In David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, he talks a lot about projects vs. tasks and how projects don’t belong on a task list. The reason projects don’t belong on a task list is because projects take time, planning and multiple sessions to complete. Nothing should go on a task list that can’t be completed in one step.
If you find you’re not getting some of the things done on your to-do list, perhaps the problem is that the tasks are too big. Even if those undone tasks aren’t technically projects, perhaps they still need to be broken down into manageable chunks that fit better in your time budget and motivation level.
I break down bigger tasks into bite-size pieces all the time! For example, I don’t like cleaning house but I do like having a clean house. If I write on my task list
It’s obviously vague enough and overwhelming enough that it’s easy to ignore. But if I break it down a little, it’s more doable:
- Master Bathroom (dump trash, sink, toilet, shower/tub, floor, glass, wash rug)
- Main Bathroom (dump trash, sink, toilet, shower/tub, floor, glass, wash rug)
- Dump trash
- Change sheets
- Kitchen (microwave, stove top, sink, cabinet fronts, change sponge)
If you find that you’re still struggling to get the house clean, you can break it down even more. Instead of doing the whole house at one time, try one room at a time and list each individual chore for that room. Let’s clean the living room:
- Vacuum upholstery
- Vacuum dog bed
- Clean windows inside, as needed
- Wipe any spots off wood furniture
- Vacuum rug
- Sweep floor
You can either do all those tasks in one sitting or work on them on and off all day. Marking off eight tasks makes me feel much more satisfied than marking off one (clean living room).
If you’re working on a paperwork project, like doing your taxes, you could break it down like this:
- Make a tax folder or retrieve tax folder
- Gather information you already have
- Make a checklist of what’s still needed
- Start gathering information
- Download turbo tax
- Input information
- Print taxes
- Mail taxes
If you’re working on a craft project with a deadline, like a quilt, you can break it down, too. Here’s what I usually do:
- Decide on a design.
- Figure how much fabric is needed.
- Purchase fabric.
- Wash fabric.
- Iron fabric.
- Cut pieces (if I have a lot, I would probably break this down, too – maybe by color or piece size).
- Sew top together (again, if it’s a big quilt, I would probably subdivide this).
- Add borders.
- Sandwich quilt.
- Quilt (I would definitely subdivide this step. If I had a deadline, I’d figure out how many squares I needed to do each day in order to finish on time and then I would make a chart for my planner.)
- Wash quilt.
- Take photo.
I also use subdividing for organizing. I clean my desk off regularly but it always ends up a big mess again. Cleaning it off is overwhelming! So you know what I do? This is going to sound really dumb, but on my to-do list, I put
Desk (5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5)
Each of those 5’s represents 5 minutes. I have a timer on my desk which always shows either 5 or 15 (15 minutes is my other magic tool). I set the timer for 5 minutes and do as much as I can. Then I walk away. I come back later, when I have 5 minutes free, and do it again. It’s absolutely amazing how much I can accomplish in 5 minutes. By the time I finish 30 minutes of 5’s, I’m done. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that many.
See what I mean? Most of the time I can’t handle a task on my list like:
Make a quilt
Clean the house
Clean off desk
It’s overwhelming. So any time I can, I subdivide. It’s like a miracle! If you’ve never done it, you should give it a try. You might be surprised at how much more productive you are when you break down your tasks into tiny, little bites. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.