Feature Article: Break Larger Projects into Smaller Tasks

Let’s say this is your to-do list for a Saturday:

• Water plants
• Pay the mortgage bill
• Buy new reading group book
• Return socks to Wal-Mart
• Put up new border in James’ room

Which of the five things will you most likely have accomplished during the day? If you’re like most people, you’ve completed everything but the last—the one you’ve had on your list for five months. Most people are inclined to knock off the little items first, rarely getting to the bottom of the list and getting the “big” things done. Why? “Put up new border in James’ room” is too big. So is “Get photo albums arranged.” So is “Get balloon down stuck in eighteen-foot high ceiling fan.” Each involves multiple steps. If you don’t break them down, you will not be able to systematically crack at them. You must first break large tasks down into smaller ones.

If you want to put up a new border, you must:
• Shop for and buy new border
• Gather supplies for removing old border
• Move and cover furniture
• Remove old border
• Hang new border

If you want to get your photo albums arranged, you must:
• Determine if you’re going to use books, boxes, or scrapbooks
• Purchase the necessary supplies
• Put stickers with months and years on the floor
• Identify and sort photos into piles or on the computer
• Print them if not printed already
• Arrange in albums

If you want to get the balloon down, you must:
• Back the car out of the garage
• Move snow blower, bikes, and wagon out of the way of the ladder
• Get someone to hold door and ladder
• Get down the ladder and bring inside
• Set up ladder and cut down balloon

Without clearly listing the pieces of the project (on paper or in your head), the task will simply swirl around in your head. With the project listed as a series of individual action steps, you will eventually be able to finish one big job. If necessary, schedule only one piece of the big project for the day, so you have time to fit it in with the mortgage bill you have to pay and still see progress. 

If you never break larger projects down into manageable steps, you might not ever have time to complete it, because the rest of the small stuff will take all your time. When you approach your to-do list, make sure to include a small piece of a larger project, so you can see movement on your goals.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2007 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: “© 2007 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.” The link to Laura’s website must be active.