Monday, August 14

Getting Things Done: Task Granularity

I discovered something about my work last week. A process I had previously put on my next-actions list as a single entry is actually composed of three separate and definable steps. Listing my work in smaller chunks has made it easier to get things done.

But I did some thinking about breaking down tasks, and I realized that the degree to which things must be broken down is individual for each person and even for each project. For instance, a perfectly fine next action for me (if I were to apply GTD to my morning routine) would be "get dressed." However, my wife would probably need to have "choose clothes" and "get dressed" as two separate actions-- in fact, she often does the former action in the evening before she goes to bed. Some people might even need "choose pants," then "find matching shirt," et cetera.

But I use this example only to find a common ground in a task that everyone does every day (well, almost every day if you're still in college). The same principle of determining the size of individual project chunks applies to things you might do at work or at school.

If your job is to be an HR administrator, "Administer Human Resources" will definitely be too large of a chunk to constitute a good next action! On the flip side, "Turn on the computer" is much too small of a task in any job to have to track it individually. Unless, of course, you're a computer technician faced with the problem of trying to get a stubborn machine to power on. (Hint: It's either the power supply or the RAM.)

Similarly, my job title is to be an "Instrumental Music Editor/Engraver." Up until last week when this thought occurred to me, I had a next action of "Engrave music for [Project X]." If you have your job title in a next action, you can probably stand to break it down a bit more. And analyzing the things I do when I approach such a task helped me to create smaller chunks which seem much more doable. Again, though, "Start up the notation software" would be much too small of an action for me.

The point here, though, is that you need to determine the granularity that works for you. It's definitely a good thing to think about; especially if you have one or two things that have been sitting around on your list for a really long time. Re-defining the task in smaller pieces might just help you get stubborn projects crossed off your list.

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.