Chunk it and boost your productivity!
“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler!”, courtesy of Mr. Einstein. This is also true of how we go about handling tasks. Applying simple, basic principles can often give a jolt of productivity to our working lives. Today, I present one such principle – chunking.
What is chunking?
Simply put, chunking is breaking objectives or goals down into small manageable tasks that you can physically execute. Completing all of these subtasks will inevitably result in the overall objective being successfully completed.
The finer art of chunking
So, we know we have to break our big tasks down into smaller bite size tasks. How does one go about it? Let me propose a three step approach.
- First, List out main objectives to be done. This is very much a top level look at what must be achieved over the next weeks and months. Depending on your situation this can be done by yourself or in conjunction with your peers or manager.
- Next, We need to chunk it into Subtasks. There are a few ways to do this but I prefer mind mapping. Mind mapping is where we have a central topic, let’s say our tasks for this month. From that, we create the top level tasks, each connected to the central topic. Then, for each top level task, we chunk it – creating subtasks down the hierarchy until we get to the level where they are actionable. Actionable means that it is a physical activity that you can do. It is not a theory, or a wish, or a goal, it is the equivalent of a big foreboding man standing over your shoulder barking a command. Ideally each of these actionable tasks should require maximum half a day to complete. This would mean the subtask can be closed cleanly in one day and then next subtask picked up at the next opportunity (the following day, following week etc.). To enable the creation of such mind maps I heartily recommend one of the myriad of software tools available. You can opt for free software like free mind or commercial versions such as mindjet or mindgenius. The example below shows a mindjet based mind map.
- Having completed our chunked out list the last step is to formulate it in terms of a todo list, which then may include dates, priorities or other information to help you define which task to do at any given time. Some of the software above allows such information to be directly entered while others like freemind readily lend themselves to export to a specialized todo list app such as Abstractspoon todolist which is my personal favourite, and, it is free! So, having gone through these three steps we have transformed our activities from an amorphous heap of unsorted inbox items to an oasis of actionable tasks ripe for selection.
Why will it boost productivity?
Now that we have a well organised, actionable to do list will it actually boost our productivity? I believe yes, for the following reasons;
- We have just created the basis of a hit list that when executed will deliver important objectives.
- Each subtask counts towards the completion of an objective. Completing a subtask moves us forward.
- When a large task is broken down into small bite size pieces, some of those subtasks can be selected and executed depending on the time they require and the time you have available. So, optimum use of your time slots is made.
- Short subtasks lend themselves to execution on the go. Have a 20min bus ride? Execute a 20min subtask on the way!
- Subtasks lend themselves to rapid switching. Should one task not be executable or require waiting for an input you can switch to another subtask to progress another objective.
- It encourages focusing and executing a single task at a time. We move to a mind cluttered with multi-tasking to fast, focused serial tasking.
- Finally, we often procrastinate on completing large tasks simply because we have no idea how or where to start. Often, procrastination prone tasks are the most important that we should be delivering on and which really add value. These are the tasks, that when executed efficiently, that really makes a difference to one’s productivity.
So, there you have it. My take on chunking and why it will help your productivity. Give it a go, play with it and mold it into the form which most suits your needs.