When you open a bag of chips and dump some onto your plate with your sandwich, which chips do you eat first? Take a sec to think about it. Do you reach for the biggest chips and snarf them down first and ignore the smaller chips? Or do you search for the smaller chips and savor them first before digging in and eating the bigger chips?


Some folks move the chips around, separate the smallest from the remainder of the pile and eat the smallest ones first and work their way up to the big chips. When I realized that folks actually do this – yours truly included – it got me to thinking . . . that same concept can be applied to real-life situations!


Take a seemingly overwhelming situation – for instance, the office is a mess. The desk is nowhere to be found under piles of papers that need to be sorted and filed, the trash basket is overflowing, the pen caddy is almost empty, the stapler needs staples, the printer needs paper and ink, etc. Upon entering, the first thought might be to simply turn around and shut the door and deal with it later. The old “bury your head in the sand – I just can’t do this right now” syndrome can take over. But then responsibility settles in your psyche and you walk on in, sit down at the desk and just shudder. Forget how this mess actually happened because it’s a moot point now – where does one even start to straighten it out?


Some would “Go Large” – “jump right in” mode is what works for them. They don’t even think about creating a mental to-do list – they get busy with the mountain in front of them and separate the papers into stacks, start making files, file the papers, then put the files in the filing cabinet. The smallest tasks can wait – their mission is to find the desk! That would be a sense of accomplishment from “Go Large”. These are the folks who grab the biggest chips and snarf them down first – the crumbs are not important.


I am not that person. In fact, I am the opposite.


For me, it’s “Start Small”. The stapler would have staples, the printer would have paper and the trash can would be emptied. Three small, insignificant tasks that require zero thought but are DONE – three invisible checkmarks on the mental to-do list! Then mentally I can tackle the mountain of papers and what all that entails. See, I find and eat the small chips first! Why is that? Likely because it represents that the smallest task can be finished almost immediately and move on towards the goal – the big chips (the larger tasks) will require a more detailed thought process. When one starts with the biggest task – even with the best of intentions – it may be derailed and then the mental checkmark (accomplishment) has to wait.


So starting small works for those of us who need to feel a sense of accomplishment along every twist and turn of a journey, not just when the end goal is reached. For those who go large, the sense of accomplishment at the end is more self-satisfying than reaching mile-markers along the journey.


Do you start small or go large in everyday life or with an overwhelming situation? No judgement here – both accomplish the same result, just not everyone gets to the finish line on the same racetrack.


Photo by Lorna Dancey.