Breaking projects into tasks

I was been feeling a bit unmotivated at work a while back until I realized one reason why. I took (yet another) look at my task list and found most of the remaining items were not tasks, but projects. They were projects that would take multiple hours to complete and in many cases weren’t clearly defined as to their final results. What were these projects supposed to produce? How would I know when they were done? How would I start them?  No wonder I didn’t feel motivated. People don’t do projects; they do tasks. When I looked at this task list I saw vague, undefined projects that had no defined end and no defined place to start. They represented hours of work when I rarely have consecutive hours I can spend in once place to spend on one project.

So, I picked an item of my list and asked myself what I needed to do to start on it. In this particular case, the answer was to locate an old version of a similar document I had to write, take a look at it, and decide how I wanted to change it for the new document I had to write this time.

A colleague and I regularly teach this trick in a task management class we lead, and it’s standard course in any Getting Things Done like approach: always start and stop a project by noting your next task.  Doing so always gives you a concrete place to start when you pick the project up.   I shouldn’t have had to remind myself to do this, but at least I’m glad I eventually remembered.  A good reminder for myself, but also good to keep in mind when people you work with are not making the progress you expect. Maybe they don’t know where they are headed or maybe they don’t know how to get started.  There are both easy things to fix once you are aware of what to look for.

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