outten.net - random thoughts

Task Break Down

Last week, my wife and I put down new mulch in the natural areas of our yard. As I was loading cart after cart of mulch to lug across the yard, I started thinking we might not be able to get all 8 yards of mulch spread that day. I really wanted to get this done so I didn’t have to worry about it over the weekend. Looking at the pile, it did not seem to be getting any smaller and it was approaching lunch time. A thought came to mind: how can I make this into a smaller task that I could accomplish in a few hours instead of looking at the entire pile over the period of a day? What if I worked to split the mulch in the middle into two separate piles (dividing and conquering)? That could make the task interesting (kids might like it) and give me a smaller goal to attempt to reach.

How many times do I find myself asking that question? How can I break task X down into something smaller so I can feel like I am accomplishing something? My understanding of goal setting comes from studying of GTD, Agile development processes and a history of playing basketball. GTD and Agile development have taught this as some of their core concepts (if I understand them correctly). The further along I got playing basketball, I found we were always breaking down plays or watching videos in smaller chunks to analyze how we could get better. The task of breaking down issues into smaller tasks seems to be fairly important and a skill that I frequently find myself using (as long as I don’t over plan).

Back to my pile of mulch. I was able to get it divided into two halves.


From there, I proceeded to break it into smaller tasks. I focused on the smaller half first and then started breaking off the corners of the larger half that was left. It sure did help and we were able to get all of the mulch spread by the end of the day (YAY!). Once again, setting smaller goals, although they may not have made a difference in the speed that I got my part done, they did help me focus on small units of work that I needed to get done.