A task analysis is used to break complex or larger tasks into a sequence of smaller steps or actions.
Having an understanding of all the steps involved for a particular task can assist in more accurately estimating how much time events are likely to take. This then makes realistic and honest scheduling more achievable.
However the benefits of using a task analysis approach do not stop here.
The process of breaking tasks into smaller chunks of expectation actually begins the task. Rather than simply knowing I have an essay due in 2 weeks I can become aware of what will actually be involved by engaging with the task and thinking through, potentially visualising what will be involved.
Thinking about events prior to commencement helps us visualise tasks. It also helps us to consider what barriers, if any, there may be to starting and completing each step, aiding mental contrasting and increasing the chance of implementing strategies to overcome any likely hurdles.
Breaking larger tasks into smaller components also creates more finite beginnings and endings. This can transform larger open ended tasks into a collection of smaller steps with clearer start and stop points. This in turn is considerably less overwhelming and may therefore reduce the chances for procrastination.
Having steps to follow over time may also help with not leaving larger tasks until the last minute. In essence what we can do is create a collection of smaller time points towards meeting a final deadline.
Consider the essay example. I have an essay due in 2 weeks. Here are some possible breakdowns whilst being overly kind with time. I find that it is always better to over-rather than under-estimate time:
1. Fully immerse myself with the question. Understand what it means and start thinking about how I might want to be answering it. 30 MINS
2. Compile the list of resources I would like to read to help answer the question. Try and use a range of resources (books, journal articles, websites, documentaries, newspaper articles etc.). 1 HOUR
Identify where I can access the resources. (hyperlinks for online journals, references for library books etc.) 30 MINS
3. Go to library to borrow books and print off journal articles. 2 HOURS
4. Do web based research for additional journal articles and website content. 45 MINS
5. Read and take notes from Chapter 3 of Book 1. 1 HOUR
6. Read and take notes from pages 29-45 of Book 2. 30 MINS
7. Read journal article 1. 45 MINS
8. Read journal article 2. 45 MINS
9. Watch documentary and take notes. 45 MINS
10. Create reference list for all used materials (this is something I like to get out of the way early on). 45 MINS
11. Write draft introduction. 1 HOUR
12. Create bullet points for sections of the body. 45 MINS
13.Work on bullet point 1-6 for 30 minutes each. 3 HOURS
14. Write conclusion. 45 MINS
15. Check over and read out aloud to myself and a friend. 30 MINS
16. Make any revision and final touches. 30 MINS
From this example it becomes clear that using a task analysis approach for larger tasks can positively impact executive function challenges including but not limited to time management, planning, prioritising, task initiation, emotional regulation, sustained attention, goal-directed persistence, and metacognition.
This was just one example and one that suits my way of working. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to overestimate how long things are likely to take me. There is no fixed way to use the task analysis approach apart from you deciding what your task is comprised of and working on smaller components of a larger task over time in a way that feels achievable and manageable!