How to break down your project into bite-sized tasks
Nearly all time management resources make it a point to tell you to break down your work into bite-sized tasks. You then take it one small step at a time and, Voila! You eventually have a finished product without the unnecessary mountain of stress on your back.
That being said, there is a little bit more to cover, not in terms of why we are breaking down our work, but how to do so effectively. From my experience in a custom software development company learning an effective way to delegate and prioritize your work is crucial. So here, I would like to share with you my general process when it comes to breaking down my work.
Define your goals
You know you have to turn in a project. Let’s say you need to develop an application that performs specific operations automatically. What do you aim to accomplish with this software? What is the end-user going to do with it? How do you want it to operate?
There are a lot of goal-setting questions that need to be answered before you even start to come up with the technical architecture and thinking of different technologies you can use to make it happen.
By setting clearly defined goals from the get-go, you can make sure that the entire process and all the work you are putting in is going in the right direction. Especially if you keep in mind that, more often than not, products perform well if they serve a purpose and aim to resolve an issue. For example, if my problem is that I am thirsty, my goal is to obtain water. If I instead set out to eat chocolate, the chances are that I will end up even more parched.
Identify what the most important thing to achieve is
So, do you have your goals? Great.
Now, you need to start working on your gameplan. And you do that by deciding what is the most important thing to achieve. For example, if you need to turn in an application, the biggest priority is for the program to work – perform the predefined function without errors.
When it comes to turning in a project within the deadline, you need to assume that there may be complications and you might not be able to turn in everything you initially intended to. So starting on the design work before you have functional software, for example, is highly impractical. This leaves you at high risk of failing the project.
Luckily, you can easily avoid this by simply planning accordingly. Prioritize your work by importance. Isolate what is the most important thing to do and then decide on what tasks you can add to that to deliver a high-quality product.
Let’s go back to the water example. The most important thing to complete in order to hydrate is to obtain water.
Break down into elements
You have your goals, and you have separated your project in big chunks that allow you to prioritise which major element you need to start with. Now it is time to further break it down to tiny bits of work. The goal is that every task you have listed can be done in one sitting without interruptions. This allows you to do tasks one after the other until you are ready.
When you have identified that you need to obtain water, then it is time to see what it takes for you to get it done. You can break it down like this:
- Take out money from your wallet.
- Put on a mask
- Leave your house
- Choose the route you want to take to the nearest store.
- Walk from your house to the store.
- Find the isle that has water
- Choose the brand and quantity you want to buy
- Take a bottle and walk over to the register and pay
- Walk back home
- Disinfect the bottle (You have to be careful with coronavirus!)
- Drink as much water as you want
As you see, you can define every job with tiny little tasks. Now, you won’t need to break everything down this much. You only really need to level it to an hour or two work-session. And you can of-course choose how you want to plan out your work. But regardless of how small or big you define your to-do’s the principle is the same.
Order your tasks based on priority
Once you have all of your tasks broken down, you need to choose the order in which you want to complete them. We already talked about the importance of prioritising the most important things and then moving on from there.
But you also need to consider the conditional tasks. What I mean by that is that are things that you need to do first. For example, to buy water, you need to make some money from your wallet. So while buying water should be the priority action, the initial prioritisation is to make sure you have the resources you need on you.
Make a plan – a simple checklist
You have your goals, priorities and tasks. All that is left is to just start doing things one after the other. The best managing system, in my opinion, is the simple checklist. All you need to write down is the date and then list your tasks for the day.
My preference is to have a project task list, from which I pull work for the day. My rule of thumb is to never have more than five things on your daily checklist as more than that is often not doable.
The second most important rule is only to take on the next item on the list once you have completed the on you are currently working on. It is a matter of the consecutive assignment.
This is becoming my most repeated advice, and that is simply due to the fact that it is so important, yet so overlooked.
I have consistently expected too much of myself and then succumbed to the understandable disappointment when I inevitably fall short to my expectations. So being able to realistically evaluate how much time certain work takes and also how to break down project will make all the difference in your life.