How to Break Down a Large Project into Manageable Tasks

time management skills

By Wayne Wainaina

If you’re working on a huge project, the magnitude of various tasks that you are supposed to complete on time can make you feel overwhelmed. This feeling hinders you from making progress because it damages your morale and makes your project seem impossible to complete. When you start thinking that a project is impossible to complete, you’ll start procrastinating.

Have you thought about breaking down large assignments into manageable tasks though?

Similar to consuming a large meal through small bites at a time, you can work on any task regardless of how complex or long they are as long as you break them down. Once you’ve done this, you can easily address these pieces. Instead of focusing on the entire project, focus on what you can do right now to make progress.

Learning the art of breaking down a project will improve your productivity and performance in the workplace.

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How to Break Down Large Assignments

Before you start thinking of breaking down tasks into smaller components, you need to know the definition of a task. While this might seem like an obvious thing, you cannot create a solid plan if you don’t know what a task is.

Since you’ll need to outline your tasks, the difficulty lies in how well you split them. How you cut a project into several tasks is determined by how long you want them to take.

For instance, you could define “Write an email” as a task. However, you can narrow it down further into several steps such as “Write an email to George about project deadlines”.

“Write an email” isn’t enough to be a task. On the other hand, something like “Complete a presentation” is a big task that has to be broken down.

The Rewind And Reduce Method

If you’ve ever tried breaking down tasks to boost your productivity and performance, you’ve probably realized that there are a lot of methods that will help you learn how to break down tasks. While most of these methods are effective, not all of them are ideal for you.

The Rewind And Reduce Method is perfect for people who want to increase their productivity and achieve their biggest goals. This method not only systematically breaks down a project, but also set achievable deadlines that you can confidently achieve consistently.

Once you get used to this system, you’ll never find yourself thinking of other ways to break down tasks and increase your productivity.

Here is a clear example that demonstrates the benefits of the rewind and reduce method:

Before one of our managers tried the Rewind and Reduce Method, he used to take 8 hours to complete a work presentation.

Just one week after trying this strategy…

  • He completed preparing for a presentation within 2 hours.
  • His stress levels have gone down.
  • He was able to achieve more at work without struggling.

To understand how to use the Rewind and Reduce method, we need to discuss the respective steps that you need to take:


The first step in our technique is to Rewind. This involves starting from the end by taking your final goal and working backward. This exercise will help you identify the main milestones and complete your project on time.

Every project has a goal. It could be generating more sales, improving business operations, reducing overhead expenses, or increasing customer satisfaction to name a few. Knowing the goal of your project will help keep you and your team aligned and increase productivity.

In one scientific study, 162 participants were asked to perform a hand-eye coordination test. The researchers found that there was a link between goal specificity and performance level. They found that individuals who set specific goals tend to have higher levels of productivity.[2]

The project goal should define the results to give you a sense of direction. Setting clear goals and working backward will help you save a lot of time and energy in the long run.

For example, say I am planning to create a presentation on the overall organization strategy.

Well, working backward, some milestones that I identify are:

  • Know my audience
  • Brainstorm and come up with a good topic
  • Plan my presentation
  • Research extensively to find important sources of information
  • Create clear presentation slides
  • Practice the presentation


The first step helped you identify the main milestones that you should focus on to complete your project successfully. The second step is to Reduce. You need to break down every milestone into bite-sized actions. Bite-sized means they are focused on one specific objective and are something you expect to finish within an hour.

Next, estimate the amount of time you’ll spend on every task. the more bite-sized the task, the easier and more accurate it is to estimate.


Finally, the third step is to add up all your estimates for each milestone to arrive at a relatively accurate timeline. Going back to the current example, say my deadline is the end of Friday, and I can only devote 1 hr a day to work on it.

  • Plan my presentation and come up with an appropriate presentation angle – 1 hour
  • Research extensively to find important sources of information – 1 hour
  • Create clear presentation slides – 1 hour
  • Practice the presentation – 30 minutes

Total Estimated Time – 3.5 hours

This means that I’ll have to start working on the project on Tuesday (latest) to complete it by Friday without stress. Pretty easy, right?


Rewind – Work backwards from your goal, what do you need to do?

Reduce – Break down every milestone into bite-sized actions.

Summarize – Add up all your estimate for each milestone.


Big projects can take weeks, months, or even years. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing a lot of time and energy into a project only to realize later that you are off track. This is why you need to use the Rewind and Reduce method to break down a huge project into smaller parts.

When it comes to feeling overwhelmed by large projects, the concept of breaking them down into manageable tasks works for everyone. If you tend to procrastinate, learning how to break down a project into tasks is very useful.

*This article first appeared on the lifehack website

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