Sunday, March 31, 2013

Small Manageable Tasks

To follow up, I searched for the phrase "small manageable tasks". I found the following: Roy Johnson's 1993 book on Revisions and Examinations: Guidance Notes for Students, p. 31 advises students to "break down"" their work into "small manageable tasks" because that would give students more confidence. Barron's Guide to Medical & Dental Schools also suggests this approach and then gives the advice to "solve the small tasks in a prioritized manner." The popular book on Managing Your Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) speaks of the "Salami technique", meaning that you "set yourself small manageable tasks so that by progressing through them you will eventually accomplish the large task." And the phrase "to divide the plan into small, manageable tasks" is more frequent after 1995. Thus Peter A. Darnell advises programmers in 1996 to use "stepwise refinement" or to "divide a large problem into small, manageable tasks." The first time I encountered the phrase was in a 1970 book on C-System Principles of Operations.

In other words, it looks even less likely that the passage: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” is a genuine quote.

Most people will probably not be bothered by the pretense of attributing the passage to a famous author. I am!


Todd Lucas said...

I may not be disturbed by it to the extent or in the same fashion as you, but disturbed nonetheless. I grew up in Mark Twain country, touring his homes, exploring his cave and all that bit as a student, so fell a bit proprietary about such things. Of course, I've also hated the GTD flavored and inspired productivity porn for over a decade now (I mean seriously, for a self proclaimed master of getting things done, you would have thought he'd have gotten more done by now ...).

Anyway, if things pan out the way they look here, that's kinda crappy of Allen to have done. A lazy man's way of getting something done.

Unknown said...

The first sentence, "The secret to getting things done is getting started." sounds like something Mark Twain would say. But the second sentence does not. It is too tailored to for the modern explaination of "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

MK said...

I agree. The idea of the "smallest manageable task" is one that has to do with computation and business administration influenced by computational thinking. See also this post. Nothing wrong with it, just not Mark Twain.