Work can feel overwhelming. What to do next is not often clear. One way of handling this overwhelm is to “break it down” into smaller parts.

But how far is useful? If we continue to write many tasks that feel unnecessary, we only create busy work or procrastinate.

There are two measures to consider when breaking down tasks:

1 – For simple work, break to the Point of Confidence

2 – For mastery, break to the Fundamentals

When doing simple work, I find it is useful to break something down to the point of confidence. For example, I may break down “Clean home” into “Clean kitchen” and “Tidy living room”. While the latter two don’t fully convey cleaning the entire home, the original task was far too broad. The latter make more sense to me. I know what to do to clean the kitchen or tidy the living room. Someone else without the practice may wish to break things down farther, e.g. “Clean dishes”, “Wipe counters”, etc.

But, when I’m doing a work I intend to master, that’s a different story. Doing only things that I am confident in is a great way to stall. There are quite a few musicians who noodle away at their instrument without making much headway in their skills simply by doing what they already know. While there is much to be praised about review, there are also paths of unknown that need traversing.

In the case of mastery, it is useful to break things down to the point of fundamentals. In other words, we need to break the work into its most basic components, the most simple, even atomic, parts that cannot be broken down any further. Each of those parts, separately and together, can be played with and worked over until they are individually effortless.

As there are two points of measure, it is therefore very important that before beginning work, we consider if we are aiming for mastery. Mastery is a path that takes dedicated and regular time and effort. We are all limited in our time and attention.