Step by Step, Day by Day

Posted July 9, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

We all make task lists – and no matter how you manage them, whether online, with an app, or with a trusty old post-it note, we all find eventually there are certain tasks that just keep getting rewritten. From task list to task list, they go, as if we’re never going to complete them. And as these guilt ridden tasks follow us from week to week, we feel conflicted as to when we’ll find time to get them done.

The problem here may be something you haven’t thought of. It could be that the task that follows you from week to week isn’t actually a task. Look at your task list, and that stubborn “didn’t do” task and ask yourself, “Is this really a task? Or is this really more of a project?”

To appropriately answer this question, let’s talk about the difference between a task and a project.

  • Tasks are singular in nature. Something like “take out the trash” or “file all papers on desk”are clear tasks, something that will take a specific amount of time with a definitive set of skills.
  • Projects are compounded tasks – multiple sets of tasks that come together. Something like “2013 strategic plan” or “clean the house” aren’t just singular pieces we can sit down and do in any one moment. They are groups of tasks that make up a project rather than one thing you can check off a list.

Now that you know that stubborn “didn’t do” on your list might be a project, how do you succeed in completing that project?The key here is breaking the project into steps.If you remember the 1990’s television show “Step by Step,” just think of the theme song. “Step by step, day by day,” and you’ll get there. Here’s how:

  1. Break the project into the most minuscule tasks. What are all of the small tasks you would need to complete in order to get the project off the ground and eventually completed successfully?
  2. Order your tasks. Know where you need to start and where you need to end up. Picking up a project in the middle of the list may leave important tasks undone.
  3. As you put these tasks in order, make note of the time it might take to complete each task. What you may find in this process is a clear picture of what’s been holding you back from completing this project. Perhaps the first step in the project is a time consuming task, but the rest of the project is quick and easy. Then you know you’ll need to set aside a larger chunk of time to complete that part of the project.
  4. Press the start button (proverbially). The best way to complete a project is……starting the project.

Now that you’ve identified whether your “didn’t do” items are tasks vs. projects and laid out the key steps to making a project easily digestible, you might just find that your task list gets done every week and less of those items are making it from list to list.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."