Jessie’s Advice: Breaking things down into teeny, tiny steps





Nothing ever gets done.  It’s not so much that you procrastinate (though you do do that), but that when you are able (and motivated!) to do something, the tools you need are in a different room (or that person is unavailable, or something else which is a road-block to doing the thing).




Break the task down into the smallest possible steps and stage the task progressively over time.


*Thanks to my work/quilting friend, Jessie, for this tip!


Full story:


This was a major contributor to my inability to get things done.  And I feel like it’s best illustrated by a story:


The backdoor doorknob was loose on my house. This was the outside door, so it dawned on me that  rain would seep in, and I would eventually have to replace the entire now-rain-damaged knob.  In the past this would have gone like this:


Day 1: *notices loose doorknob. “Oh! I need to fix this. Probably just needs a screw tightened.”

Day 2 – 486: exactly the same as above.

Day 487: *doorknob falls apart in my hand. “Oh, crap. I need to move now.”


Here’s the problem, in my head the conversation went…”Where’s the screw driver set? Hmm…garage? Kitchen junk drawer?  I’ll have to find that. But I need to leave for work in 5 mins, I’ll do it tonight.”  Later: “Oh I’m out here in the garage, and I see the screw driver set, but I’m heading into the car to go to dinner and don’t have time to go fix the doorknob, I’ll grab that when I come back…” Which, of course, never happens.


Ok, so here’s the solution: Fixing the doorknob isn’t a task; it’s a project.  You need to really,  really understand and accept that.  Maybe for non-ADHD people it’s just a task. But for you and me (ok, maybe just me), it’s a project.  There are many, many steps and potential hurdles which can derail me (or you). 

In B24, a task can have checklists, which is a major reason I have embraced this tool for all my life management (blog post coming, someday).  However, in OneNote (or everNote, etc), you can simply create a hierarchy by hitting return and indenting. Boom, subtask list.


Here’s the house projects project, with a task for “Fix Backdoor Doorknob.”
Here’s the task with Checklist.
Here’s a different example in OneNote, from when I used it.


Now, here’s how I got the doorknob fixed within a couple of days of discovering it loose (instead of a year and a half later):


  1. When I notice doorknob is loose, I create B24 task with checklist of all teeny, tiny, infinitesimal steps.
  2. When I find the screwdriver (usually because I see it while doing something else), put the screwdriver in a place where I will move it progressively closer to the back door the next time I pass it.  In my example, when I was getting into the car, I passed the screwdriver set.  I stopped and put it at the threshold of the garage door (the one that goes into the house). I literally have to pick it up when walking into the house (once home again), or trip over it. Either way, I’ll remember it. (Side note, if you have many little people, this might not work for you…I don’t, so it works for me.)
  3. Because when I walk in the door, the first thing I do is take the dogs potty, I immediately walk with the screwdriver set to the backdoor. I put the screwdriver set down on the chair by the door. I take the dogs potty (not fair to make them hold it longer while I figure this out).
  4. When I come back in, I’ve forgotten to fix the door entirely, and rush to do something else. However, the next time I let the dogs potty (like 2 hours later), I see the screwdriver set, pick it up, and take it outside while I take the dogs potty.  I choose the correct screwdriver tip and put it in the screwdriver base while the dogs sniff around for an excruciatingly long time.
  5. After the dogs are finished and I’ve bagged the results, I open the door and immediately start fixing the knob as the dogs are walking in. Once it’s fixed (in seconds), I put the screwdriver tip and base back in the container, walk to the garage door, drop off the poop bags in the trash on the way, and put the screwdriver set on the threshold of the garage door. Then, of course, I wash my hands.
  6. When I head to bed that night, I open the garage door to turn on the exterior driveway lights. I notice the screwdriver set.  I pick it up, turn on the driveway exterior lights, and place the screwdriver set back on the garage shelf where it belongs.

Would this have taken a whole day for a normal person to finish? I don’t know. Maybe.  Is this better than the alternative FOR ME? Absolutely.

Fixing the doorknob got done. The doorknob didn’t get ruined (or the door, for that matter) by my extreme lack of action.


The fundamental aspect of this story which I wish for you to take away is that if you are resisting doing anything, or if you are unable to complete anything, you might want to ask yourself, “What is the teeny, tiny, infinitesimally small step that is next required to do this?”  You don’t need to have the whole thing mapped out. Just literally the next step.  And if you are always saying “I don’t have time to do the whole thing right now,” that’s a great potential candidate for applying this intervention. 


It’s pretty simple: What are the tiny steps that make up that task, and how can you do them progressively over time so that it gets done?





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