“Very easy to understand; very straightforward. But these are powerful and effective productivity techniques” ― Jim Rohn
The biggest threat to your productivity is your psychology. We are odd creatures. We are scared of our dreams, especially the big ones. When you look at an enormous task in front of you — writing a book, launching a website, establishing a business, preparing your kids to be effective, successful adults — it is easy to be immediately discouraged. It seems like so much work! How can one single man or woman accomplish it all?
In the case of tasks you have no choice about, like raising a child, you just somehow manage to achieve them. If you are like most people, you give up on tasks you “know” are just too big. You use excuses and procrastinate. The world will not end if you don’t publish your book in this decade, will it? So you postpone it for an unspecified future.
This is mental trickery. You are just as capable of starting a business or writing a book as you are of raising a kid. You will need a different mental trick to overcome this fear — breaking huge tasks into a series of tiny ones.
Break It Down
Break the task down to the point where you will feel ridiculous if you avoid such a minor effort. If writing a book within two years feels like a challenge, then maybe writing one chapter a month is more reasonable?
Does it still look too big? Break it down further, decide to write 10 pages a week. Can you do it? If you think back to writing essays in high school and you feel it still surpasses your capability, break it down further: A page a day? A paragraph per writing session? A single sentence every hour?
Can you write one sentence each hour? Sure you can. It’s easy.
You have now out-tricked the mental trickery. It went from, “I can’t write a book,” to “It’s easy to write a book.”
Writing a book is a comfortable example. It’s easy to imagine how to divide the writing process into smaller chunks. More complex tasks can be more problematic.
This brings us to another tip for breaking down tasks:
Write It Down
Let’s take launching a new website, for example. Launching a website requires many tasks: domain name, hosting, specific technologies, design, graphics, multimedia, content, marketing, SEO…
Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? This is the mental trickery taking hold. Take it out of your head and write it down. Marshall the points into chronological order. Take the first point and break it down into even smaller chunks (you must actually write it down). If you prefer to do this on a computer, trello.com offers a great project management tool that is free and easy to use.
Domain name — what is required? Write it out:
– brainstorm ideas for the website’s name
– research the availability of the best five
– comparison shop 5 domain providers
– buy domain from the best provider
Everything now appears simpler, more doable. Your mind is no longer occupied by appalling visions of a monstrous task; it focuses on small and manageable details.
As long as you keep your vague and imprecise plans in your head, your mind can play with them and make bogeymen out of them. Write them down and your ability to perform them will increase tenfold.
Writing down all the subtasks allows you to prioritize and serialize them, deciding what to do first, what to do next and so on. It also reveals the interdependencies between subtasks (e.g. choosing a specific technology may limit your hosting choices). All those steps will help you make better use of your time, but it’s very hard to manage them all in your head. That’s why they must be written down.
– Write down all your projects (or create a Trello board for them).
– Break down bigger tasks into smaller chunks and repeat the process until each task is broken into its smallest subtasks.
– Prioritize and serialize the subtasks, taking note of interdependencies and tasks that have a specific order.