The Task Snowball


Trying to juggle life while making sure you complete all the tasks you need to get done is a challenge we can all relate to. I know I constantly struggle with it and need reminders like this.

This Today’s Classic post is republished from Physician on Fire. The original post can be found here. Enjoy!

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.

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.

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.


  1. And, like finances, be careful what you “add to the list”. An important financial principal is “avoid debt, live beneath your means, invest”.

    An important “time principal” is “avoid extra unnecessary tasks, don’t schedule 26 hours in 24, and have some spare time”.

  2. Being a long time reader of pof I am surprised I don’t remember coming across this post originally. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I do think the task snowball is a better concept than the debt snowball of Dave Ramsey. I still think it is better to attack the higher interest rate debt first rather than get the smaller ones out of the way because it makes more financial sense.

    I get the psychological benefit of doing it the Ramsey way but still think as physicians we don’t need this to make sound decisions

    The task snowball though definitely has merit as checking off any task in a given weekend does give satisfaction

    • It definitely makes more financial sense to attack the high interest debt first but for some physicians the debt snowball can be helpful in changing attitude toward debt. There’s something powerful and addictive about paying off debt even if it’s small.


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