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Each morning I'd wake up and tell myself that I have to get certain things done. The problem is that when I get to my GTD management program (Things for Mac), I don't really know what to put down.

Most of these things would probably be projects under the GTD system. For example, creating a graphic in Illustrator—would that be one task, or a project (envision design, choose colors, draw shapes, finish the illustration)? Then, the graphic would be used in another project, potentially one that could take several weeks.

As a programmer, these projects often have many aspects to them. Should a bug fix be one step, or a project... At this point, I'd give up on trying to put these tasks into Things, and start working on something. But then I'd end up procrastinating and wasting the day... and it all just becomes a vicious cycle of lost productivity.

So, what's the best way to break things up into individual things (pun intended — lame, I know) to do?

{ asked by Inspire48 }


In my opinion, the reason that breaking down tasks works is because it makes your vision for what you want done more concrete. Breaking down tasks more achieves this better, but it also takes up more of your time before you actually get started working.

Probably the best thing to do is to break down your tasks a fair amount at first. (There's a limit to how much you can break them down, because at a certain point you have to do the task in order to see what subtasks it'll consist of.) Then once you've gotten in the groove of being productive, you can gradually start cutting down on the amount you break your tasks down and see what the smallest amount of "break-down time" you can get away with is. It's all about treating yourself like a system to be reasoned about and optimizing your inputs.

Also, the best time to break down your tasks is probably the evening before you plan to do them. (Set an alarm that rings late in the evening to remind yourself.) Once I started planning what I was going to work on each evening, I got a lot more productive. (Although this habit took some time to develop.) Your plan doesn't have to be perfect--keep General George Patton's words in mind: "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.".

{ answered by John Maxwell }