Project management: How to divide a large task into smaller pieces

April 13, 2018

It is undoubtedly a good idea to divide larger tasks into smaller ones, making them easier to approach and reducing the risk of postponing them.


A task can be considered ‘large’ when it is so extensive that we are tempted to put it off until ‘later’ whenever we see it on our list, and instead choose to do a smaller task right now. It consists of several parts and often takes more than a workday to complete.


Managing the unmanageable

So, how do we split the oversized task into smaller, bite-sized chunks? If it is really extensive, we might even procrastinate dividing the task into smaller parts – especially if we have been postponing it for a while already and have a bad conscience for not getting it done.

One of my clients shared an idea regarding this dilemma the other day. Her approach is to first subdivide the task into smaller and more specific areas, which are then divided into actual ‘to-do’ tasks.


To identify these areas, we can ask ourselves:

  • What parts of the larger task can I do by myself and which parts am I dependent on others for doing?
  • What easy and what difficult tasks are hiding in the big one?
  • What small, quick tasks and what larger, more complicated and time-consuming tasks are hidden in the larger task?
  • Which are the first, natural steps to take right now, and which steps should definitely be taken later on?
  • What different places (or systems) do I need to log into in order to do smaller tasks that are part of the big one?


Do this

If you want to try and see if this trick could help you get going with procrastinated tasks, skim your to-do-list in search of one you have been putting off for way too long (well, let’s be honest – perhaps you don’t even have to take out your to-do-list to identify one or a few things you have been postponing).

Choose a way to sub-divide the task according to categories appropriate to the task, and again take a look at the task, but now keep the question or areas in mind.

Write down whatever comes to mind as to-do-tasks on your to-do-list, unless you do them immediately. It will definitely be easier to get going now, and you will be at least one or a few steps closer to completing the larger task that has been in the back of your mind for a while.


Ease the burden

If you use one of the suggested ways to divide the task into “areas” in order to get a handle on what previously has felt unmanageable and overwhelming, and hence has been procrastinated, you will divide it into smaller pieces faster and thus help yourself get it done faster as well. Getting rid of these old, procrastinated tasks that have burdened our conscience is quite liberating and our workload often feels a lot lighter, even if we actually have just as much to do as before.


About the author

David StiernholmSUPER STRUCTUREDDavid Stiernholm is a trainer who teaches thousands of people every year in companies, government authorities, organizations and universities how to become more structured and attain a higher degree of personal efficiency.

He is also the author of Super Structured.

“Information overload”, “too much going on”, “full email inbox”, “too much on your plate”, “heavy workload”, “ASAP”, “piles that keep growing”, it has to get better soon… Yes, there are many ways to describe the chaotic life many of us lead at work. But, if we create a better structure at work, we will have more time for what matters most to us and to our business. Super Structured is based on a highly successful training program and is for anyone who wants to create a workday that runs smoother and with greater ease. In short chapters with useful advice and tips.


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