Life is insane.
I know I am not telling you anything new with that statement, but it is the truth. I keep it no secret that my academic life is very much intertwined with the rest of me, and with finals week approaching and big projects due, there is more than enough to keep me busy. It starts to feel like everything is a major project, and everything has to be a priority or the world will go down in flames. Whether you lead primarily in the home, church, or workforce, you are probably familiar with that feeling. Everything matters so much that the things that should matter most — God, relationships, and any hint of sanity — tend to go straight out the window.
As a leader, we want and are often expected to set examples for the rest of the pack. We want to be more organized, more on top of things, more ready to go than the rest so we can lead the charge. (Sometimes, we do a better job than we think, but that's another article for another time.) The problem with this attitude? We try to suddenly be on top of everything, all the time, until we drop everything, every time.
The solution is to stay small and focused. In this article, I will focus on starting small and focused, with a follow-up about staying that way.
Have you ever felt like your work space somehow turned into a pig sty while you weren't looking? No judgement, this is me at the end of every semester thus far. It seems like one day there is a place for every thing and every thing is in its place, until suddenly I turn around and there are a dozen stacks of assignments, papers, sheet music, and rough drafts, each with its own half-finished water bottle. When this happens, the temptation is huge to just try to attack everything, but as anyone who has tried that will tell you, it generally leads to sitting down defeated with no visible progress. It is chaos to think that one can clean up four months of mess in an hour or two, but we've all done it, and no one wants to do it again. The same is true for leading, whether it's a household, a group project, or a volunteer program. We want to fix and run everything right now, but life does not work that way, and we end up burnt out before we've truly begun.
My advice? Care for a program like I clean my office.
Instead of just attacking everything, start with a single goal in mind. I start by clearing out all the water bottles and any comfort food (read: chocolate. Lots of chocolate) that has collected on and around my desk. All the water is drank or dumped, all the chocolate goes into a box or my stomach. It's still a disaster, but less so, and there is defined progress. I then move on in small steps, next comes sorting through any lose single papers into stacks of current, archive, and recyclable, and putting those stacks on my shelf, filing box, or recycling bin, respectively. This takes about one hour altogether, and while it obviously doesn't fix everything, it makes a clear, visible dent in the mess.
In the same way, when you take over a leadership role, or come back to one after a break, it is important to not just dive into everything at once — that's a good way to get top level fatigue with little to no payoff. Instead, pick a couple small but influential goals, and tackle those with persistence and consistency. That way, there will be clear results, no wasted effort, and you end up leading by example in a big way: start small and focused, and accomplish big things through the little things, rather than in spite of them.