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Projects vs Tasks: How to Break Down Your Work
By Jennifer Kentmere

It’s easy to get bogged down in To Do Lists and feel like you’re drowning under Post-it Notes.

Especially if you have multiple projects on the go, it can be difficult to know where to start with your workload and swimming can very soon turn into drowning. Even though it feels like you are working hard, your productivity can drop as your stress levels rise.

But by breaking Projects down into Tasks you can very quickly regain control of your work and once again feel like you’re back in your element. With this simple method you don’t have to learn to use project management software either.

1. Know the Difference between a Project and a Task

I have covered What We Mean By A Project in a previous article but put simply, a project:

  • Is a piece of work with a defined beginning and end
  • Has a specific goal or objective
  • Takes place within a pre-arranged timeframe

A task on the other hand:

  • Is a defined piece of work within a project
  • Can be seen as a ‘unit’ of a project: the smallest parts that a project can be broken down into.

2. Write a List

This is the brainstorming part.

Write down everything that has to happen in your project for it to be completed. These are your tasks.

You might like to group them into tasks and sub-tasks: for example, if you are organising a conference the task ‘ordering technology’ might be broken down into ‘ordering laptops’, ‘ordering video conferencing technology’ and so on.

This will become your Task List.

3. Organize Your List

Re-organize your list into chronological order, noting what tasks are dependent on the previous tasks being completed.

4. Assign Timeframes to your Tasks

Note down how long you expect each task to take. Try to be accurate – it is worth getting this stage right.

5. Work Backwards

Working back from your deadline, write each task down in your calendar or work organiser.

You may have to re-assess the length of some of the tasks if they look like over-running. If they really can’t be done more quickly this is an indication you may need to use extra resources, such as paying for extra staff or equipment, to get the task completed on time.

It is best you know this now so you can plan ahead.

Remember that if a task is dependent on another one being completed, it must be scheduled after it. If not, you can have several tasks running concurrently.

Once you have done this you can see if there is any slack time or time when you can schedule extra, non-dependent tasks to save time later.

6. Multiple Projects

Go through the same process for each of your projects.

Once you start plotting the tasks on your work organizer you’ll build up a comprehensive work schedule that you can work to.

You can tick off tasks on your Task Lists as they are completed, giving you a feeling of satisfaction.

Hey presto! You are in control and back in your element!

Jennifer Kentmere is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She trained in public sector project management in the UK and left in 2008 to go it alone as a freelance project manager working with small-to-medium sized businesses. She now lives in the US and is passionate about using her experience to help other freelancers.

You can read more from Jennifer on her blog, which is aimed at freelancers who haven’t had project management training but who would like advice on organizing their work.

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