Imagine a pile of bricks.
(I know, I know. Just stay with me here. I promise it’ll be worth it.)
Now, imagine that you have to get rid of those bricks by throwing them into the neighbor’s yard.
(It’s cool, your neighbor is a jerk.)
How would you do it?
Would you try to lift them and carry them all at once?
Of course not. They’d be way too heavy.
But on its own, each brick is light enough to manage on its own.
You’d pick them up, one by one, and toss them over the fence.
Now, imagine that next to the pile of bricks, there was a small brick building.
You have to move that, too.
How would you do it?
Would you huff and puff and push on the house, hoping it would move?
Probably not. More than likely, you’d ignore it for now.
You’d go back to moving the single — and much easier to handle — bricks.
Every now and then, you’d cast a sideways glance at the house that you know needs to be moved.
And when you saw it, you’d feel anxious about the huge task ahead.
You’d feel guilty that you’re not making any progress.
And you’d feel overwhelmed about not having any idea where to start.
But what if you could take that house apart, and move it brick by brick?
You’d make progress with every brick. You’d feel relieved that you’re moving the project forward, and you’d feel confident that it would get completed.
It’s infinitely easier to move bricks than buildings, and it’s more productive, too.
Applying The Brick-By-Brick Technique
In the next ten minutes, you’re going to use the Brick-By-Brick Technique to change the way you work forever.
Pick an item from your to-do list that you’ve been putting off. Ideally, your biggest, meanest, scariest task.
Chances are, it’s a building, not a brick.
It’s not something you know exactly how to accomplish.
And that’s probably because it’s really a project, and not a task.
Tasks (bricks) are small, actionable steps you can take to make progress. Projects (buildings) are the larger outcomes you’re working towards.
Here are some examples:
“Plan New York Trip” is a project. “Look up flights to New York on Kayak,” “Research restaurants near hotel On Yelp” and “Email John with travel details” are tasks you can do to make progress and eventually complete the project.
“Blog post” is a project. “Write outline for post on Bricks-vs-Buildings Technique” is a task.
“Clean living room” is a project. “Vacuum living room carpet” is a task.
Do This Now: Write down the name of your neglected project. It can be on paper, in a word processing app, in your phone or in the comments section of this post.
Then write down every actionable step you can think of that you’ll need to complete to accomplish that project.
There might be two, three, four or more items on your list, and that’s fine.
Go to your to-do list, cross off or delete the project you originally had on there, and replace it with the tasks you just came up with.
Your to-do list may have gotten longer, but it also got a whole lot easier to manage.
Now, all you need to do is start with the first task you just came up with.
Finish it, and you’ll be closer to completing the project than you’ve ever been.
You’ll feel relieved at the progress you’ve made, and confident that if you simply repeat the same process, you can see this project through to the end.
And that’s a very good feeling.
From now on, before adding anything new to your to-do list, ask yourself: is this a brick, or is it a building?
If it’s the latter, break it down into bricks. And never feel guilty about putting off a project again.