I first read about “chunking up” and “chunking down” from an NLP textbook back when I was nursing my nascent personal development obsession as a teenager. It’s a fairly simple concept; the idea is you can break a goal down into many smaller steps, or you can take small steps and put them together into a bigger goal. It’s a matter of viewing things differently, which can affect how you do things. (I hear there are other applications for chunking, e.g. for communication, but I’ll stick with what I know).
I was very far from being even slightly productive when I first heard about chunking, so by and large it basically disappeared from my mind without affecting my life in any way. But recently, as I have been developing my ability to get stuff done, it came to my mind again.
Chunking down is fairly intuitive. A lot of you probably do it already. For instance, when I look at the giant pile of dishes next to my sink (note: I never said I’m a productivity guru), if I imagine trying to clean them all it brings me a feeling of despair and I get the impulse to procrastinate or give up. However, I can instead look at how I can break up the task, e.g. setting myself the goal of doing 1/4 of the total, then another 1/4, then another 1/4, then the rest. Even though there is no technical difference between doing this and just cleaning all the dishes, the artificial mental division here allows me to access that motivating “task completed” feeling more often, making the job a lot less daunting and frustrating.
I recently found chunking up to be surprisingly useful too, however. I often have very small tasks that I leave off annoyingly long; like sending a very short email or writing a shopping list. I find it helps to combine lots of little tasks together into one big chunk: I say to myself, for the next half hour I’m going to be getting little annoying tasks out of the way. By combining them, the conglomerate becomes significant enough to be motivating, and you don’t have to overcome the sense of resistance related to starting a new task more than once. I’ve been experimenting with this recently and find it quite helpful.