Productivity tip: 10 x 10 is better than 1 x 100 Jason 19 Jan 2006

42 comments Latest by Muloiwa Khuliso

This isn’t rocket surgery (as DHH likes to say), but it’s something that works so well for us that we just wanted to repeat it out loud.

If you’re having a hard time finishing a huge list of things, break that list in a bunch of smaller lists. For example, break a single list of 100 items into 10 lists of 10 items. This way when you finish an item on a list you’ve just completed 10% of that list instead of 1%.

Yes, you still have the same amount of stuff left to do, but you can look at the small picture and find satisfaction, motivation, and progress instead of the staring at the huge picture and being terrified and demoralized.

It’s amazing how something as simple as rearranging the same content can have such an impact on productivity and motivation.

42 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Dan Boland 19 Jan 06

See, that wouldn’t work for me. It’s the same reason as why setting my bedroom clock forward ten minutes doesn’t work — I still know what time it really is, so I hit the snooze button anyway. Not being an ass, just my two cents.

Kendall Guillemette 19 Jan 06

I think that this idea works great. Also, an interesting thought about data presentation not only on a personal level but also professionally. “… rearranging the same content can have such an impact on productivity and motivation.” seems like a great idea in terms of how to organize information in a web app. or web site.

I know in both my personal and professional life, looking at a shorter list, or at least a better organized list, really helps me stay motivated and stay on top of things.

Jeremy Boles 19 Jan 06

Yup, doesn’t work for me either. I just can’t seem to out-smart myself.

Robert G 19 Jan 06

Make sure that you start on Task 1 of List 6, so that you are starting in the middle!

Chuck Reynolds 19 Jan 06

Well that’s a good way for most people to look at it, but I agree with Dan Boland up there - you still know you’re way behind.

I’m all for breaking up that large list though and hitting it a little at a time.

It’s hard to for me to make a schedule with 3 clients emailing comments every 10 minutes and questions about thier systems that we’ve already explained, or asking for information they already have in the emails they forgot to read…
And reading SVN and all the other feeds kinda hurts that schedule too - but its all good.

Erin 19 Jan 06

I think “it’s not rocket surgery” is Steve Krug’s line. (“Don’t Make Me Think,” New Riders Publishing, p. 5)

Mike Rundle 19 Jan 06

I have lists titled “stuff due yesterday”, “stuff due last week”, “stuff due today” ….. so I’m already following your principle!


Jason 19 Jan 06

I totally subscribe to this idea, ever since i started doing this myself I have actually got things done. I break everything up to the point that its almost a stream of consciousness.

So when i actually start working i dont have to stop to think of how im trying to achieve the next thing; its planned out for me. (within reason - i still review, im not promoting tunnel vision here)

Its kinda like join the dots to me, and at the end of my day I have a hell of a lot more to show for myself than when I was relying on my head to juggle everything.

I also am prone to procrastination (who isn’t), and i spend that time worrying about what im doing - so if i can just keep myself focused these lulls go away, and i can use my wasted time guilt free because i have done what i needed to do.

Jason Cale 19 Jan 06

Oops i should be more specific with my name, forgot i share the same name as JF.

bruno 19 Jan 06

This works wonders for me. I’m not stupid; I still realize I have a bunch of things to do, but the fact that I’ve accomplished a small part of one of them gives me a little satisfaction and motivation. That sense of accomplishment shouldn’t be underestimated.

By the way, I think this is one of the reasons people like Basecamp and Ta-da lists: it’s literally the sense of accomplishment you get from watching those little list items fade away and disappear. The interaction with the application gives you a little sense of achievement, and that’s why you keep coming back.

At least that’s why I keep coming back.

Claus 19 Jan 06

It works equally well in higher dimensions. I’ve successfully covered repetitive tasks of 1000’s by doing them as 10x10x10’s

RyanA 19 Jan 06

I agree that 10x10 rather than 1x100 is more manageable. Regardless how rational you think you are, you’re still human and suffer from a thing called perception.

And with productivity being such a fragile thing and perception playing such a significant role, you’d want to foster whatever’s going to keep your momentum, I guess. :O

Dave McClure 19 Jan 06

hmm… great suggestion jason.

i’d love to have a tool that allowed me to support what you’ve just outlined, by sliding/moving tasks from one page to another — hint hint ;)


BackPack feature request #1: don’t make me change modes to edit vs re-arrange… just make the ‘drag’ handle always available. switching between edit & re-arrange modes just slows me down.

