With your todo list, it is extremely beneficial to break down the complex tasks and projects into the smallest manageable units to ensure their successful completion.
An official definition of an atom is that it is “the smallest particle of an element that can exist either alone or in combination”.
Complex organisms of projects can be broken down into “atoms” of singular concrete tasks. Handling a single atom is way more manageable than looking at the whole big combination of them.
You can use any other analogy you like to explain this to yourself.
Let’s take a real example. I was charged for Vandy summer classes and housing because I must have dropped it late.
The goal is to have the charges removed completely using persuasion, persistence and emotional appeals.
So I had this big task, grouped together, on my to-do list for the longest time.
When I would see it, I would immediately get overwhelmed. Seeing “remove Vandy charges” looks extremely overwhelming because of how much work and time and patience and pleasant email correspondence it is. It’s pure pain.
So I would avoid the task and even when I imposed some boundaries and tried to make myself do it**, the fear of dealing with the big task would overtake my desire or even need to resolve it.**
Before I would try to beat myself down and find the willpower to conquer this fear. This approach is extreme costly on your nervous system in terms of units of emotional energy spent.
“The atom approach” is more sustainable and user friendly. It is treating me more like a human.
With the atom approach, I break down the big task into the smallest units. Firstly, I separate it into the two sub tasks: academic and housing charges, because they are two separate processes. I keep them as separate tasks. If I find time at least for one of them, it’s way better than not making any progress at all. Secondly, I write out the steps for what exactly I need to do: write an email to the specific people, keep other people in the loop, submit an appeal document.
Yesterday, I could see a tangible difference as I applied this approach. I made gradual incremental progress on the small task and it brought me a sense of achievement and progress. Opposed to the old way, I did not need to wait for the whole entire huge project to be done to feel good. I designed the system to bring me gratification for the small actions towards the progress that I performed.
Why do I want to feel accomplished?
A feeling of getting rewarded is a very powerful emotional fuel for action. Without getting truly rewarded for the work you do, even something as menial as this, I am breeding an unmotivated employee who is forced into doing things. What I want is a driven teammate.
A simple redesign of my task list can bring me this reward in a form of visible small increment progress.
Moreover, writing out the steps for a complex project makes me think it though and see it as a concrete manageable pathway from each pointer to the next, rather than a huge overwhelming, confusing, stressful and scary task.
One atom of a task at a time.⚛️
Take it away!