Each morning (or sometimes the evening before), I write up a to-do list for the day. I list all the tasks I would like to achieve, in roughly the order of priority.
Lately, some common items I have added to my to do list include, ‘blog promotion’, ‘blog improvements’ and ‘tidy’. What is the problem with these tasks? They are too vague! How much blog promotion do I need to do, in order to tick that task off my list? Which improvements do I need to make to my blog today? How long do I need to spend tidying?
It’s not that I am completely stumped. For example, I have a long list of ways to promote my blog, and improvements to make to it. But of course I would never complete all those things in a whole day, let alone in one session. It can feel daunting, seeing an item like ‘blog improvement’ on my to-do list, and looking at a long list of blog improvements that need doing. I don’t know where to start, so it’s hard to get started at all!
Even when I do get started on an ‘umbrella’ task like that, I tend to get easily distracted and start procrastinating. This is because it’s unclear what I am actually aiming to achieve on that day.
So how can I solve this problem?
Essentially, every task on my to-do list is a goal, and the key to a well-written goal is to make it specific, and measurable! My examples above are not specific or measurable. When I write my to-do list, I don’t necessarily know what exact aspect of a task I will want to work on, or exactly how I will carry out that task. I don’t want to make a detailed plan at the time of writing my to-do list, because I never know how the day will turn out. I don’t know how much time I will end up dedicating to that task, and what I will feel like doing at the time. That’s okay, I don’t actually have to change anything at the planning stage. But the difference is what happens when I come to work on a task.
Instead of working on a task at random, for an undetermined amount of time, I could choose and write down a set of 2 or 3 micro tasks related to the overall task. The micro tasks should be specific, measurable tasks that won’t take long to do. I don’t need to do this until I am just about to work on the overall task. This way, I can choose micro tasks based on what I feel like at the time.
Here are some examples of micro tasks
For the ‘umbrella’ task, ’blog promotion’:
- post / schedule X number of Tweets
- write a specific Tweet promoting a blog post
- post on X follow trains and interact with X bloggers
- comment on X blogs
- clear out the top drawer of my desk
- put all my clothes away in the wardrobe
- empty my bin and recycling
The number of micro tasks I set myself will depend on how much time I have available. If I don’t have long, I could just set 1 micro task. If I get it done quickly, I can always add another task. On the other hand, if my micro tasks take longer than expected, I can save them for later, or carry them over to the next day. In general, it’s better to start with a low number of tasks so that it feels less overwhelming and more achievable.
As an alternative, I could set a timer for however long I want to work on the umbrella task (for example, 30 minutes) and just work on it for that amount of time, with no expectations of how much I will get done.
When I have completed my micro tasks (or the timer runs out), I can choose to either tick that umbrella task off for the day, or add more micro tasks if I feel I want to work on it more.
I have been keeping a list of possible micro tasks for various of my common ‘umbrella tasks’. When it’s time to work on a task, I can just consult my list and pick a few from there. This makes the process quick and easy.
Do micro tasks improve my productivity?
I have been trying out this method over the past couple of weeks, and it has really made a difference to my productivity! Breaking down large tasks into bite-size chunks and tackling them just a few at a time helps me to get more done in the long run, and lessens the chance of procrastination. So next time you are feeling overwhelmed by a task that seems too big and vague, I would definitely recommend setting some micro tasks!