The Task Snowball

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M.D. Financial ServicesGetting things done is hard, particularly when you’re a well-practiced procrastinator like me. I thrive on deadlines and like to test their limits. Checking items off the to-do-list becomes even more difficult when you fancy yourself a writer and give yourself a second job creating, maintaining, and promoting a blog.

I shouldn’t call it a job; I love it, but I bit off about as much as I can chew.

When you’re a homeowner, husband, father, and do-it-yourselfer, required tasks have a nasty habit of stacking up quickly. I haven’t caught them in the act, but they also seem to reproduce like rabbits.

As the list grows and becomes more daunting, it also becomes easier to ignore it and come up with excuses. “I’ll start weeding that garden when I have a bigger chunk of time.” “It’s supposed to be cooler / warmer next week. I’ll work on the garage then.” “What time is it? Beer:30? Real good, then. Let’s hot tub!”




The Task Snowball


If you’ve listened to Dave Ramsey or read his books, you’re probably familiar with the term “debt snowball.” Dave is a polarizing figure in personal finance. He has helped many and his message is positive, but has some sketchy advice (invest in stocks and earn 12%) and is most certainly profiting immensely from his network of paying Endorsed Local Providers.

Even the debt snowball, a plan that has been instrumental in helping thousands of people destroy their debts, is not without fault. Here’s how it works. Write down all your debts. Put them in order, from the lowest balance to the highest. Start paying them off, from the smallest to the largest.



Psychologically, it might be the best way, but mathematically, people would be better served by paying off the highest interest debts first. By the time you’re done, you will have paid less interest, and be at least a little bit ahead financially, compared to starting with the smallest balance. But the “little wins” that come from knocking off the small ones can be motivating. The behavioral aspect makes Dave’s debt snowball order seem reasonable.

I’m money-debt free, so I have no need for a money snowball of any order, shape or size. But I’m almost never task-debt free. I’ve always got a waxing and waning list of things I need to do, want to do, or have been meaning to do, but haven’t gotten around to doing.

This is where the task snowball starts rolling. I write down a list. Maybe give myself a deadline; I need deadlines. Dave’s snowball plan works better here, as the tasks have no interest rate associated with them. Although, some tasks may be more pressing than others. I might get in trouble if I’m harvesting my hop bines when the toilet is overflowing onto the bathroom floor, even if the hop bines do smell so much better than the clogged toilet.


hop vlowers on bine
heavenly hops


Once urgent matters have been addressed, I start with the simplest, easiest, or quickest task. Check a box, and look for another. Before long, the list is half done, and I move on the bigger tasks. Productivity ensues. With the little stuff out of the way, I’ve got no excuse not to clean out the garage and take four trips to the Habitat ReStore dropoff. The task snowball has worked it’s magic.


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Like Inbox Zero, Task-List Zero is a status worth celebrating.

Until I hear the ding from the inbox. Or my lovely wife asks, “Hey, can I borrow you for a minute?” I let loose a small giggle of fear and the tasks begin to populate the list once again.

Much like getting your personal finances in order, getting stuff done takes discipline. Start with the small stuff. Gather your account logins and check your balances. Clean underneath the fridge. Sign up for Personal Capital and know your net worth.

Move on to the bigger stuff. Tackle the storage room. Write up an IPS. Brew your own beer. Invest like a pro. Design and build a deck. Reach financial independence. Start a community garden. Bike across the country. Conquer the world.

Just get your snowball started.

17 thoughts on “The Task Snowball”

    • I’m starting to think a Snowball is not be best analogy for eliminating debts or tasks. The last time I rolled a Snowball, it got bigger and bigger until I had 1/3rd of a Snowman. I think a better visual is the hanging hunk o’ meat that gets whittled away to make gyros.

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  2. I was thinking the same thing about the snowball analogy. You should market the “Debt Gyro” concept, lol.

    I keep myself busy enough, and mainly make lists to stay organized and be able to walk into my office and see what I need to get done. Everyone’s different though. I find it can be hard getting myself out of old ruts helps at home when I get unmotivated to try new things or even jsut pick up old things, like playing the banjo or learning the resonator guitar, or just replaying an old cowboy video game because it’s really fun. 🙂
    I always feel so much better after doing those things, it reminds me why I got started with them as a hobby to begin with. I just have too many things I like to do, and need a better schedule to keep up with them. Maybe I’m more of a scheduler than a “lister” I think it’s 2 ways to describe the same thing in my book though.

    Thanks for the perspective!

  3. I like to do list, but than again I am a Type A personality in many areas of my life. I like planning, outlining strategies and getting this done. I do sometimes struggle with focusing on the little things or the things that may not bring the most value to me intrinsically at the end of the day once I completed them. This leaves me feeling busy but not productive, still working on that part.

  4. Yes, I do love a good list! Whenever I feel like things are starting to get out of control, I take a few deep breaths and write everything down. Then, prioritize and get stared. Nothing more satisfying!

  5. I am a to do list person too but I usually do them in reverse order. I tackle the bigger things first and leave the smaller things for when my energy is spent. I can see how doing it the opposite way could help with motivation though! Beer:30 does get in the way of cleaning under the refrigerator most evenings though…

  6. I thought that’s what kids are for 🙂

    My son is two but I already have him vacuuming, next summer I hope to teach him to mow, the summer after that he should be ready to be my financial advisor 🙂

  7. Like you, I thrive under pressure. Unknowingly, I’ve been practicing the Task Snowball for years now; maybe there’s a correlation there.

    Once in a while, I will make myself begin with a non-urgent task simply because I know that I will have to buckle down and tackle the urgent tasks later, even if I don’t feel like it. So I can see wisdom in both approaches – strangely enough, like the debt snowball vs. debt avalanche method debate.

  8. I ama horrible procrastinator with my time. I always feel like I have more time than I really do. Or I estimate tasks will not take as much time as they do.

    Just this morning a made a list of 3-4 things I want to do today in order of importance. I also tried to factor in how quick and easy the tasks will be. Hopefully all goes well!

    Thanks for the practical tips!

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