BackPack feature request #2: give me an easy way to slide a task from one page to another… ideally drag & drop. then i could do what you’re talking about above easily, instead of cut & paste.

(or am i missing something more obvious?)

Nick 19 Jan 06

Great suggestion. I have just rescently started doing this. We have 4 pages worth of to-dos for some projects and breaking it up has really helped.

Quick question: Since this is so useful, why doesn’t ta-da list support breaking your list up into categories? So then I could break up my 1X100 into 10 X 10. Am I missing the mark here as well? I know for one if it had that feature alone our company would use it for every project we do.

I emailed this feature request in and got a swift no. But that’s hard for me to understand when you come out with a blog topic saying this is a very simple and helpful technique.

JF 19 Jan 06

Nick, just make 10 lists in Tada. When you finish one, start on the next.

well 20 Jan 06


Marston 20 Jan 06

I concur, this technique really helps me out along. Simplified structure gives such an easier approach to task completion and increases (atleast in my case) productivity greatly.


Dima Nikolaev 20 Jan 06

JF, I believe Nick means, that rearranging lists means rewriting them. Being able to drag&drop from one list to anoter would be nice.

What a would like is to be able to mark any item with a star (for example) and at some moment hide all unstarred items. A kind of simple priority property.

Kars 20 Jan 06

Yep, DHH definitely took that phrase from Krug. I like to use it too though. :-)

Berndawg 20 Jan 06

The technique could work if you prioritize them by serverity. Then group them first 10 2nd 10. Or is it better to do 10 small quick ones regardless of date or severity…or 10 big ones first. Or do you just dont care and just break it in to 10’s?

Jonto 20 Jan 06

I agree with bruno.

“By the way, I think this is one of the reasons people like Basecamp and Ta-da lists: it�s literally the sense of accomplishment you get from watching those little list items fade away and disappear.”

The lists don’t disappear in Backpack however. They just hang out in completed status taking up precious real estate. (Sometimes you don’t want to delete the list). So I use Ta-da and Basecamp more often. The only thing that keeps me going back to it are those reminders!

(Enter Dead Horse)
If only Basecamp had reminders…. perhaps they could be located off of the “People” page. I don’t think that everyone on a project needs to see other people’s reminders.

Bob King Neverland III 20 Jan 06

Good point. Accompanied with the 80/20 rule, you’re now good to go!

jzt 20 Jan 06

I agree with Brandon. Ten lists of ten items is just a bunch of stuff I haven’t done yet. I’d rather prioritize and organize. So I use the Covey method Brandon mentioned, while also planning tasks for specific days and times. That spreads tasks out into a manageable calendar. It’s much easier to keep up with than lists.

Rich 20 Jan 06

Being able to drag&drop from one list to anoter would be nice.

Use Backpack if that’s what you want to do. You can add several lists on one page, and rearrange items throughout.

I just finished implementing the “Getting Things Done” philosophy using Backpack as my method of keeping lists. Just having a list of everything you have to do will increase your productivity. Breaking those lists up into context sensitive groups increases it even more.

Dima Nikolaev 20 Jan 06

Rich, thanks. Halfway there. ;]

Adding “starring” to Backpack ToDos will make it perfect…



James Mitchell 20 Jan 06

That is a suprisingly simple idea which begs the question - why did I never think of this! Thanks.

Eric 20 Jan 06

Damn! Reading 100 comments wasn’t on any of my lists…

Why can’t I seem to get sh*t done?

Scott Prugh 20 Jan 06

A few things to add:

-It simplifies project management and loosens dependencies

When I originally found SCRUM, it was purely from a need to find something simpler than the standard Gantt chart dependency disaster. The reason that something like standard project management evolved was to handle massive dependencies across many people across long periods of time. Yuck. The problem is that you can spend weeks setting this up, and something will change toppling all your planning investment. Also, this requires a large amount of communication and coordination. None of these things are value-add. If you would prefer to do this instead of real work, plan away.

-It allows introspection

Iterating in small chunks allows you to introspect your performance and improve for the next iteration. When you stretch this time out too far, you can�t remember what you did in the start of the phase to improve upon it.

