Hard or Easy: Which Task Should You Tackle First?

By Ryan Douglas

We’ve been told the same productivity advice for years – work on the hardest tasks first to achieve your goals. While this approach is fine for some people, others need a small warm-up before tackling their biggest challenges. Today’s article looks at the unexpected benefits of starting small and being productive.  

Smaller Commitments Improve Your Odds

Let’s face it – taking on a big task sometimes feels overwhelming. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Thinking about the entirety of a big decision can make your heart race and mind begin drifting into the unknown.

“Where do I start?”

“How do I know if I’m doing it right?”

“What if I screw up?!”

These types of thoughts are debilitating and serve no purpose in reaching your goal. Just the opposite. Feelings of self-doubt are often enough to make you want to quit before you’ve even begun.

A perfect illustration of how the biggest challenge in getting started – is getting started.

Yet, once you begin, finishing a task is like most any other goal in life. Once in motion, the finish line gets clearer. Momentum becomes the sustaining force that keeps you moving forward. And the only way to get it is by taking action.

So how do we overcome the anxiety of walking that first step? Simple – start small.

Choose an item that you can knock out quickly (with little effort) to gain some traction. An easy win to make progress and help you get “in the groove.” If you were exercising, this would be your warm-up. Getting your muscles loose and prepared for the heavy lifting that’s yet to come.

Keeping in mind that if you hurt yourself working out, your gains come to a halt. Bruising your confidence means the same thing in regard to productivity.

Traditional advice says to “go big” and take on the largest challenge of the day first.  Yet, most of us have limited willpower and tend to get overwhelmed quickly. Which means we stop whatever we’re doing and feel worse afterward (because nothing was accomplished).

Starting small lowers the threshold for taking action and requires less effort to get moving. Which makes whatever you’re trying to accomplish more likely to happen.

And the trend of small wins is continuing to gain acceptance. Even productivity expert and best-selling author Michael Hyatt says easier tasks should come first. Citing many of the same reasons discussed in this article.

That’s what makes apps like Elisi so valuable. Our weekly based to-do list helps you achieve higher productivity while still maintaining balance. The intuitive interface allows you to track important practices (like meditation, exercise, and water intake), along with project information and personal notes.

Best of all, tasks are displayed in a way that encourages you to take action (rather than punishing you for not). Small steps add up – and Elisi helps you take more of them.

However, if you want to go big sometimes that’s okay too. There’s no rule saying you have to choose one or the other. Both strategies are useful depending on your confidence, energy level, and current state of mind.

Worst case scenario, if you go big and things don’t work out, you can always scale back and try again. Just don’t butt your head into the wall every time or you’ll run out of motivation.

Easier Tasks Produce Emotional Wins

Starting small isn’t just good for productivity, it nourishes your body and mind as well. Completing a handful of minor tasks gives you the emotional “lift” necessary to take on bigger challenges. A compounding effect which continues to feed itself over time.

And let’s not forget the incredible benefits to your brain also.

Research has shown that accomplishing a goal releases dopamine. A powerful neurotransmitter that controls feelings of pleasure, reward, and emotional satisfaction. All of which are key elements of productivity.  

Increased dopamine improves focus, memory power, and elevates your mood.  By improving focus, you’re able to concentrate longer and harder on the task at hand. Strengthening memory power helps you retain what you’ve learned and recall information faster when you need it. Elevating your mood provides the motivation to get started and the drive needed to keep going.

Working on tough projects first can produce the opposite – generating stress while leaving you physically and mentally drained. Causing you to lose motivation and have nothing left for other tasks.

Studies have shown that chronic stress suppresses dopamine production and causes an array of harmful side effects. Including anxiety, depression, and lack of energy.

With dopamine, feeling better about completing tasks isn’t just in your head – it’s an actual physical response. A compelling argument for why small wins can lead to big victories.

Increased Confidence Equals Higher Productivity

One of the best parts of knocking smaller to-do items off your list first is how it increases overall confidence. With each task completed, you prove to yourself (and others) that making progress and achieving your goals is possible.

Which, in turn, leads to taking on bigger challenges that may have previously seemed impossible. Confidence becomes the lubrication that keeps the wheels of productivity moving. Helping you to become bolder and more efficient in everything that you do.

Projects that were once scary don’t seem so intimidating afterward.

With larger projects, the opposite is often true. Stalling or failing to make progress erodes confidence and makes you shy away from future challenges. You doubt your ability to produce results and pull back because of it.

And if you’ve come up short too many times in a row, you might give up entirely.


When it comes to productivity, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. As long as you are continually moving toward your goals. While some choose to tackle the entire mountain first, others feel more comfortable starting out with a short hike.

And that’s okay.   

Because getting a series of small wins can be just as powerful as overcoming a major obstacle. As long as you keep your eyes on the prize, you can increase focus, motivation, and confidence as you work toward your goals.

All without the stress of taking on too much at once, or the shame of not finishing it afterward. Now that’s something to get excited about.

Looking for a more human way to accomplish your goals?

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