When you have too many tasks in your to-do list, you will like to clear them one at a time. Is there another way to say this? Or to say "worrying about the next one only after finishing the current one".

In my native language, we say something similar to "cut one branch at a time (of a tree)"

  • Some answers propose "step-by-step" or "sequentially", which to me implies the tasks are related. Your question gives me the impression that the tasks are not related; you could do them in any order and possibly some in parallel. Which did you mean? – Monica Cellio Apr 25 '12 at 16:10
  • You could say, as you complete each of your tasks, "I can cross that off my list." It's a very common phrase in the U.S. We like to make lists. google.com/… – JLG Apr 26 '12 at 3:15
  • @Monica, yes, I was talking about unrelated tasks. So, can't use step-by-step or sequentially. @JLG, that sounds good, but not exactly what I was looking for. – dheerosaur Apr 27 '12 at 4:30
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    Yes, you can do unrelated tasks sequentially. It's just that the sequence is chosen arbitrarily. The sequence has to be chosen not because an order is required but rather so you are not overwhelmed with trying to do multiple tasks at once. Sequences do not always betray a deep relationship. Sometimes you're customer number #23 in line because #22, whom you have nothing to do with, walked in the door seconds before you. You're still served "in sequence". – Kaz Apr 27 '12 at 16:56

Doing some tasks one by one is doing them "sequentially" which is an adverb that means "in sequence".

But it sounds like you are looking for some colorful idioms. There are various in this general area, some with an exact opposite meaning.

One phrase for doing too much at once is "burning the candle at both ends", but it has some other meanings.

There is "biting off more than you can chew". I have too many tasks on my to-do list; I think I will take them one at a time and not bite off more than I can chew.

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    "biting off more than you can chew" is such a good phrase :) – dheerosaur Apr 25 '12 at 8:15
  • If you're studying English as a second language (or even if you're not) it's useful to own a dictionary of such idioms. – Kaz Apr 25 '12 at 8:16
  • +1 Alternately, you could say you were tackling a list or a project in bite-size pieces. – Callithumpian Apr 25 '12 at 17:57
  • "Sequentially" implies an order, whereas "one-at-a-time" is more generalized, without the implication of any order. – Canis Lupus Apr 27 '12 at 16:28
  • One-at-a-time does imply the existence of an order, just not necessarily a particular one. – Kaz Apr 27 '12 at 16:51

You can say, I will do this step-by-step. Or, I am moving deliberately (as opposed to precipitately).


The idiom is one step at a time(Link). A distantly related idiom is to play by ear meaning to handle a situation in an impromptu manner.

  • One step at a time is hardly an idiom. It means what it looks like it means. There are multiple steps to be carried out, and at any given time, you are carrying out one. An idiom is some combination of words whose syntax is outside of the grammar along with some special meaning ("catch as catch can"), or whose meaning is something other than the literal one ("kick the bucket"). – Kaz Apr 25 '12 at 7:09

You are "working down your list" and, when you finish a task, you can "cross it off your list" (h/t @JLG). Alternatively, you're "taking these one at a time".


"Individually" may serve your need, meaning one-by-one, separately.


If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one

No man can serve two masters

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