How to Break Tasks Down into Bite-Sized Pieces when You Have Depression

How to break tasks down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression - CassandraStout.com

Depression can make even the smallest of projects feel overwhelming and not worth doing. When you’re depressed, your natural inclination is to crawl into bed and stay there. You want to neglect what you need to do, from cleaning your home, feeding yourself, and taking care of pets or children.

But what if you could break those overwhelming tasks into smaller, bite-sized pieces? Then you could tackle them one at a time and truly make some progress, incremental as it might be.

1. Examine the Task. Is it a Task or a Project?

The first thing you need to do to break tasks into bite-sized pieces is to examine the task. Is it really a task, or is it a project? A task is something you can do in one sitting, in less than an hour. Whereas a project is a series of smaller tasks leading to one accomplishment. It’s important to make a clear distinction between the two.

Projects aren’t just for work or school. Anything we want to do can be classified as a project.

If you have a task that you want to break down into tasks, continue reading the next section. But if your task is actually a project, then skip to the third.

2. Break Tasks Down into Steps

You might think of something as simple as “load the dishwasher” as a task, and you’d be right. It’s easy to get done in one sitting. When we’re stable, doing the dishes is automatic, and we don’t generally balk at the amount of work the task takes. But there are a series of steps to loading the dishwasher. If you’re suffering from depression, breaking down any task into smaller action steps can be helpful.

To load the dishwasher, you need to:

  1. Gather dishes from around the house.
  2. Set dishes down on the counter, not the sink.
  3. Clear the sink.
  4. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water to aid in soaking stubborn grime off of dirty dishes.
  5. Place dishes that need soaked in the sink.
  6. Open the dishwasher.
  7. Pull out the bottom rack.
  8. Load the large items, like pots.
  9. Load the plates.
  10. Load the bowls.
  11. Load the silverware.
  12. Take the dishes that were soaking out of the sink, which fit on the bottom rack, out.
  13. Load those.
  14. Put the bottom rack back.
  15. Pull out the top rack.
  16. Load the cups.
  17. Load the serving utensils.
  18. Load Tupperware.
  19. Load Tupperware lids.
  20. Take the dishes that were soaking in the sink, which fit on the top rack, out.
  21. Put away the top rack.
  22. Fill the soap holder with soap.
  23. Close the dishwasher.
  24. Set the cycle.
  25. Turn on the dishwasher.
  26. Drain the sink.
  27. Wipe out the sink.

Wow, 27 steps for one task! Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? And if you have depression, your inclination is to stop at any one of those steps. So often we don’t even start on a task because it just seems like we’ll never get it done.

But don’t think of the task as “27 steps” or a big picture, “load the dishwasher.” Rather, think of the task as the next step on the list.

So if you’re just starting out, gather the dishes. Then set them on the counter. Then…. Surprisingly, if you’re moving quickly (which is hard to do with depression, I know), loading the dishwasher takes 5-6 minutes, tops.

Try breaking down another task, like clearing the nightstand or making your bed. Making your bed is a simple task to break down:

  1. Pull up sheets.
  2. Pull up blankets.
  3. Fluff pillows.

That’s it. There’s only three steps to making a bed, which is why the task takes roughly thirty seconds.

Next time you’re facing a task, try writing down every step you can think of. Then put them in the order that you need to accomplish. Then tackle the task, one step at a time.

Easy, right?

But what about projects?

3. Break Projects Down into a Series of Tasks

Rather than looking at a project as the entire enchilada, like “plan John’s birthday party,” look at the project as a series of tasks, which you can then break down into single action steps. 

In the party planning example, the tasks can be sorted into different categories, such as food, invitations, or beverages. A task under the invitations category would be to get stamps; another would be to gather all addresses in the same place.

When cleaning your house, you can break projects down into different parts. Your bedroom is one part. The kitchen is another. And so on.

When starting a blog, you can break that project down into different phases. For example, you’ll write posts, edit them, and finally publish them.

These three ways to break projects down can help you see in what order you need to carry out the tasks in the project.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have anything to lose by taking a hard look at your project list. If you can put off some projects until you’re feeling better, then do so. Managing depression is a project all in its own.

But for those you can’t put off, try brainstorming which tasks need done for that project, and then break them down further into single action steps after sorting those tasks into categories, phases, or parts.

This is no small feat when you’re depressed, I know. But just try it.

I wish you well in your journey.

What projects are on your to-do list? Let me know in the comments!

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How to break tasks down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression - CassandraStout.com

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

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