Keep Working On The Easy Stuff

If you’re given five equally important tasks, four of which are trivial, and one which appears daunting, forget the last one for now. Do the four easy ones first.

It’ll help build your momentum as you begin approaching that fifth and final mountain of a task. Convince yourself that 80% of your tasks are done, even if that final piece will take as much blood, sweat, and tears as all other four combined.

When you reach that final daunting task, see if you can break it down into smaller pieces. Then, focus on the most comfortable, easiest, most enjoyable of those remaining pieces. Keep repeating that pattern until all you’re left with are the really difficult tasks in their most raw and smallest forms.

Doing the simple things first, then smashing harder things into smaller pieces, then reshuffling the most simple amongst those small pieces to the top of the list, is probably a good approach to working through most any problem we face in life. I apply it particularly to writing — whether in code or in English.

Not only does it make pragmatic sense — you are always pushing the easier tasks toward right now — but it makes motivational sense. You are constantly doing. Rather than walking through the molasses of the hard stuff in the beginning, you, instead, build a history of getting things done in the beginning. Just the mere act of finishing tasks, easy as they may be, is a great motivator for when you have to deal with the harder things.

After you’ve broken it all down, and all you’re left with are the nasty bits, you have a decision to make. Perhaps, you’re ready to swallow the pill and just plow through the hard stuff. At the very least, you’ve dutifully broken it down into as small a chunk as possible.

Alternatively, is there a simpler solution or concession to get around these last difficult issues? Because here’s the other wonderful thing about the easy-stuff-first approach — you’ll often find during the course of solving all those other simpler problems, the answer to the harder problems will come to you. Or, better yet, an entirely different approach to the problem will come to you.

Want to read more by Ka Wai Cheung? Ka Wai’s new book on the modern-day programmer, The Developer’s Code, is available in eBook and print. You can follow him on Twitter @developerscode.