When is a task not a task?

by Terry Monaghan, August 9, 2012

Do you under-estimate the time something will take when planning your work?

A client said she was discovering that many things were taking longer than she originally thought and had originally planned for. (We were discussing the progress she was making in taking control of her schedule and her results.)

This is not an unusual situation, but I was curious, so I started asking questions. For example, she had blocked 90 minutes to write a blog post, but was finding that wasn’t enough time. I wanted to know why was it taking over 90 minutes to write the post.

It turns out she was:

(1) researching the post,
(2) writing the post,
(3) editing the post,
(4) loading the post up to the blog,
(5) finding just the right image for the post, and finally
(6) publishing the post.

But she was calling that block of time “writing blog post.”

OK, now I see the problem. Like many people, she had collapsed TASK and PROJECT. So, when I asked her to schedule her tasks, she thought she was doing what I said, but in fact she was trying to cram a project into a time slot for a task.

Have you ever done that? And why do you need to keep them distinct?

Well, if she just devoted that 90 minutes to writing, she would have written enough material for 2 or even 3 separate blog posts. She would have kept herself in the flow of writing.

When you break your projects into the separate tasks, you can make huge progress even when you only have little bits of time available. But when you collapse the two – you might not even start because the whole project seems so overwhelming and you just don’t have the time!

How do you know what is a task, and what is a project? Well, the simplest definition: A task is a single action. Anything that requires more than one single step is a project.

Plan a party is a project. Set the date for the party is one task in that project.

Productivity tip: Go back over your “task list” – make a note of where you are collapsing tasks with projects. See if you can batch the tasks that are similar.

I promise, you will get MORE done that way.


©  Terry Monaghan, 2012, All Rights Reserved

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Consultant, coach, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur, Terry Monaghan, publishes Now What, an ezine for entrepreneurs and professionals who want to double their productivity, improve their performance, and have a life! If you’re ready to jump start your performance and your results, then get your free tips now at www.TimeTriage.com.


  1. Jane says:

    Terry, This is so true. I still find myself guilty of this, and you’re right I don’t start because it’s to much to do. A task I can typically do in one sitting, a project not so easy.

  2. Ellen Martin says:

    Terry, I see this a lot with my clients as well. Breaking projects into individual tasks definitely helps with overwhelm and scheduling issues. It’s next to impossible to accurately plan your task time if you aren’t breaking your projects down. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Gail Saseen says:

    Hi Terry! You are right on! I see this all the time. Solo-preneurs are very likely to fall into this situation because they are the ones ”doing everything” I also find that many business owners get overwhelmed breaking a project down into tasks.. some don’t know where to start… do you find that as well?

  4. suepainter says:

    I think this is common, I know I do it, myself. Thanks for helping me realize how much I REALLY do in a day, ha!

  5. Phil Dyer says:

    Eating the elephant one bite at a time and differentiating between project and task…love it. Thanks so much for sharing the wisdom, Terry!

    Phil Dyer
    Chief Visionary, Broughton Advisory

  6. kiylafenell says:

    By breaking projects into tasks it helps to protect our time, peace of mind and productivity. Great article!

  7. Love your advice. That’s how I tackle everything. Not by project, but by piece. By project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but by piece, I can get one small thing done at a time and then suddenly the whole project is done – WooHoo! Checking things off of my to-do list just makes me feel so good 🙂

    Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative