I have a photo of a pea soup recipe that my brother sent me a few weeks ago. It was an old family recipe, hand written in a fine cursive as a paragraph on an index card. I managed to collect most of the ingredients before we began sheltering in place.
The weekend has now come and gone and I have not made the soup. Some of the ingredients are going to get funky.
But when I think about the recipe and the paragraph of steps, I can’t even visualize all the things I have to do, I feel a bit overwhelmed so I keep putting it off. So, I’ve decided it’s time to approach this soup the way I approach any project that feels overwhelming. Think about how much I want to eat that soup (my goal), then just focus on the next step.
You know what the end result should be (the food), have the resources (ingredients and utensils), and the steps to complete (once you decipher Nana’s writing).
How to Stop Procrastinating on Nana’s Pea Soup
Okay. Well, what’s the first step? Buy the ingredients. Great, I already did that! Check ✅. (Well, mostly check. I forgot the bay leaves!)
Second step: Wash and chop the veggies. I can visualize washing and chopping celery pretty easily. But I am impatient and hate food prep, so I break this down into two steps: washing, then chopping. I only have to commit to doing the one small washing step right now. This feels manageable enough and I can imagine getting back to my computer afterward.
So with the vegetables washed, I can go get some more work done.
Next time I get up for a glass of water, I’ll chop the carrots, celery and onion. I can totally do this.
Steps three and four are the big ones where I actually have to cook, and I can’t wander off in the middle. So I’ll time it so I can go take a call before starting this.
After the call and the follow up actions, I’ll have more than an hour to get through the last steps.
Third step: Cut and cook the sausage.
Fourth step: Add the sausage to my stockpot with the veggies, and add spices, a bag of dried peas, and chicken broth (from a tetrapak).
Fifth step: Cook on the stove for about 45 minutes. (And I wash up the prep dishes.)
End result: Homemade soup made exactly how I prefer that will last me several days.
Recipes Are Tiny Work Breakdown Structures
Recipes are an easy analogy for how to break down work. You know what the end result should be (the food), have the resources (ingredients and utensils), and the steps to complete (once you decipher Nana’s writing). But if you just look at the recipe as one big blob of work that you have to figure out and get done, it’s hard to visualize what it will actually take. A big fuzzy cloud of things that have to get done can feel heavy, and causes many of us to feel overwhelmed. This is one of the causes of procrastination.
As someone who always feels a need to be getting things done, my own procrastination often manifests as doing busy work. I am never short on small, easy to complete, or slightly more fun tasks that may not be as valuable or important as what’s in that big fuzzy cloud.
If you find yourself procrastinating when faced with any task that requires multiple steps, make sure you have a good idea of what you want the end result to be, then focus on the one thing that needs to be done next. Even just one step will move you in the right direction.