How to Succeed at Big, Long-Term Tasks

February 18, 2018

Categories: Work

It’s difficult to succeed at a big, long-term task. For example, students often struggle to make consistent progress on their thesis and dissertation projects. The projects are so big–they literally take 2-3 years to finish. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or feel like you are getting any closer to completing your goal.

I feel a similar way when I’m working on a book. I’m writing a book right now, and it will probably end up being about 200 pages. Even as I was writing that sentence, my heart sank a little bit. It seems like an impossible task. Even finishing one chapter (20-30 pages) seems like it’s going to take A LOT of work.

When a task seems too big, it can be tough to work up the motivation to get going. When you don’t get the satisfaction from finishing a task and crossing it off, it’s easy to get discouraged and lose steam. But the reality is that some of our most important tasks are big and long-term. What’s the most effective way to tackle a huge task?

Split Up a Big Task into Small Chunks

For me, it has been helpful to split up a big task into small chunks. Here’s what I mean: Take your big, long-term task, and consider how the task is made up of multiple, smaller tasks. Instead of running a mile, think about running 5,280 feet. These small tasks should be something you know you can complete in an hour or two. Make completing the small task your goal for the day. Then cross it off when you’re done.

Here is an example of how I’m splitting up my big task of writing a book into small chunks: Every day, I make it a goal to write one page in my book. One page—that’s it. I know I can usually write one page in about an hour. So I put “Write one page in book” on my task list for the day. When I finish my one page, I cross the task off my list.

Some days I might be feeling good, and I have the energy to write more than one page. That’s great. Other days, I might be tired or busy. I just write my one page and that’s all I do on the book for the day. That’s fine too. If I keep up with my goal of writing one page per day, I will get a rough draft of my book finished in 9 months. That’s pretty good for me.

Writing a 200-page book seems like an impossible task. Writing one page today? That seems doable. Small efforts done consistently over time lead to success.  Split up your big task into small chunks.

Discussion: What is one big, long-term task you are struggling to make progress toward in your life right now? How might you split up the big task into small chunks? What is the next “small chunk” you could work on today? Make it something you know you could finish in an hour or two. Put that small chunk on your to-do list for today.


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  1. […] like most of us, your major tasks take longer than one hour to finish. If this is the case, break up your larger task into smaller chunks, and make one of your small chunks an MIT. For example, right now I’m working on a book. The book […]

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