Mastering the Mini-Task

Mastering the Mini-Task


The need for a different approach to my time management became very clear to me once I began staying at home with young children.  I wrote before about finding a rhythm to my day.  Another effective technique I use is called Mini-Tasking.

Let’s say I have the following on my to-do list:

1.  Return alarm clock for exchange

It seems like a straightforward task, but something like this can stay on my to-do list for weeks.  I’m much more likely to get this task done if I mini-task it and write it like this:

1.  Return alarm clock for exchange

  • Get phone number for clock company
  • Call to inquire about exchange policy
  • Get all needed info (codes, address)
  • Package clock for mailing
  • Bring to post office

Writing it like this helps for two important reasons

A.  It helps me BEGIN.  By clearly identifying the first mini step I need to take I am much more likely to move forward on it.

B.  I can use small spaces of time that open up effectively.  Being home with little kids makes the time I have available to keep the house running unpredictable.  I may not get the whole thing done in one sitting, but I can chip away at it with little snippets of time.

How do you deal with tasks that seem to stay week after week on your to-do list?



12 responses to “Mastering the Mini-Task”

  1. Lisa this is such an effective way of getting through to do lists! I find writing out the next actionable item for the larger task gets rid of a lot of the friction that makes an item stick around.

    Like in your example of taking back the clock, it would stick around on my list because “oh I can’t find the receipt or I don’t know the exchange policy” and that’s it. But like you say if you break it out into what to do next it makes things so much easier! Great advice!

  2. I find I have to do my lists this way also, even on some things as simple as cleaning the bathrooms. I may have to split it up like this – clean the toilets, clean the sinks, clean the bathtub, and clean the floors.

    My problem is like to focus on one chore from start to finish, and I don’t like to be interrupted. Of course, with kids interruptions are a part of life. By breaking up my to-do-list this way, I make each individual item the chore. I guess you could say, I try to trick myself into thinking I’m doing an entire chore at once.

  3. My not-very-ideal way is to multi-task my way through the house…clean this on the way to that; begin making my bed, see the plant there needs water, oh, the fish are saying they are hungry, too and need more water in their tank, so off to the kitchen for “good” water, fill the jug from the filter, start the tea pot while I’m at it, clean off the stove top, re-season the cast iron pan…now, what was I doing??? Oh, yeah! making the bed! I get things done; but, how efficiently? Hmmm….

  4. I remember the problem of stick-on-the-list items from when I was working. There were items I would end up re-writing over and over on new lists. I would use much more time writing them, than it would have taken to do them! A couple things I picked up from co-workers –
    – if it’s small/quick, DON’T PUT IT ON THE LIST, just do it! If something was unpleasant, I would find myself writing it on my list instead of just getting it done. Tsk, tsk.
    – set aside a time JUST for these items, don’t do anything BUT these hang-around-unpleasant things. Get it over with.
    – DON’T THINK about it, just DO it 🙂 This is a particular bad habit of mine – I spend more time thinking about a chore (should I do it, shouldn’t I, when will I do it, what excuse can I come up with not to do it) than it would take to just get it done.

    PS: I enjoy reading your blog very much! Thank you for all the interesting posts.

  5. Amanda- Yes, it is like that for me too– there is something I love about crossing things off my list, so when I multi-task I also get a lot more chances to feel like I accomplished something and can cross it off 🙂
    Janet- So true! Making time JUST for the things that we don’t want to do is a great idea- it forces us not to push it to the back of the list because our objective is soley to get those unenjoyable things done. Great idea

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I found you on Sherri’s blog and followed you here to say hello. Mini-tasking is a great term and a great idea! I’ve often heard that we should break goals down into smaller bits but hardly hear anything about breaking tasks down so you have something quite original here. And you write very well – simple language and clear and concise points. I like it!

  7. I think I REALLY need to use this technique. I’m falling further and further behind on my lists. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  8. This is so good. I find that if I can just begin then I’m fine. Mini tasks make it seem doable.

  9. I am reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and his book is helping me to further understand the concept of “the mini-task” and how to apply it effectively to my life. Your posts are always interesting, Lisa.

  10. […] isn’t for you, maybe you’re a details person if so make sure to revisit Lisa’s Mastering the Mini-task it’s an excellent article on breaking down to-do items into next actionable […]

  11. […] that helped me get a handle on this was mini tasking my to-do list.  Giving ourselves adequate time to complete our day’s tasks forces us to be […]

  12. Karen (Scotland) Avatar
    Karen (Scotland)

    Hi, I just came over from Small Notebook.
    When my mum talks about these types of tasks, she says “I must have done it a hundred times in my head already”, meaning she’d taken more time thinking about it than it would have actually taken her to do it!
    I try and remember that whenever I find myself carrying something from old list to new list.

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