Sidhuvud

The blog


Previous article

Next article

25 Oct

One long and ten quick ones


Datum: 2023-10-25 15:03
Six small tomatoes in a row, followed by one large and one tiny one. All are red, round, and still have the green stem attached.

Niclas recent­ly wrote to me and described a com­mon sit­u­a­tion that can eas­i­ly give us stress­ful afternoons:

If I have say 10 small, sim­ple tasks to do in a day and one big one, I have noticed that I tend to do all the short­er and eas­i­er ones first before get­ting start­ed on the big­ger task.

I find it chal­leng­ing to get going with the big one and enjoy the feel­ing of hav­ing the lit­tle ones out of the way before get­ting start­ed since it feels as if I will be less stressed then.


For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:


The down­side of this method is of course that I do not start work­ing on the big task until I am real­ly tired, and I often have to work into the evening to fin­ish it.”

What he describes is famil­iar at least to me. It is excel­lent that we get the ten small­er tasks done first, but what if we could have dealt with the large task ear­li­er in the day when we were more alert, and then would have done the small­er and less demand­ing tasks to fin­ish the day off? If we would only have been dif­fer­ent, more like one of those peo­ple who likes swal­low­ing the biggest frog first …

No need to change your disposition

Since chang­ing your whole per­son­al­i­ty and accom­pa­ny­ing pref­er­ences is both time-con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult, it is a good thing indeed that we do not have to change at the core of our­selves to improve our work­ing meth­ods. Instead, we can ben­e­fit from our seem­ing­ly dis­ad­van­ta­geous trait, which appears to make us do what is small and easy before get­ting to the big and complicated.

As I see it, we can choose to pur­sue at least one of these two strategies:

  • Either we can embrace want­i­ng to do the lit­tle things first but set a lim­it for how many we are allowed to do before start­ing with the larg­er task.
  • Or, split the large task into many small parts.

Do this

The next time you both have many small tasks and at least one larg­er task to do dur­ing a day (per­haps today is that day?) and you notice feel­ing tempt­ed to clear away” a bunch of small­er tasks even though you know it would be best if you did that major assign­ment first, then do one of the following:

  • Choose a few small­er tasks that you will do imme­di­ate­ly, per­haps three. If you do all the small tasks first, you will not have enough time and ener­gy for the larg­er task, but if you only choose to do a few of these small­er, bite-size tasks, you will get to the task that will demand your focus and atten­tion ear­ly on in the day. Be gen­er­ous with tick­ing the tasks off your list so that you feel the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of hav­ing accom­plished some­thing, and feel moti­vat­ed to con­tin­ue by hav­ing a go at the larg­er task.
  • Or, use the fact that you enjoy tick­ing small­er tasks off your list by defin­ing one or sev­er­al small­er tasks from the larg­er task that lies ahead. You can either for­mu­late a small­er to-do task that you first do and then tick off the list, or you can decide to work for an equiv­a­lent amount of time on the big­ger task as a small task would take, and then tick hav­ing done so off some­how or have a break. Repeat until the large task is done, or as long as you need to keep up the pace and moti­va­tion. When I make small­er tasks out of larg­er ones, I usu­al­ly do not have to bite off small­er por­tions to do more than a few times before I feel that I have got­ten some motion and the rest of the task almost fin­ish­es itself.

Who wants to get a grip anyway?

If you take advan­tage of the fact that you are tempt­ed to do small things before deal­ing with larg­er and more intim­i­dat­ing ones, instead of beat­ing up on your­self for doing so and telling your­self to get a grip and just get on with it!”, you will both get the large task done ear­ly in the day and work with greater peace of mind. Instead of work­ing in oppo­si­tion to your pref­er­ences and ten­den­cies, you will use them to your advan­tage. And isn’t that a much nicer (and more effi­cient) way of working?

What is your way?

Do you have some oth­er way to solve the prob­lem Niclas described? Then, tell me!

Middle-aged Japanese woman wearing glasses is sitting in a cosy café in Ikebukuro, reading something interesting on her laptop.

Want more like this?


If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

Yes, I want more tips!