Chapter 1
Chapter 1: How to break down tasks to get jobs done
Chapter 1: How to break down tasks to get jobs done
A to-do list is not a wish-list.

It’s worth remembering this when you set out to tackle any job in the workplace, from the largest project to the most straightforward of tasks. The advice holds whether you’re managing a team or working within one.

Too often, a wish-list is overly ambitious in terms of timings, quality or costs, or ignores the old principle that you can pick two of the following, but not all three:

Good. Cheap. Fast.

  • Cheap and fast: won’t be good
  • Good and cheap: won’t be fast
  • Fast and good: won’t be cheap

Wish-lists often falter at these first principles.

To-do lists, on the other hand, make for certain, manageable and accountable progress. Why? Because they look beyond the wider goals to tackle the issues by breaking down larger – and sometimes seemingly insurmountable – tasks, into practical, achievable steps.

Of course, what an achievable step looks like will depend on the particular task. However, most workplace-based projects can still be broken down into manageable chunks with reference to three broad categories:

  • Parts 
    Can each member of the team be allocated a section of the single, larger job, and all work simultaneously?
  • Phases
    What needs to happen first and what can wait – or needs to wait – until later?
  • Categories 
    Can the overall project be divided by, for example, customer type or skill set, to help allocate resources?

If such broad-based divisions of labour still remain daunting, that’s because while they describe the scope of individual elements of the project, they don’t offer practical steps to tackling them.

To do this, try breaking down each section further, setting out clear routes towards achieving a good outcome. Often, this follows three simple steps:

  1. Identify the tasks
  2. Consider what needs to be done to complete those tasks
  3. Set milestones

Make sure your project goals, resources and timings are all integrated within this three-step breakdown.

Next: How to develop a work breakdown structure