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The Elephant Technique

The 'elephant technique' is an original TMI concept. The elephant technique is useful when you are faced with very large tasks, that is, 'elephant tasks'.

Elephant tasks are:

  • Overwhelming tasks demanding prolonged effort
  • Tasks in which little progress can be seen after each stage
  • Tasks often put off or reduced in priority in the short term


  • Developing a new product
  • Learning a language
  • Losing weight and getting fit
  • Writing a book

In TMI terminology these tasks are all 'elephants'. On the one hand we are full of good intentions to 'devour' them but on the other, they seem almost impossible to 'swallow'.

Many people reason, 'the elephant is too big for my mouth. I had better put off eating the elephant until my mouth has grown large enough'. But it never does ... so ... no elephants are eaten either today or any other day.

In principle the only way to eat large elephants with a small mouth, is by making the elephant smaller. There are two different ways to do this:

  1. You can distance yourself from them. View them on the horizon so at least they look smaller.
  2. You can divide them into 'bite-size' pieces.

Alternative 1: You can distance yourself from them
This method is often chosen. Take the well known example of New Year's Eve. We make resolutions for the coming year and gather herds of elephants on the horizon.

From a distance, they seem very small and it is easy to feel confident about taking them all on. They are easily translated into New Year resolutions: 'Next year I really will spend more time with the children, lose weight, learn two languages, write my book, develop a whole new product range, and learn to play the violin.'

Alternative 2: You can divide them into 'bite-size' pieces
This method is the only one that can lead to results, to 'eating' an elephant.

  • Divide the elephant into 'bite-size' pieces.
  • Schedule regular 'bites' of the elephant as 'task of the day', 'task of the week' etc.
  • Make sure you 'eat' a bite every day in addition to completing your other routine tasks.
  • Make sure you finish the elephant.
  • Concentrate on no more than 1 or 2 elephant tasks at a time.

Using the Elephant Technique - Become a 'development' person

Typically there are two kinds of people: the 'maintenance' person who works to maintain the status quo and the 'development' person who applies the elephant technique to achieve development and change.

The 'maintenance' person

  • Uses all his/her time just to get by.
  • Has no time for development projects or projects where the results cannot be seen immediately.
  • Works simply to maintain the status quo, avoid problems and criticism and find short-term solutions.
  • Is controlled by external influences: the telephone, email interruptions and sudden whims.

To this person, things look pretty much the same at the end of the year as they did at the beginning. The person has not learned any new skills nor has he/she been able to improve the status quo. This person's desire for improvement and development are never translated into action.

In contrast the 'development' person

  • Manages current tasks.
  • Saves some time for developmental projects.
  • Completes a small part of an elephant task every day.
  • Is guided by the goals he/she has set for the future.

At the end of the year this person has learned new skills and is more capable than at the beginning of the year. This person has grown. Conditions have improved in the areas this person is responsible for. Desires are translated into action.

TMI Australia Pty Ltd :: T: +61 3 9602 3500 F: +61 3 9602 3533 :: Email
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