In memory for subject-performed tasks (SPTs), subjects encode a list of simple action phrases (e.g. "lift the pen", "open the book") by performing these actions during learning. Performing tasks has proved to be a much more efficient type of encoding than verbal tasks (VTs), in which subjects only listen to the action phrases in order to memorise them. It is assumed that good item-specific encoding after SPTs plays an important role in the SPT effect. The role of relational encoding for the SPT effect is less clear, as is the question of whether SPT encoding is automatic or controlled. Two experiments were conducted to address these issues. Subjects learned lists which were categorically structured in VTs and SPTs, under focal attention or divided attention. The results indicated that relational encoding does not differ between VTs and SPTs, and that free recall is impaired in both cases by divided attention, more so in VTs than in SPTs. It is concluded that the SPT effect is primarily based on item-specific information rather than on relational information, and that VTs are more dependent than SPTs on active encoding.