Dave Caolo wrote a great piece for Michael Schechter’s “Actually Getting Big Things Done” series. One thing in particular really jumped out at me: the idea of breaking big projects down into small steps:

Many years ago, I worked as a special needs teacher. I had no idea how that experience would affect my own personal productivity. We taught complex skills to our students by breaking them down into many easily-performed tasks. For example, a student learning to ride a bike might begin by simply straddling the seat. That’s it. The next day, he straddles the seat and places on foot on a pedal and he’s done. Eventually, after much time and many small tasks chained together, he can perform the complex task of riding a bike.

Today, I do the same thing with myself. When I started working on this post, the first step was “brainstorm post.” That was all I had to do for the day. Next came, “write outline” and then “review outline.” While “write article” is a daunting task, 15 minutes of brainstorming is not.

Here’s a related tip. Action steps start with a verb. Brainstorm article. Write outline. Call Jane. Charge phone. Invoice Amy. In each example, it’s very clear what needs to be done. “New Hampshire road trip” is a project. “Buy map of New Hampshire” is an action step.

This is where most people fail. It’s not knowing what the next action they need to take is to accomplish something.