January 15, 2020

Projects & Tasks – Understanding Their Subtle Differences

Projects & Tasks

A task is any one activity that you could just sit down and do, provided you have the time, tools, and skills. Things, like calling your partner, making an appointment at the dentist, or replying to a personal email, are all tasks. You can just do them and move on with your day. Generally, a task can be completed within a couple of hours, and many can be done in under 10 minutes.

Projects, on the other hand, are collections of related tasks. Things, like preparing a work package for us, or preparing a drawing or a calculation report, are projects. These clearly require multiple steps and likely take considerable time to complete.


Where people get tripped up is when small projects get mistaken for tasks. Things, like submitting a weekly timesheet, responding to an email, or building a model, could all be tasks, but they could also constitute small projects.

The trick here is that if you don’t have all the information you need for the model, for example, then building it might actually be a project.

Take, for example, the task of responding to an email. That could be a 60-second effort if it’s a short, informal message. Alternatively, it could take a whole day to respond to if you have to collect and analyse data for a status update on a critical project. In both cases, you’re still responding to an email, but they represent very different levels of effort.

Here’s the Take-Home Message – Your Task List Should only Include Tasks.

Many people make the mistake of mixing projects and tasks as items in the same list. There are several problems with this:

    • It’s hard to estimate projects compared to tasks, meaning you don’t really have a good sense for how much work is on your plate if you have a lot of projects on your list.
    • It’s hard to find a good opportunity to work on your projects. With a task, you can quickly tell that, based on how much time you have to work with, where you are, what tools are at hand, etc., whether you can hammer something out. With projects, that’s much harder. Interruptions make it worse.
    • It’s hard to tell what really needs to happen next on a project if it’s not clearly broken out into tasks. This means that if you’re tired, rushed, or feeling the least bit unmotivated, you’re much more likely to skip over project items in your to-do list and move on to something that you don’t have to think so hard about.

What to Do to Fix Your To-Do List

    1. Scan your to-do list and flag items that are actually projects.
    2. Make those items a heading, and write in all the tasks associated with that project that can be completed in under three or four hours – the shorter and more discrete the better.
    3. There’s plenty of to-do lists – from notepads to mobile apps to full-blown software – whatever system you use, make sure you identify the projects and their constituent tasks.


    • Take a look at your to-do list with fresh eyes.
    • Turn projects into tasks and estimate the time required. See if there are things that need to be prioritized based on their importance and urgency.

Near the end of the day at Yenem, we have a team meet-up in which we each commit to completing our top three tasks as our first priority for the next day.

The longer we do this, the better we get at estimating, prioritising and executing our work. 😊

Also, perhaps there are tasks that could effectively be delegated to others, freeing up your time.

Perhaps we can help. And if preparing a work pack is too much of a project and you feel it easier to stay back and do it yourself, perhaps you could benefit from our ‘Engineers on Tap‘ service.

Have a Project that You Want to Discuss?

Book a meeting with us and we will assist you with the structural design and analysis of your structure to help you produce a structure that is fit-for-purpose and capable of resisting all applied loads without failure during its intended life.

Like this article?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly email from Yenem’s director, Dave Meney.