How To Break A Big Task Into Small Achievable Steps

We’ve all been there – faced with a daunting, seemingly insurmountable task that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed. Whether it’s tackling a complex work project, embarking on a home improvement venture, or pursuing a personal goal, breaking down a big task into smaller, manageable steps is the key to success. This article will explore the art and science of task decomposition, providing actionable advice on how to break a big task into small, achievable steps.

The Power of Small Steps

Before diving into the how-to of task decomposition, let’s first understand why it’s such a crucial skill. Breaking down a big task into smaller steps offers several advantages:

  1. Reduces Overwhelm: Large tasks can be intimidating, leading to procrastination and anxiety. Breaking them into smaller pieces makes them feel more manageable and less intimidating.
  2. Enhances Focus: Smaller steps allow you to concentrate on one aspect of the task at a time, improving your focus and attention to detail.
  3. Measurable Progress: Achieving small milestones provides a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to continue working on the larger goal.
  4. Clearer Planning: Breaking tasks into smaller steps helps you create a clear roadmap, making it easier to allocate time and resources effectively.
  5. Troubleshooting: Smaller steps make it easier to identify and address issues or obstacles along the way.

Now that we understand the benefits of task decomposition, let’s delve into how to do it effectively.

Step 1: Define Your Big Task

The first step in breaking down a big task is to define it clearly. What is the overarching goal you want to achieve? Whether it’s completing a major project, writing a book, or renovating your kitchen, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the end result you’re aiming for.

Step 2: Brainstorm the Sub-Tasks

Once you’ve defined your big task, it’s time to brainstorm all the smaller sub-tasks or components that make up the larger goal. This is a critical step as it helps you identify the building blocks of your project. Here’s how you can approach this:

  • Mind Mapping: Create a mind map or flowchart to visually represent the different aspects of your task. Start with the central goal in the middle and branch out with sub-tasks.
  • Checklists: Develop a checklist or to-do list where you jot down all the tasks, no matter how small, that need to be completed to achieve your goal.
  • Discussion: Sometimes, discussing your task with a friend, colleague, or mentor can help you identify sub-tasks you might have overlooked.

For example, if your big task is to write a research paper, your sub-tasks might include conducting literature reviews, gathering data, outlining the paper, writing drafts, revising, and formatting.

Step 3: Prioritize the Sub-Tasks

Not all sub-tasks are created equal. Some may be more critical or time-sensitive than others. To effectively manage your project, prioritize these smaller steps based on factors like urgency, importance, and dependencies.

  • Urgency: Identify which sub-tasks need to be completed sooner than others. For example, if you’re planning a vacation, booking accommodation might be more urgent than deciding on daily activities.
  • Importance: Consider which sub-tasks have a greater impact on the overall project’s success. Focus on these first.
  • Dependencies: Determine if certain sub-tasks are dependent on others. For example, you can’t start painting a room until you’ve finished prepping the walls.

By prioritizing sub-tasks, you can create a logical sequence for completing them.

Step 4: Set SMART Goals for Each Sub-Task

Now that you have a list of prioritized sub-tasks, it’s time to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for each one. SMART goals provide clarity and help you stay on track.

For example, if one of your sub-tasks is to gather data for your research paper, a SMART goal might be: “Collect 10 relevant academic articles on the topic by the end of next week.”

Step 5: Allocate Resources

To successfully complete each sub-task, you’ll need to allocate the necessary resources, including time, tools, and materials. This step involves planning and preparation.

  • Time: Estimate how much time each sub-task will take and schedule it into your calendar. Be realistic about your time constraints.
  • Tools and Materials: Ensure you have access to the tools, software, or materials required for each sub-task. If not, acquire or prepare them in advance.
  • Skills and Knowledge: Assess whether you have the skills and knowledge needed for each sub-task. If not, consider whether you need to learn or seek assistance.

Properly allocating resources ensures that you’re adequately prepared for each step of your project.

Step 6: Start with the First Sub-Task

With your SMART goals and allocated resources in place, it’s time to begin working on the first sub-task. Remember that the key to task decomposition is to focus on one step at a time. Avoid the temptation to jump ahead to later sub-tasks.

Starting with the first sub-task helps you build momentum and confidence. As you complete each step, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and move closer to your overarching goal.

Step 7: Monitor Progress

Regularly monitor your progress as you work through the sub-tasks. Tracking your achievements not only helps you stay motivated but also allows you to make necessary adjustments to your plan.

  • Checklists: Use your checklist or to-do list to mark off completed sub-tasks. It’s satisfying to see your list of accomplishments grow.
  • Time Tracking: Keep track of the time you spend on each sub-task to ensure you’re staying on schedule. Time management tools and apps can be helpful for this.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Celebrate your achievements along the way. Recognizing your progress, no matter how small, is essential for maintaining motivation.

Step 8: Adapt and Flexibility

Flexibility is key when working on a project with multiple sub-tasks. Unexpected challenges or changes in circumstances may require you to adapt your plan.

  • Problem-Solving: If you encounter obstacles or difficulties, don’t get discouraged. Instead, focus on finding solutions and adjusting your approach.
  • Reevaluation: Periodically review your plan and priorities. Are there new developments or information that necessitate changes to your sub-task order or goals?

Remember that adaptation is a sign of resilience and resourcefulness.

Step 9: Combine Sub-Tasks into Phases

As you progress through your sub-tasks, you may find that some of them naturally group together into phases or stages. Combining sub-tasks into phases can help you manage your project more efficiently.

For example, if you’re renovating a room, you might have sub-tasks related to demolition, plumbing, electrical work, and finishing. These sub-tasks can be grouped into phases like “Demolition Phase,” “Plumbing Phase,” and so on.

Step 10: Review and Reflect

Once you’ve completed all the sub-tasks and phases, it’s time to review your work and reflect on the entire project. This final step is crucial for learning and improvement.

  • Assess the Outcome: Evaluate the final result in comparison to your initial goal. Did you achieve what you set out to do? What went well, and what could have been better?
  • Identify Lessons Learned: Reflect on the entire process. What did you learn about task decomposition, time management, and problem-solving? How can you apply these lessons to future projects?
  • Celebrate Your Success: Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment. Completing a big task is no small feat, and you deserve recognition for your hard work.


Breaking down a big task into small, achievable steps is a skill that can transform your ability to tackle projects effectively. By following the ten steps outlined in this article, you’ll be better equipped to handle any daunting task that comes your way.

Remember that task decomposition is not a one-size-fits-all process. It’s essential to adapt these principles to your specific needs and preferences. Over time, with practice, you’ll become more proficient at breaking down tasks and accomplishing your goals, no matter how significant they may seem.

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Seff Bray

Seff Bray is an accomplished author and the passionate founder of, a website renowned for its uplifting and inspiring content. With a lifelong interest in personal development and growth, Seff has dedicated himself to empowering others through his writing.