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Norman Sperling
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Doing the Easiest Part First Makes the Whole Job Less Daunting

© Norman Sperling, February 11, 2015

I’m faced with an array of big and difficult problems. Just as I have been, all life long.

Over the years, I’ve evolved a process that reduces stress and hastens results.

While aware of the overwhelming difficulties, I start with the easiest part first. When teaching my (then young) sons to clean up some breakage, I said “first, pick up the 3 worst pieces. Good. Now pick up the 3 worst pieces. Good. Now pick up the 3 worst pieces. [repeat]. They got into the swing of things, and saw the daunting hassle reduce greatly. By the time they got to more difficult parts, they already had a lot of experience and momentum, and could see an end in sight.

I do the same for myself. In putting together an issue of my magazine, I start with the easiest and most obvious pages. Then the next-most, and then the next-most. By the time I have to do anything hard, I’m deeply into the process and the rest becomes a lot less daunting and easier.

I teach my students the same. In their big term project, research the easiest part first. After the input is acquired, write the easiest part first.

Adapt this principle to most projects, even careers, and you’ll start easier, go farther, and finish faster, all with less stress.

It does have limits: After a while, all the easy and nearly-easy stuff is done, and all that remains is tough and unpleasant. To get over that, I used to imagine my boys telling me I needed to finish that so I could do family stuff with them. These days I have to imagine something else.

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