Get a Lot Done One Step at a Time

Do you have lots to do and little time? No problem. Create a workflow where you can do the tasks one step at a time, and you'll be finished in no time. Get-It-Done Guy explains how.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #342

Completing many low-thought physical tasks at once can be overwhelming!

At Green Growing Things I and II, the holiday season is in full swing. And that means putting holiday price tags on the inventory, moving the Audrey 2s from the holding pens to the front window display, wrapping gifts for the staff, and making sure the Audrey 2s are happy in their new display. It's a heck of a lot to get done, and it all has to keep moving at once.

Melvin, Bernice, MG, Europa, and Thomas are rushing around like chickens whose feet are tied to a Roomba vacuum cleaner (a metaphor that always made much more sense than this thing about chickens without heads).

I've done an episode on speed dating your tasks, where you rapidly cycle through tasks to help break through your procrastinating tendencies. That doesn't quite fit here. Speed dating is mostly about overcoming procrastination. Here, the gang wants to make steady progress on many different tasks that have many different rhythms. None of the tasks is more important or more urgent, and all need to get done at about the same time.;

Divide Each Task Into Known Small Steps

Putting holiday tags on the inventory can proceed shelf by shelf. Each shelf can be tagged in one quick, 10-minute session. The way the team set it up, every time a team member walks by a shelf that hasn't been tagged yet, they pop in and tag one shelf, then continue on their way. Once a shelf has been tagged, we put a cute little removable holiday sticker on the shelf where we can see it. The next person to walk by looks for the sticker and knows which shelf to do next.

In this case, the sticker tells each person where the task has stopped. This works when you have a one-step task that's repeated on many different objects.

Moving Objects? Do it in Steps

Sometimes, you need to move a physical object through many steps. Audrey 2s are heavy and even Thomas, with his adamantium-augmented frame, can't carry one the whole way. What we've done is cleared out a path from the holding pens to the front window, with little markers about every 15 feet. Every time one of us walks by, if there's an Audrey 2 in transit, we simply move it 15 more feet towards the window. As we rush around all day, bit by bit, the Audrey 2s end up where they belong.

Now she can do as much wrapping (or as much ribbon tying) as she wants.

This techniques works for moving an object through physical space. You can use this to carry laundry from a basement dryer up to a third floor closet. Fill a basket from the dryer. Each time you go up the stairs and there's a basket of laundry on the current floor, bring it with you as you go up one flight. Then bring the empty basket back down. Over time, you'll end up bringing everything upstairs.

I also use this trick when packing for a trip. I put my suitcase in one room and whenever I'm in the apartment near something that will need to go on the trip, I move it one doorway, stair landing, or hallway closer to the suitcase. Over a day or two, everything needed for the trip happily migrates into the suitcase.

Altering Objects? Use Physical Stations

When you're altering or doing something to objects, consider using physical stations, like an assembly line. By each station, put everything you need to process an item at that station.

Europa has decided to wrap everyone's holiday present. Fortunately, she loves wrapping presents! There are several steps: cut wrapping paper to the right size with a ruler and scissors, wrap the present and seal it with tape, tie a ribbon around the present, and then add a card.

She lays out separate areas of the room for each step. At the first station, she puts a ruler and scissors. At the next, tape. At the third, ribbon and scissors. And at the fourth, a stack of blank cards, envelopes, and a pen.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.