-It controls change

The longer a project lasts, the more change that will be injected. This can come from a variety of places: market changes, functional changes, technical changes(new technology is introduced), attrition(someone leaves), etc. Change in the middle of a project introduces a ton of communication and repositioning which robs focus from real work. You may think you know the exact order of all 100 things today, but that order will change. So, pick 10, release/finish them, then revaluate the rest. Some may no longer be important.

Nick 20 Jan 06

What if I have a category within a category. Making more lists only makes more lists where there is no relationship. Without the relationship there is no context.

JF, I agree that your suggestion is valid but would only make things more confusing for the scale we would use it on.

The only way I could get what I need, right now, would be to create seperate ta-da lists accounts for every category, then create seperate lists within those accounts for my sub categories. This then again leaves me at two levels.

I don’t have a problem with building something like this myself. (puts another item on the list of “Things to do in your spare time”) I just don’t want to re-invent the wheel when Tada-list and Basecamp are soo close.

Rich 20 Jan 06

Nick, get a free BackPack account instead. I’m sure you could fit what you need to do into their design. I thought only having one level of nesting was going to be an issue. It wasn’t.

Dima Nikolaev 20 Jan 06

Nick, there’s something tohelp You with nested lists:

Tumble 20 Jan 06

True, but you also must remember that nine women cannot make a baby in a month.

Nick 20 Jan 06 is for pc only so that doesn’t really help, thanks for the suggestion though.

I really feel like this is something that should be considered for basecamp, backpack, and tada list. Just simple categorization of data whatever that data may be either files, lists, or posts.

I just feel like this is legitimate user feedback that should be considered. I have read the less is less posts and why things are the way they are. But there is a point when less is not useful or just less enough to be frustrating.

I have basecamp, backpack, and tada list. I love the way they all work. I just don’t like being shot down so quickly for trying to give good user feedback.

This is the last post I will put on the subject because it really doesn’t pertain to the topic anymore. Thanks so much for trying to help me out.

Schmelding 21 Jan 06

It works for me, because I just get someone else to do it! :P

Seriously, if you can break a 100 task project into 10x10 blocks, I “betchacan” delegate some of those lists relatively easily.

victor 21 Jan 06

ah! one other thing: one day at a time (besides being a sitcom that lasted for 9 seasons) is sort of a similar process than 10x10, baby steps or others.

the idea is to give (as in tcp/ip?) chunks of information that the brain can shelve under specific names, not having to care for the full chunk content when it is not necessary.

it would be very difficult to actually make a 1x100 list where *every* item has the exact same priority, so it must be easy enough to prioritize them according to many values such as: time consumption, resources needed, kind of activity, etc.

then the brain won’t have to take every item in the chunk all the time, since perhaps it is not yet the time for that item to happen.

but let’s suppose that the brain has to have them all around (which is actually not, since the brain has just to remember to make you visit your ta-da list every once in a while, and then deal with what’s there). there’s another example that can help, just bear with me and if you don’t believe me, just google it and see what you get.

the brain can hold up to seven color codes (as in a legend for a pie chart) without leaking or having to recheck often. let’s suppose that this mean if we give colors to different sections of a viewmap, we could easily divide into more complex chunks of information inside every color-coded item.

so i guess my idea is that somewhere inside our brain we can _swallow_ better information chuncked down to smaller _bites_

but that’s just my idea…

Scott 23 Jan 06

Breaking it down like that doesn’t make less work like some have pointed out and you still know there is a lot to do. But I think the act of taking a little time to organize your task list can give you some momentum and get you started. Before you know it you’re checking things off left and right. When it comes down to it I just think of the old Nike slogan - ‘Just Do It’.

Nick 07 Mar 06

I have done this mentally for a long time, particularly on long road trips or on days that just seem to be dragging on. I break it up into smaller pieces and then you get satisfaction in completing each of the smaller pieces and it alows you to quantify your overall progress. It is completely about morale and many have noted it doesn’t actually make the job any smaller, just more enjoyable.

amigaForever 01 Jun 06

I have 63 things todo in my “Jira” - I spend all day looking at this list and made only one thing - tomorrow I’ll try your solution

Muloiwa Khuliso 14 Sep 06

Never do tommorow what you can do today. You better try a todolist