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Overwhelmed? Don't break down, break "it" down

Too many times we can look at a task and become paralysed, almost fearful, at the thought of starting it.

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This “rabbit in the headlights” mentality often stems from the feeling that a task is too big for us to complete and we keep putting it off so it sits forlornly on our to-do lists acting as a constant reminder of how unproductive we seem to be.

Quite often though, this paralysis has a reasonable basis in fact. The task really is too big and that’s because we need more than a single step to complete it so technically it should be seen as a “mini project”.

If a job your to-do list requires less than two minutes to complete, just get it done as stated by David Allen in “Getting Things Done“* (and I’ve written about this briefly before too) – in fact it’ll probably take longer than 2 minutes to write it down so just do it!

However, if a job on your to-do list is going to take more than one step to complete, it’s classed as a project under the GTD system and needs to be broken down into its constituent parts (you can read more on GTD and projects here).

Breaking these seemingly large un-startable tasks down into more manageble items can give you the kick-start you need to get something moving and off your to-do list.

Let’s take a real-world example. I’ve had the “task” “Change CMOS Battery on PC” on my to-do list for the past month. Every other task around it has been scrubbed off and replaced, but this task keeps hanging around like a bad smell. Why? Because in reality, the task isn’t as simple as “Change CMOS Battery”, it’s more accurately described as:

  1. Check battery type in motherboard instructions
  2. Check what batteries I have and buy correct one if needed
  3. Check tools needed
  4. Find Tools
  5. Replace Battery

Technically you could add “Find Motherboard Instructions” to the start of the list but I know where they are so I left that point off!

So, as you can see from the example above, there are really 4 steps before I even get to the “Replace battery” task I’ve got written on my to-do list!

Breaking this larger task down into its constituent parts means that I’m now more aware of what a task entails and less likely to be put off by it due to its seemingly complex nature.

I will confess that this task is still outstanding (hey, nobody’s perfect!) but now I’ve broken this task down it immeditately seems more “doable”.

Over To You

What do you do when something seems to get stuck on your task list for ages? Do you break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks or do you just battle on through it? Let us know in the comments.

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