Let’s do a quick test. Can you memorize this set of long numbers below?


Unless you have super memory or you are a genius, chances are, you can’t remember the long number.

I bet you don’t even try to remember the numbers. You give up after taking a glance at the long digits. It feels daunting and overwhelming to memorize the numbers, right?

But, do you know that you DO have the ability and capability to remember things pretty well?

Let me ask you this, can you remember the phone number of 3 of your closest friends or people you loved? You do, right?

Probably, you can remember more than 3 phone numbers.

But why when it comes to memorizing the number above, you feel powerless, overwhelmed, and can’t seem to manage to do it?

The answer lies in something scientists refer to as “chunking”.

You see, we tend to remember better and can execute better when the information provided to us in smaller chunks.

This is why we use hyphens and spaces when we write down phone numbers. When the digits are written down in smaller chunks, we can remember them better.

Just like how you are able to memorize phone numbers because they are presented to you in smaller chunks manner.

So, what does this have to do with your productivity and making yourself work at something? Everything.

Chunking Can Improve Your Productivity and Help You Get More Done

Imagine I ask you to make delicious mashed potatoes, if you have never done it before, it may be a difficult task for you.

You may feel exhausted and overwhelmed. But what if instead of telling you to make mashed potatoes, I ask to do these few simple steps:

  1. Wash 5 potatoes and peel the skin.
  2. Boil a pot of water. Add some salt to the water and then cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, and then drain.
  3. Use a saucepan, add butter in low heat, put in the cooked potatoes, add some milk, and then mash them.
  4. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper. Serve.

The task becomes easier to do. You just need to focus on the one really small task at a time.

Even if you have never been to the kitchen or cook anything before, do you now think that you can make delicious mashed potatoes?

Yes, you can. You just need to follow the instructions and take the baby steps.

In this article, Richard E. Mayer, a psychologist who has published 23 books, said:

People learn better when a complex continuous lesson is broken into separate segments. Examples include breaking a complex figure into two or more smaller figures dealing with different parts of the original one; presenting one graphic at a time rather than putting multiple graphics in the same figure or breaking a continuous presentation into short chunks that can be paced by the learner.

The learner’s working memory is less likely to be overloaded with essential processing when the essential material is presented in bite-size chunks rather than as a whole continuous lesson.

This is how chunking works.

And it works for everything in life.

The Benefits of Chunking

When you focus on the small chunks of work rather than the big task, you tend to feel less resistance.

Just last week, I decided to write an ebook about motivation. I plan to come up with an ebook of at least 70 pages, full of insightful content on how people can motivate themselves and get off their butt.

However, when I think about the target, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. What I did then was I divided the target into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Instead of looking at it as an entire project, I divided the project into chapters where I can tackle much easily. I thought to myself, “Hey if I can write just 1 chapter a day, I can get this ebook done within a week or two.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

This is the power of chunking. You don’t want to force yourself to think about doing everything all together. If you do this, you will feel overwhelmed and it kills off your motivation.

Just like if you want to build a successful blog or start a business or get a new career, don’t think of it as a stand-alone task/project. You can always break it down into smaller chunks and work on those chunks, one at a time.

Tell me, which of the tasks below are easier to do?

  1. Workout in the gym for 60 minutes, or
  2. Change to sports attire.

To complete the first task, you need to change your attire, drive 20 minutes to the gym, find a parking lot, get to the gym, exercise, and sweat for an entire hour, rest for 10 minutes, take a shower, get to your car, and drive back home.

But to complete the second task, you just need to change to sports attire.

I know you want to exercise for 60 minutes in the gym, but what you focus on matters.

You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and feel exhausted because of the big task. Instead, you want to commit to the minimum.

Once you changed to sports attire, you can then work on the next task, which is to drive to the gym.

Plus, when you are in action, you will build up the momentum and have the motivation to keep going.

That’s why chunking is powerful.

How to Chunk Your Work

Now that you understand how chunking work. Whenever you find that you are reluctant or lack the motivation to work on something, implement the chunking technique…

1. Break down your task into small, baby steps.

Start so small that you get the feel of doing the work. You want to commit to the minimum.

For instance, if doing 50 push-ups is a lot, try just 10. If 10 push-ups still make you feel exhausting, go for the minimum and do just 1 push-up. Yes, commit to doing just one.

The key is to start so small that you don’t feel the resistance to doing it. When you commit to doing something so small and easy, you will never need much motivation.

Read: Why Start Small? The 5 Important Benefits of Starting Small

2. Chunk your time

Besides breaking your tasks into smaller and actionable steps, you can also chunk your time.

Say, instead of spending an hour reading a book, you can do it for just 15 minutes. Don’t you think you have 15 minutes to read every day?

Rather than spending an hour writing an article, tell yourself you just need to do it for 10 minutes. Make the task so easy that you don’t feel “heaviness” of doing it. And once you get moving, you will build up the momentum. And you can then choose to continue to work on the task or stop. It is up to you.

You may want to also chunk your time blocks. Read this article below to understand how to use time blocking effectively:

Time Block: The Technique For Superb Focus And Productivity

3. Use a list

It is always a good idea to use a list, especially when you feel overwhelmed or lost and not sure what to do.

When you put everything down on a list, it becomes clear to you where you should start and what you need to get done. You can then easily follow through each item on your list and strike off task by task.

4. Do what matters, and stop doing what don’t

This may not have much to do with chunking, but it has everything to do with being productive.

You don’t want to spend your time working on things that are not contributing to your goals/success. You want to focus on doing things that truly matter.

A lot of people spend time working and being busy, but at the end of the day, they are not productive because they get less or unimportant things done.

Hence, always review and reflect. Ask yourself, “If I continue to do what I do, will I be able to produce the results I want and reach my goal?”

If your answer is a no, you know you shouldn’t be spending too much time on the task. You need to make a change and do something that will bring you the results.

5. Give your full attention

When you are working on your small chunks of work, give them your full attention. Try not to multitask because multitasking actually decreases your productivity.

When you try to do a few things simultaneously, what really happens is that your brain is switching from one task to another, back and forth.

And this makes you tired and exhausted fast. Most importantly, when you switch your focus here and there, you tend to be easily distracted, either by your thoughts or by other external things like your phone.

Therefore, if you want to perform at your peak productivity, do one work at a time. Stop multitasking and start paying attention to just one thing at a time.

Read: How to Maintain Your Attention and Become More Focused


Chunking is an effective technique to make yourself to work when you don’t feel like it.

Say, when you have no motivation to write an article of 1,000 words, why don’t you use this technique and commit to the minimum? Commit to writing just 100 words and see how that feels and what will happen.

And if writing 100 words is still too daunting, try writing just a paragraph, maybe 30 words.

That’s how you “trick” yourself into working. Do you like this technique?

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  1. Hi Shawn! Very helpful post, thanks. I recently found out about your blog and I really like what you do. I think the main problem is the misunderstanding. It lies in the lack of understanding of the result and the process of work. This happens, for example, at a university, when you are only in your first year and they are given a task that you are not able to complete because of a lack of experience. Either this is the first course or a report to the conference. If we have not done such things before, then there is a high probability that the first time will result in a long and tedious postponement of work until the deadlines arrive. Thank you!

  2. Shawn Lim Reply

    Hello Eva, yes, when something is new and unfamiliar, we tend to have fear and feel uncertain in dealing with it. 🙂

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