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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

When the task seems overcomplicated or overwhelming, reconsider the "task design"!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Jan 15, 2010 @ 09:25 AM

Task ListAre you struggling with a task (or a whole task list) and don't know where to start and therefore keep postponing it or avoiding it, or maybe get started and feel lost and overwhelmed? More often than not when I face a task that I perceive as over complicated or coach people who are facing such a situation, here is what we realize among other things:

  • The task is actually a bunch of tasks that are disguised as one.
  • The task includes several sub-tasks that require different skills, different tools, different approaches, or different moods.
  • The effort it takes to get the task done is way under-estimated, like thinking we can get it done in a couple of hours while in reality this requires at least a couple of days or even weeks.
  • Substantial thinking and strategizing is necessary before undertaking the task, which we may not have realized or thought we could bypass.
  • Some documents or tools or people are needed to help or support the task but aren't available or easily accessible.

There are many other factors that play into this, but there is one important theme about the issues highlighted above and that is: They relate to what I call "task design." If we spend some time, maybe a few minutes for a simple task or longer for a more complicated one, strategizing and thinking through the task, we are likely to uncover these potential obstacles and:

  1. Be able to set the right expectation (our own and others) of what it is going to take to get this task done.
  2. Get ready for the task by lining up the necessary information, tools, and people.
  3. Break the task down into manageable components and a more reasonable timeline that we can then approach with enthusiasm instead of fear.

When you review your task list or to do list (hopefully the more strategic to do list that I have been describing recently), reconsider task design. This will help you avoid inefficiencies, avoid feeling overwhelmed, and better managing stress, and most importantly it will lead to a successful task execution.

For more insights about task design, check out the article I wrote in March 2008 about "The power of working in iterations! Give yourself the freedom to do so, and celebrate victory against procrastination and perfectionism."

Topics: to do list, time management tips, managing stress

The power of working in iterations! Give yourself the freedom to do so, and celebrate victory against procrastination and perfectionism

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Mar 13, 2008 @ 08:55 AM

task listYou have this report to write, or presentation to prepare, or project plan to put into place. It is daunting. Too many parts to it. Too many issues to think about. You find yourself deferring it and feeling a little anxious when you think about it. It is just too big of an undertaking, and/or a sign of procrastination, and/or a sign of wanting it to be nothing less than perfect . You end up delaying it until there is no room for delaying any further. Then it becomes a high pressure situation. In addition, work quality suffers. If other urgent demands come up at the same time, and they will, then you've got one of these "situations" on hand.

The power of working in iterations and helping better manage such a project or task could involve the following:

Iteration #1

Give yourself permission to spend, let us say 40 minutes, to do a brain dump relating to the project or task (let us call it project for now). Remind yourself that this is just a brain dump and not go into analysis or conclusions yet. Capture related issues, ideas, worries, whatever else comes to your mind. Don't worry about organizing or ordering yet. Include a list of potential resources that you may have access to or would like to have access to. Be creative! Be bold! Dare to put down freely what comes to your mind!

Iteration #2

Leave the above alone for a bit. This may be an hour or two, or a day or two, depending on the magnitude of this project. This will allow the mind to absorb the information and do its own background work on it. It may be quite beneficial to engage in some creative work or physical exercise type activities during this time.

Iteration #3

Take another stab at it. This can also be yet another 40 minute session. In this iteration, you may add additional thoughts, and your mind may have already come up with new and interesting ideas on how to approach the project. Capture them and then move into organizing your thoughts and get them ready to take action. This probably means breaking down what needs to get done into manageable components that you can then schedule on your calendar, and/or delegate to others.

Iteration #4

Now that you have a plan, start execution according to plan. If possible and applicable, involve others. Setup a dry run or a review session with the people who could provide meaningful input, and who might have some stake in the success of this project. Create a deadline that can help you focus your energy and motivate you to get things moving.

Iteration #5

Give yourself time to refine, gather more input, and go for the final victory.

Of course customize the above as you see fit. Don't forget to stop and celebrate victory against procrastination and perfectionism, before you start the next project or task!


Topics: to do list, time management tips