In The New York Times’s Smarter Living piece, “Micro-Progress and the Magic of Just Getting Started,” Tim Herrera delves into how we think about productivity as well as our tendency to procrastinate. Herrera puts forth the idea of micro-progress as a strategy for getting work underway as well as setting up reward systems for your brain to help validate progress and incentivize completing future tasks.
Micro-progress is counter to the way we often we think about work, as one giant project that we simply have to begin and complete. It can make a project feel overwhelming before it’s even begun. Many of us already appreciate the best practice of breaking down a project into smaller tasks but Herrera suggests that to practice micro-progress, we must break tasks down even further. For example, if your project is to hire four summer interns, you might break that down into tasks like:
- Update intern job descriptions
- Post on Idealist
- Review resumes
- Discuss candidates with your hiring team.
With micro-progress, however, you want to chop these tasks down further into “tiny, easily achievable micro-goals, then celebrate each achievement.” For example, instead of ‘update intern job description’ you would put together something like:
- Step 1: Open a Google Doc.
- Step 2: Name Google Doc.
- Step 3: Paste last year’s intern job description into the doc.
- Step 4: Update all dates listed, etc.
James Clear, in his post “The Physics of Productivity: Newton’s Laws of Getting Stuff Done”, compares the success of this technique to the principles of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. Just as objects in motion tend to stay in motion, for productivity, “the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.” Completing micro goals also increases dopamine levels in the brain. Even when it’s as simple as writing a title on a spreadsheet, these small rewards to your brain can instill a desire to complete more tasks until a project is complete.
Have you tried something like this or have others strategies that have helped you? Tell us about how you’ve increased your productivity or battled procrastination at firstname.lastname@example.org.