Posted by: projectsinpractice | July 15, 2012

Work Breakdown: Productivity Hack!

Bonnie here: When I read Teresa’s post about getting unstuck (Hacking into Motivation and Creativity,) I started bouncing in my office chair going “Oooo! Oooo!” much like a third grader who knows the answer to a teacher’s question. I was excited because I myself was in the midst of hacking into motivation–in a way she didn’t address directly. And my hack ties into a tool that’s near and dear to every project manager’s heart — the work breakdown structure.

Productivity Hack #6. All I Have To Do Is…

In project management, a work breakdown structure conveys the work behind project scope; simplifies estimating, assigning work, and tracking progress; and more. Breaking work down can also act as a hack for getting started (or unstuck) in smaller assignments or personal projects. (Along the lines of Teresa’s hack, “Just Do One Thing.”)

Suppose you’re facing a task that seems overwhelming, never-ending, or downright tedious and unappealing. The typical response is to find reasons to procrastinate. Instead, you can apply the “All I Have To Do Is” hack to break down work into pieces that are so small that it’s easy to talk yourself into doing them.

Try it. Say “All I have to do is” and fill in a really small chunk of work. Do that a few times and before you know it, the entire task will be done and you’ll feel great.

Here’s a personal example of this hack in real life:

The task:

Here in Colorado, wildfires have been consuming forests and homes like, well, wildfire. I can’t control whether a fire starts near me, but I can take steps to prepare for disaster. (Risk management in action, but that’s a topic for another post.) So, I recently decided to prepare a new inventory of my belongings and move irreplaceable items to someplace safe. Preparing a household inventory is not something I enjoy.

The procrastination:

First, I did some research on house inventory programs. But someone as nerdy as me doesn’t need inventory software. how else could I procrastinate? Suddenly, my work assignments took on new appeal. This deadline, that deadline. Wait, I’ve got it! How about a new project? Isn’t it time I finally sell the stuff that’s been gathering dust for years?

As a professional freelancer, I have finally learned to recognize the signs of procrastination.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 1:

I identified the first small “All I Have To Do Is” step, which was to take photographs of everything in my front hallway and document them in a spreadsheet. My front hallway has a coat closet, a rug, and a couple of things hanging on the wall. After five minutes, I had seven photos and a spreadsheet with a few summarized entries along with a cell that identified the corresponding digital photo filenames.

Gosh, that wasn’t so bad. So, I moved on to the powder room and another hallway. Easy-peasy.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 2:

Knowing when to take a break is key to this hack. It’s important to stop before the overwhelming feeling returns. The next space in my house’s floor plan is the kitchen and pantry. I’m a foodie. I have lots of gadgets, spices, cookbooks, and other cooking stuff. I took one look and could feel my motivation draining. I stopped.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 3:

After some time passes — a few hours or a few days, at the most — it’s time to say with renewed vigor “All I have to do is…” I finished the pantry and my cookbook shelves. I still felt inspired, so I got through about half of the kitchen cabinets. Mind you, I did not add individual entries for every kitchen gadget I own.

The results:

After three days of this hack, the contents of my house and garage were recorded in photographs and a spreadsheet (which, by the way, are stored on the cloud and on an external drive in my safe deposit box.) I had packed up the irreplaceable items as I encountered them and took them to a friend’s house for safekeeping. I also had photos of items I wanted to sell, posted them on craigslist and eBay, and discovered to my delight that people really did want to buy the crap, er, fine belongings, that I didn’t want any more. The icing on the cake was when my homeowner’s insurance agent told me that I inspired her to do her own inventory.

I feel great and motivated to get more off my to-do list.

Read more about breaking down work in Chapter 5, “Identifying the Work to Be Completed” in Your Project Management Coach or in Successful Project Management, turn to Chapter 4, “Building a Work Breakdown Structure”.

Talk back: What tricks or hacks do you use to get unstuck or motivate action?


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