Getting Things Done By Making Tasks Ridiculously Simple

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.


Photo by ~Ealasaid~

One of the issues I ran into when I was trying to get my time choices back in sync was that my target list seemed too daunting.

My task list needed an overhaul in conjunction with my time schedule.

Do-Able Tasks

The first step in any effective list is to make sure the tasks are do-able. “Fix siding” is not a do-able task unless you have the materials on hand and you are going to climb the ladder yourself. “Work hours?” is not a task at all, much less a do-able one.

I went through my task list and targets list and made sure that each item was actually do-able. Things like “schedule cat sitter” or “write open loop post”.

Why Break Them Down Further?

But some things were still made me shy away from actually doing them.

Yes, they were do-able, but I wanted to be able to quantify it. When I said “crochet baby blanket” what did that mean? Technically it would be done after doing one stitch; but somewhere I revolted as that not being enough. And I certainly couldn’t complete the project in one sitting. Unless that sitting encompassed a few days.

Some tasks seemed overwhelming. “Listen to and Rate one album” was do-able, but still seemed overwhelming because this is a task I do while doing other things.

So I decided to break them down further.

I wanted to make each of the tasks be low-hanging fruit that would take little effort to harvest. I had to apply procrastination busters to my task list, inherently, to get it done.

Ridiculously Time Limited Tasks

For the tasks that I wanted to make progress on, I chose a time limit that was do-able, yet would represent some progress. “Crochet baby blanket” became “crochet baby blanket for 5 minutes”. “Write section in book” became “Write 10 minutes”.

By setting the time limit so low, I am able to do just a tiny bit. It’s more than I would have done otherwise, but I find that once I get going, I do much more.

And of course, anything I do above the time limit is just gravy.

Ridiculously Easy Tasks

The other type of task I was having trouble with was the one that seemed too complex in the moment, even though it really wouldn’t take that much time.

I took each of these tasks and made it ridiculously easy. This bloated the list a bit, but it made it so that I could do things in under 5 minutes. “Listen to and rate one album” became 10 “Rate one song” tasks.

The whole point of making something so easy is that I will look at it and say, “I can do that right now.” And then I do it, because I don’t see the effort as being worth mentioning.


By setting time limits on some on-going tasks and breaking other tasks down into ridiculously simple steps, I have expanded the overall task list, but also made it much more likely to get done.

Have you applied procrastination busters to make your task list easier and simpler? Please share below.


Photo by ~Ealasaid~. Licensed under Creative Commons.

 

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  1. I have practiced GTD by David Allen for several years now and this is something David teaches as well. The way David explains it is by asking “What does doing look like?”

    When looking at a task, if you can’t tell what you actually will be doing to get that task done, it’s too vague or complex. This is when you know that you must simplify the task to it’s basic roots of doing.

    The difference it makes is huge but you won’t know it until you try it. Cleaning the Car sounds simple enough, but when looking at that task, you are reminded that you need a new sponge, armor all and you don’t know where your washing tools are located This task does not clearly show you what doing looks like which is the same as saying it’s too complex.

    You make this a Project with several simple task such as
    1. Buy hose, armore all, and sponge
    2. Find washing tools
    3. Wash the car

    By breaking it down to it’s core “Doing”, you can now feel good about moving the project forward toward completion.

    Great article.

  2. I believe that most of the things we don’t do or put off are really things we’re not willing to do because they are too overwhelming. Even small jobs can take a lot of time or effort. Making tasks easy is a good thing to do.

    • Yes! And I learned from David Allen that If I am feeling resistance is probably because the task is too complicated it needs to be broken down.

  3. Great post. I think energy level should play a role in picking tasks as well. For example, I have a list of “Low Energy” tasks (running backups, cleaning up my desk, etc) that I pull from whenever I’m not feeling particularly energized. These are similar to the ridiculously easy tasks mentioned in the post.

    • You are very correct about energy level. I find my motivation wanes with low energy. What sort of tasks do you have on that low energy list?

  4. These are very great tips. Those simple little deadlines can give us a wake up call that the tasks we’re doing are not supposed to be done for very long, even if we know we can do it within a short period of time. Having that deadline reminds us to focus and finish the task quickly. It’s like what I do in writing, I give myself a specific word limit so that I won’t write for too long and so that I can focus on the specific points I want to write about. The word limit also reminds me that I can talk about a topic in short but clear sentences. Thanks for the article LJ! :)

  5. Very informative and applicable! I also value the technique of choosing a very small aspect of a task in order to overcome procrastination. Many times, this alone can increase our motivation and enthusiasm about a task because we feel capable of doing at least SOMETHING productive. Soon after that, we might notice that we actually made progress on a task that we were previously putting off indefinitely. This creates empowerment, which fuels even more productivity.

    Here is an article I wrote about this concept:

    http://www.freedomlieswithin.com/2/post/2013/01/progress-before-perfection.html