Academic Success, Focus, Lists, Perfectionism, Procrastination, Productivity, Time Management

How To Complete A Large Task

Imagine you are a waiter/waitress. It’s currently rush hour at the restaurant you work at, and you have 24 plates of food to deliver to the customers in the eating area. Based on past experience at your job, you know that you can handle carrying 3 plates at a time. How would you deliver the plates to customers?

A) Take only 1 trip from the kitchen to the eating area – carrying 24 plates at a time.
B) Take 2 trips from the kitchen to the eating area – carrying 12 plates at a time.
C) Take 8 trips from the kitchen to the eating area – carrying 3 plates at a time.

Outcome and Analysis of Scenarios A and B:

Outcome: Since you cannot physically carry 24 or even 12 plates at once, you end up dropping all the plates. Your boss is not happy.

Analysis: In this scenario, you did not break up the large task into small enough tasks. Attempting to simultaneously carry 24 or 12 plates exceeds your physical capacity, makes you feel overwhelmed, and consequently hinders your progress towards completing the task.

Outcome and Analysis of Scenario C:

Outcome: Since you are able to carry 3 plates at a time, you finish delivering all the food to customers in 8 trips. It may seem like slow progress but you completed your job efficiently. Your boss is very happy and gives you a raise!

Analysis: This scenario is optimal because you broke up the large task into smaller tasks within your task-handling capacity. Since you were able to complete all the sub-tasks, you successfully completed the large task!


You may be wondering what the task of a waiter/waitress has to do with being a student. The next time you are faced with a large academic task, I want you to remember to break it up into smaller sub-tasks within your task-handling capacity.

Attempting to complete a large task all at once is often overwhelming and directionless. Large tasks comprise many steps. Trying to finish all steps in one attempt is exhausting and inefficient. By portioning the large task into smaller sub-tasks, the overall task becomes less overwhelming and falls within your task-handling capacity. By completing the smaller sub-tasks, you eventually complete the overall job efficiently.

In the situation depicted at the beginning, it’s simple to see that the waiter/waitress should carry three plates at a time if that’s all they are capable of carrying. However, when it comes to other tasks (such as studying for a midterm or writing an essay), creating effective sub-tasks becomes more ambiguous and therefore harder. Regardless, splitting up a task into smaller sub-tasks is essential to helping you efficiently complete the job! Here is an example of how you could split up large task:

Task: Write a Research Essay:
If you attempt to do this all at once, you may not know where to begin, or you may get stuck in the middle of your first few paragraphs because you run out of ideas or relevant research. By breaking this task up into these following sub-tasks, you ensure that you can efficiently complete all the steps to writing an essay

  1. Complete required readings (Total: 200 Pages).
    1.  Read 20 pages at a time (if you have a reading capacity of 20 pages in one sitting)
  2. Gather research sources
  3. Conduct research and make research notes
  4. Create an essay outline
  5. Write first draft of essay
    1. Cite sources
  6. Revise/proofread essay
  7. Submit essay

As seen in the example above, a complex tasks such as “write an essay” can be broken up into many sub-tasks. Make sure that the sub-tasks you choose are small enough to fit within your task-handling capacity. The UTSC Assignment Calculator can help you determine not only the sub-tasks for an assignment, but also the timeline. Furthermore, after completing each sub-task, remember to reward yourself with something meaningful to you – such as an edible treat, phone call with friend, tangible goods, time on the internet, etc. Rewards ensure that you stay motivated.

And that’s basically one of the biggest life-hacks to completing a large task! I hope this finds you well.

– Slesha


Slesha is an ASC blogger for the Life at UofT blog, you can read the originally posted story here: