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Productivity methodologies like Pomodoro suggest that you break down tasks into small, manageable subtasks.

A job I was doing today involved reviewing some written material, checking that all external sources had been referenced in it, formatting it, then making it look all good. Altogether, this job took about two hours.

If this were an essay, then my task break down might look like:

  • Write introduction.
  • Write about topic 1
  • Write about topic 2
  • Conclusion.

Then as I was writing about topic 1 and topic 2, I'd further break them down, and add the subtasks to the backlog, as I increased my understanding of what was required.

However, some tasks, like the one I was doing today, these kinds of subtasks are too small to warrant adding to the backlog - it would take the same amount of time to simply complete the subtask, as it would adding it to the backlog.

But this does lead to a kind of 'going around in circles' workflow, where the task isn't being objectively accomplished.

Any suggestions for this kind of either breaking down, or completing these kinds of not-easy-to-seperate-into-chunks tasks?

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You might find the Getting Things Done concept of next actions, rather than tasks, useful. Under GTD, most of your tasks are actually mini-projects ;-) –  Jonathan Deamer Nov 26 '13 at 23:30

2 Answers 2

If subtasks are too small to be worth tracking, don't. Just track the task.

For tasks that are too big for one work unit (pomodoro, or whatever you use) but don't decompose into concrete subtasks that are worth tracking, I have sometimes added a "work on X for Y minutes" kind of task into my system. I can check that off as complete, and then add another one exactly like it into my backlog.

Repeat until the big task that doesn't decompose is done.

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If the subtask is too small, then no need to break it down. I think you should break them down by time you can focus. If you know you can focus for 30 minutes at the very least. Break tasks into activities that take about 30 minutes. No need to break them down when you can finish it in 2 minutes.

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I updated my question to show that the task took about two hours. –  dwjohnston Nov 26 '13 at 19:13

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