When you’re bogged down in the details of a task, how do you get out?

I recently listened to an especially compelling episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast: his interview with photographer Chase Jarvis. I gleaned many useful tips, but one idea rose to the top.

In order to avoid burnout in high-stress activities (like producing a podcast), Tim regularly asks himself:

“What would this look like if it were easy?”

What a great question! Let’s take a closer look.

Several questions in one

I’ve noticed that asking myself “What would this look like if it were easy?” immediately leads to clarifying questions:

  • Why am I doing this activity in the first place? What am I trying to accomplish? What’s the ultimate goal here? Sounds like a dumb question, but it’s usually not. We don’t go back to basics very often.
  • Where are the barriers and bottlenecks? What’s slowing me down or keeping me from getting started in the first place? At what stage do I think “Unngh, I hate this part”?
  • What steps could I eliminate? If I cut out x, what would happen? Would the whole thing really fall apart?
  • What steps could I do differently? If I can’t eliminate a step, can I execute it differently? Reframe how I think about it?

I put myself through the wringer on this one. Twice. Here’s what I found.

Must. Keep. All. Receipts! Because . . . huh.

Sarah and I keep every receipt. We’ve been doing this since 2012.

A couple of times a month, I reconcile the bank statement with the budget software, making sure we’re staying within our agreed-upon limits.

Now, this is a good use of time. It keep us honest (and frugal).

But the receipts? I throw them in a file folder and shred them three months later (except for big purchases).

Why keep them? In case someone overcharges me, of course. But in the last four years, I’ve found one overcharge: it was for $10. In that time, I’ve probably spent a couple hours collecting, managing, and shredding piles of receipts.

The math doesn’t work, folks: no more keeping every single receipt.

Making blogging easy

What about the blog itself? What would writing a blog post look like if it were easy? I went through the process and came to two conclusions:

  • I’ll stop spending so much time choosing pictures (it takes a surprisingly long time, even to find the modest pictures you’ve come to . . . tolerate). In fact, I’ll experiment with not including a picture in every post. If readers miss the pictures, I’ll revert.
  • I’ll start using an editorial calendar again, so I can work further ahead. Having a topic in place before I sit down to write removes a major barrier.

Try it yourself! Take 60 seconds right now.

What’s an activity you do regularly, and what would it look like if it were easy?