Groups excel at tasks, and flounder with projects. Learning to recognize the difference will revolutionize your meetings.
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Reading time: 2 minutes
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A task is something that can be accomplished in one step. A project is anything that is more than one step. Tasks are speedy and give you an immediate feeling of accomplishment. Projects are speedbumps on the road of life.
Very few of the things on a typical to do list – or a typical meeting agenda – are tasks. Most of us have items on our to do list – or our meeting agendas – that we move to the next list or the next agenda. These are often projects rather than tasks.
Look at your list right now: Is the item you move from list to list a project rather than a task? If it is a project, you’re smart to avoid it. It’s going to gobble up a lot of time and demand your complete attention. And it’s going to send your group into one of those long, unproductive discussions.
If you want to get things done, you put only tasks on your to do list. If you want your group to get things done, you put only tasks on your agenda.
Analyze Your Task List/Meeting Agenda
Here’s a typical to do list:
- Wash the car
- Mow the lawn
- Do the laundry
There is a project lurking behind every one of these items. I can’t wash the car without first parking the car away from my neighbor’s cars, finding a hose, getting a bucket, soap and a sponge, and putting on clothes I don’t mind getting wet. It’s a project to wash a car, not a task.
If I put “wash the car” on a meeting agenda, then ask the group to help me wash my car, pandemonium will erupt. The group will split according to the task they each think comes first. One person will ask for the keys to the car. Another will tell me – at length – how much they love using Dawn dishwashing detergent and do I have any while someone else warns me of the damage dishwashing detergent will do to my car’s paint job. While they are arguing, 3 people will already be in the parking lot squirting each other with the hose and getting my neighbor’s cars wet.
My project just turned into a nightmare. Unproductive meetings are just like this. Which brings me to 3 principles of working with groups:
- Groups are fabulous at tasks
- Groups fall apart over projects
- Groups tend to turn everything into a project
If you want to see the full flowering of the dynamics lurking in your group, throw a project at them. If you want their help working on a project of enormous complexity, give it to them one small task at a time. That’s what meeting planning is for: to break down the big, undigestible project into tiny, group-sized pieces.
Task or Project?
In order to make improving your meetings a quick, easy task instead of an enormous, time-chewing project, take this tiny step today:
Look at your task list or list of agenda items and ask yourself: Which of these is a project rather than a task? It’s probably the one you’ve been avoiding, and now you know why.