During the conversation, my dear husband asked me quite a detailed question and I snapped at him. I then took a shower and starting thinking over my reaction – why did I snap?
As I got to thinking about why I snapped at him, it dawned on me. I had finally mastered The Art of ‘Chunking’. It’s taken my perfectionist, control-freak personality about 10 years but I have finally got there!
I’ll explain what that has to do with me snapping at hubby, a bit later on.
What is ‘Chunking’?
Chunking is the art of breaking information up into ‘bite sized pieces’ or ‘sound bites’.
You can chunk ‘up’ and you can also chunk ‘down’.
Learning how to ‘chunk’ is just mastering a series of questions and asking them of yourself at the appropriate times. It will make a HUGE difference to how you feel about life, especially if there is a lot on your plate at any given time… and as Mums, when is there NOT a lot on our plates?!
To summarise, chunking is forcing your mind into a specific organisational pattern based on the requirements at the time. If you are managing a LOT of projects or juggling a lot of things, like us Mums do, for example, then learning to ‘chunk up’ in your mind will stop you from going insane over the little things.
If you are dealing with serious medical concerns with yourself or family, if you are operating on a very thin budget or if you are planning renovations or extensions, then ‘chunking down’ in these phases will ensure you don’t miss anything or get nasty surprises somewhere down the line.
Often, the mind will switch to a ‘chunking’ pattern based on your emotions or stress levels. I find when I am very overwhelmed and stressed out my mind will shift into ‘chunk up’ mode and start glossing over details. This avoids my tendency to get swamped and lost in detail which causes much panic.
I can’t tell you how great it is for me that my mind has FINALLY adapted to this way of thinking – after many years of practice!
To chunk UP means that you go into less detail and break all the information up into bigger pieces, covering more ground. For example, when moving house, you don’t wander around every room thinking about HOW you are going to wrap each item, which box it must go into, which direction to lay it in the box, how to seal the box, what type of tape to use, how to write the labels for the box, where to store that box, where on the truck that box will go, where it will be placed when you move etc etc etc
If you did this for every item in your house, noting that entire phase of questioning all the way through from start to finish, you would quite literally NEVER get the packing done.
Instead, it’s likely that your mind would naturally look at all your items as a collection or several collections i.e. kitchen stuff, bedroom stuff, lounge room stuff. You will likely pack according to rooms or function and label the boxes accordingly.
This process your mind has used is called ‘chunking up’. It means less detail so you can get on with the task at hand without getting drowned in details. It’s very useful for efficient task focused people and is a valuable skill for those who tend to obsess or get themselves into states of panic and anxiety over minutia and small details.
Chunking ‘up’ for a personality like mine is a God-send.
There are many times when we might need to force ourselves to ‘chunk up’ because we are getting lost in details and overwhelming ourselves. This is when The Art of Chunking comes into play.
When I need to make myself ‘chunk up’ because I am getting lost in too much detail and its overwhelming me, I ask myself these questions:
1. Is this detail VITAL to the outcome or just part of a bigger process to get there?
2. If so, can I put it in a box to deal with later or ‘cross that bridge when I come to it?’ If so, then I write it down and forget about it till later.
3. If not, then I force myself to gloss over it, move passed it and look torwards the final outcome by asking “What outcome am I going for here? How can I get there more quickly?”
Conversely, chunking ‘down’ is the art of going into greater detail to ensure you don’t miss crucial things. Administrators, bookkeepers, accountants, engineers and those that need to focus on more detailed work in order to create the right result must learn the fine art of chunking ‘down’.
To chunk ‘down’ is to break information into tiny bites, into the minute minutia to ensure you cover everything and go over it all with a fine toothed comb. It is vital for keeping medical records, transcriptions of conversations for legal reasons, for planning renovations, extensions or projects of that nature and for managing serious dietary issues.
If you have a child that suffers from serious allergies, you need to ensure that when you are passing on information to others about how to manage their condition (day care, babysitters, friends etc) that you are detailed to avoid any potential mishaps. Here, glossing over details can be dangerous so ‘chunking down’ means you will cover every item in sufficient detail for all parties involved.
I use this method of thinking when dealing with planning, budgeting, projections in my business. It is often the typical method of thinking for analytical personalities and can take a lot longer to explain.
When I need to force my mind to ‘chunk down’ I will ask myself:
1. What exactly are the details required to create the best outcome here?
2. What information may I have missed?
3. What information is still required or is part of the process is incomplete?
4. What would happen if … and I run two or three worst case and best case scenarios so I can create appropriate contingency plans for each of them. This prevents nasty surprises.
“Darling, right now I am managing two renovations on two houses, 2 hours apart. I am looking after our daughter full time without any child care, continuing to run our businesses, keeping up the blog and planning a relocation for us which I have to pull off within a month, including locating a property and packing up an entire house – all on my own whilst you’re working.
To do all of that, I have to be the overseer, the umbrella off which everything hangs. I have to maintain momentum and keep my eyes on the bigger picture which is the outcomes we are creating. That means I am cruising along the highway in 5th gear at about 120km zipping through traffic and focusing on the destination.
When you ask me a super super detailed question, like just now, it forces my mind to pull the car up and jump straight into 1st gear. Right now there is just so much going on that it’s very hard for me to do the smaller details – just like pulling a car up from 110 to 0km on a highway and jamming the gear-stick into 1st gear.
Can you trust me that I have all bases covered and be there for me when I holler for help with things, as I need to? And I’m really sorry for snapping – my brain did a bunny hop when I changed gears…”
He smiled at me and nodded, sagely, apparently understanding every word I had said and gave me a kiss on the forehead, whispering “It’s alright, you superhero, you”.
Thank goodness for car analogies eh? ;-)
Love and chunking,
The Eco Mum xo