Productivity Tip: Break up Big Projects

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Shipping is not as simple as it sounds. And idea, a project or a business has many parts to integrate for it
to ship. One way I find really effective to ship is to break it in to chunks. Most of us make a to-do list daily. I have to admit that when I started making one, I was able to get more things done. However, sometimes it comes to a point that our to-do list becomes too impossible.

Question: How do we deal with more abstract tasks like “launch project today” or “learn about tax”?
Answer: Break it up.

Instead of just “launch project today”, we can try:

  • Find out problems
  • Inform stakeholders
  • Talk to dev team
  • Follow up with Project Management

Those are all part of the project launching process, and all more concrete steps to accomplish.

How about for “learn about tax”? We can try:

  • Read up on tax
  • Get a copy of financial statement
  • Set meeting with Finance guy
  • Ask question and show financial statement

Those are all easily achievable and unforgettable steps in the learning about tax process.

Well, what do we get for

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listing down smaller tasks instead of big ones, aside from more things to do and more wastage of space? There are related 2 reasons, mentioned in this brilliant article on productivity.

First, we are able to manage our tasks properly.

By breaking down our tasks to smaller pieces, we are able to set milestones in the launching process. We will be able to see where we are exactly and what else we need to do to ship. This, of course, allows us to take control and make sure we ship as agreed upon (with those who expect it from you). It can help in various ways, but most especially in time tracking or effort forecasts.

Time tracking is when we want to know how much longer the task will take. For example, in a launching a project scenario:

  • Finding out the problems: 5-10 minutes.
  • Informing the stakeholders: 1 minute.
  • Talking to the dev team: 10 minutes.
  • Following up with Project Management: 5 minutes.

With that we have an estimate 26 minutes of our day will go to this task.

Effort forecasts are helpful when we want to know how much more work we will have to put into something. For example, when we have a partnership project, we might have the following tasks to do:

  • Negotiate better rates
  • Create business case
  • Review contract
  • Make presentation
  • Present to approving body
  • Have contract signed

Through this list, we can tell which tasks will require the most brain power on our part. For this project, let’s say negotiation

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and presentation are the hardest parts, and making a business case and having it signed are the easiest parts. We know how much more effort this project will exert thus being able to implement proper prioritization.

The second reason is more practical. Simply put, break it in chunks so you can achieve more. It’s simple math really (don’t get scared of

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me now). Which looks better?

Simple math: 6 > 1

Having our tasks in smaller chunks allows us to feel a greater sense of accomplishment. And a stronger drive to check them all out, to be able to actually ship and achieve something.

I also have a third reason, which most of you can surely relate to. Break it down so that we don’t forget. There are too many things going on in the world nowadays; it’s impossible for us to remember everything. So, break it down in chunks and write it down.

Just last week, I was making a presentation. I actually made each slide and content part of the checklist. It worked. I was able to estimate how much time I’d need for the slides (I had just a few hours to make them), which slides would require the most effort (in terms of visuals, animations and content), I felt more driven when I saw that I had 8 slides to go, and I didn’t forget a single point in my presentation.

Okay, I’ll admit, I tend to have obsessive compulsive tendencies, so you don’t have to be like me. Break it down to whatever works for you. I make my list on my laptop, using Microsoft OneNote, so I don’t really waste any ink or paper. :P By the way, OneNote is Microsoft’s newest and best software (I’m biased). It works like a real notebook and more. I recommend you use it, if you have it (it’s usually available with MS Office 2007 Enterprise or Student edition—PC only, boo).

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