard. They had just moved into this house in the fall. New to the community they were still at the just-wave-and-say-hi stage of getting to know their neighbors. Fortunately there was no damage to their house or any of the neighbors.

The young man went out to look at the fallen tree in his backyard. It was going to be a big job, and it had to be done immediately. He was concerned that it might kill his lawn, and that the neighbors would complain about the mess. He had no experience taking care of such a situation, and did not have a chainsaw or a truck, two things he quickly determined that he would need. Considering his situation, he was all but overwhelmed by the size and urgency of the task before him, and his limited resources to do much about it was most troubling.

His neighbor, an older retired guy, went out to look the situation over and chat with the younger man. The older man immediately sensed the frustration and urgency in the voice of his new neighbor. The younger man said, “If don’t get it out of here, its going to kill my lawn, and besides you folks don’t want to be looking at this mess either. I’m not sure it’s safe for my kids to be playing around it, and I’ll have to rent a chainsaw and some kind of truck. This is some bad timing; I don’t even have the credit cards paid off from Christmas.”

Sensing the younger man’s frustration the older man said, “It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s doable. I’m retired and I have some free time. I also have a pickup, a chainsaw, and the tools needed to tackle a job like this. We can work at this a little each day, and in a week or so, we can have it cut up and hauled off. No big deal.”

When the older man looked at the downed tree instead of a costly, overwhelming, mess that had to be immediately remedied, he saw an opportunity to do some honest work, get a little exercise, and help a family new to the neighborhood. There was no frustration or anxiety. He didn’t see one large job that was overwhelming. Instead, he saw several small jobs that could easily be managed.

Whether it’s a book to be written, a garden to be weeded, an attic to be cleaned, a new career to be pursued, or a flabby body in need of toning, it doesn’t all have to be done today. Tasks, particularly those that are large and challenging, are made strikingly more cumbersome and daunting when they are fast tracked for completion. Certainly there are things that must be done in a short period of time, thus affording little or no flexibility. When faced with such situations, engaging in prompt and continuous action is both necessary and wise. Luckily, not every situation we face demands immediate and continuous attention. Most tend to be far less time sensitive. They lend themselves well to the older man’s several-small-jobs approach. In the end the result is the same; the task is done.

Applying this approach is relatively simple and the results can be dramatic. Think of something that you want to do, something that you know you should and can do, but have put off because it’s just too much work. Consider the pros and cons of doing it, and look at your anticipated outcome. If this is something you really want or should do, examine it to determine if you can break it into smaller, more manageable tasks. See if it can be accomplished without a strenuous regard for time. If it can, go through the process of determining the individual tasks, then start with one of them. As you complete one, move on to the next. Accomplishing these smaller tasks one by one will provide a level of empowering motivation, while continually reducing the magnitude of the total task.

There are many old sayings and adages that offer time-honored reminders regarding the virtue of breaking large tasks into smaller more manageable pieces. Lao Tzu (aka Laozi), an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, may have stated it best when he said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As the older man knew and the younger man learned, a truck load of downed tree branches every other day is decidedly more manageable and significantly less daunting than ten truckloads in one day!