Recently as the number of things I take on increases, I have found myself more and more overwhelmed. Between repables.com, boxing, a full time job, trying to get a girlfriend (haha), trying to start up a hardware business, and also keeping my life organized, I find myself unable to turn the complicated tasks into actions without my mind blanking in rebellion. So I talked to a large number of people more successful than me, and read a few books. However, all their advice was the same,” break it down into tasks.” Which is great in concept, but practically useless if you have no idea how to start. What is a task? How many tasks? Should I plan out every single step? What if I don’t even know what the steps are before I start the task? Last time I tried this I spent hours just making the task list and it didn’t help me at all! Huh, what do you think about that!? Your precious tasks were a task all by themselves. Recursive jerks.
So, I spent an afternoon or two working through imaginary task lists until I came up with a very simple method of classifying tasks that makes it possible to determine exactly when you are butting your head up against a wall.
Overwhelming Task Management
This method works on the assumption that there are two types of tasks, only one of which is overwhelming.
- Type 1 tasks are complex, but only require work to complete. These are not overwhelming. It is easy to give an estimate of how long it will take to complete this task in hours.
- Type 2 tasks are complex, but require planning to break down into type 1 and type 2 tasks before they can be worked on. These are overwhelming. It is not easy to give an estimate of how long it will take to complete this task in hours.
The rules for the practical application of this idea are as follows:
- The only work that can ever be done on a type 2 task is breaking it down into type 1 and type 2 tasks.
- If a type 1 task proves to be overwhelming, then it must be reclassified into a type 2 task.
- Don’t waste time expanding all type 2 tasks until the immediately workable type 1 tasks are done.
You wake up on a Saturday morning and want to clean your house. You take one look around at the incomprehensible mess, curse your past self, and prepare to sit down and avoid the work with a healthy dose of video games. However, right as you walk over to the game console, you remember this method. In your head you quickly reclassify it as 2. Clean house, and break it down.
1. Do dishes
1. Take Out Trash
2. Organize Bookshelf
2. Sort Papers on Desk
This way the whole task isn’t held up by Laundry, Organize Bookshelf, and Sort Papers on Desk. It is easy to see where to put time working, and where to put time planning. After doing the first three, you might feel super optimistic. Laundry can be turned into.
1. Drop-Off Laundry at Laundromat
1. Pick-Up Laundry
1. Sort Laundry
Another example might be:
Task: 1. Math Homework
Math homework proves very difficult to solve, task becomes overwhelming. Break down math homework into type 2 and type 1 tasks.
Tasks: 1. Study Notes, 1.Work Example Problems, 1. After Studying, Attempt Math Homework Again
After some time:
1. Study Notes, 1.Work Example Problems, 1.After Studying, Attempt Math Homework Again
Math homework still difficult, reclassify as type 2.
1. Work Math Homework, skipping any problems that prove too difficult to solve, compile list of unsolvable problems
1. Present Problems to math teacher, take notes on advice from math teacher
1. After the above, Attempt final problems
Math homework now done, all overwhelming steps have been safely avoided and compensated for, without an inordinate amount of upfront planning or panic.