The Art Of Breaking Things Down

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever come across for being productive was to ‘finish’. Simply put, it means no multi-tasking. Complete a task before moving on to the next thing. Don’t leave projects unfinished. Don’t stress. If you start it – finish it!

And this really is brilliant advice. Multi-tasking by its very nature is counterproductive. Things just do not get finished. Instead of one or two finished jobs at the end of the day to cross off of the To-Do list, you are left with several half-finished jobs and more anxiety for tomorrow.

So by taking the time to ‘finish’ a task, we eliminate it completely. The chore is done and we can move on to the next thing. We don’t have to be busy. Just focused.

And while this is, as I said, very good advice, it is also somewhat bad advice.

The need to finish is teamed with the idea of success. We can all fall into the trap of believing we have failed in some way by not having things finished yet. It puts strain on our energy, it makes us feel depressed when things don’t get done.

And for what? The satisfaction of a tick next to a To-Do box?

So let us weigh up the pros and cons. Image your laundry basket is overflowing. You’ve come back from a two week holiday and everyone in the family has dumped things in the hamper ready for the washing. It is a nightmare. There are loads and loads of clothes. Mixed colours, fabrics, the bedsheets you put in before you went away, not to mention chlorine soaked swimsuits and smelly socks about to go crusty. Yuck!

Now, realistically, are you going to finish that in one day? And I mean really ‘finish’. No half was done, it’s gone through the washer, some of it is on the line, the rest in the dryer or crumpled into a basket ready to be put away or ironed tomorrow. When I say ‘finish’ for this task I mean empty hampers and everything folded, put away or hung up in the wardrobe.

The answer is no. Simple. It is no.

The average wash cycle is roughly two hours. The reason; for a decent economic wash you need to allow for your detergent to soak in, to take effect and for the gradual heating of the water so as not to shrink or damage your clothing, but instead to give it a perfect clean. Now some of you may disagree and put load after load on a 30 minute refresh. That’s up to you, but after two weeks trapped in a suitcase the underwear you wore on the flight out is going to be pretty ripe. Best give it a proper wash.

So now lets to the maths. Say four members of the family. An outfit every two days, plus a set of sleeping attire and swimwear. Not to mention the bedsheets. On estimate, that is around 148 articles of clothing!

Oh gosh.

At a push, you can maybe get forty items in a load, depending on the size of your machine, but taking into consideration different materials and colours you probably won’t be cramming it. Even if we are generous and say three loads, white, darks and colours. That is still a minimum of 6 hours wash time. Add at least an hour per load for tumble drying. That much washing is going to take two hours to iron and even if you don’t iron, every basket still needs to be folded, distributed amongst cell mates and put away. And that’s without doing anything else other then washing all day long. I don’t know about you, but I have a life!

You see where I’m going with this?

It is not always possible to finish things. It would be nice for sure, but not always possible.

But there is good news. If broken down that vast mountain of laundry is not only done swiftly but with ease. A load a day will not only help reduce the mountain but keep it at bay. A load a day can be washed, dried and folded no problem. A load a day is manageable. A load a day can be ‘finished’.

As with this extreme example, the art of breaking things down can be applied to anything and everything. Why think of the washing as one big job? Break it down to wash, dry, put away. Three jobs, all of which can be finished and give you a sense of achievement.

Who has kids or even when they themselves where a kid came across the conundrum of too much homework? The essay is too long, I can’t keep up with my assignments, I have no idea where to start. Break it down. Intro, point, example, explain, repeat, conclusion. It’s all relevant, all a separate task that you can apply the ‘finish’ rule to, but that curbs the stress yet breeds success.

If you are writing a book you absolutely will not get it finished all at once unless you are either a wizard or on crack. So you break it down. You do the research, you map out characters, you write a plot outline. Then you go chapter by chapter until you either have a first draft or a stroke. Then you edit. You still scheduled and you still ‘finish’ but all in its own time. Section by section.

And it really is an art, to break things down and make them simpler. I don’t know just how many times I have started my day, planned my day out and thought ‘I am going to finish everything on my to-do list today’ and then it doesn’t happen. Things take longer to complete. I did not plan for everything. I overestimated.

Give yourself a break. When it is impossible to ‘finish’ something in one day, break it down. List the things in your head or better yet on paper, and work out what needs to be done to finish the project. By breaking it down you eliminate your chances of failure, you give yourself reassurance that the task will be completed while at the same time, permission to not get everything done all at once. Don’t even try to do ‘everything’ because you will hurt yourself!

Breaking things down into a process evens out the scoreboard. Yes, it seems scary because your To-Do list looks a lot bigger but that is not necessarily true. The job will still take the same amount of time, but the quality of your work will be better. It will be relaxed not rushed. Instead of aiming for 10,000 words a day of utter rubbish, break it down to a 1,000 or 500 daily word count. The book will still be written in 3 months! Yes, that is right. And your editing process will be smoother for it. The same goes for the laundry. Just one load a day means your days off work are not taken up with mountains of ‘things that need doing’ but instead, can be spent with, frankly, less resentment.

And success does breed success. Think of the motivation. All these mini-tasks being completed will give you need the drive to go further, without bogging you down with worry.

So why not give it a go and see if breaking things down works for you. If so let me know in the comments below. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.


3 thoughts on “The Art Of Breaking Things Down

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