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Micro-productivity: Accomplishing Major Goals With Minor Effort

Micro-productivity: Accomplishing Major Goals With Minor Effort

    When I’m not writing for Stepcase Lifehack, I spend my time crafting microfiction. I am the author of a 365-part fiction serial running at MargeryJones.com, and I have a piece of microfiction being featured in an upcoming HarperCollins fiction anthology on sale this June.

    So I know a little something about getting a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. For example, sitting down and creating a novel is intimidating. But by focusing my efforts into writing a daily serial, I’ll have a novella complete by the end of the year with very little time invested per month. Some of the precepts of writing microfiction can easily be applied to any situation to help you reach a major goal or milestone.

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    I’m not the first person to write about this kind of “micro-productivity”. The Friendly Anarchist wrote a blog post about making the most of those 5-minute windows of time we all have in our day. He suggests that when you have a spare couple of minutes with nothing to do, you should use it to do something worthwhile, something productive: “Create cool stuff: Edit some photos, skribble some sketches, jot down an outline for your next essay, write a haiku.”

    He argues that we sometimes psyche ourselves up when reaching for major goals or blocking out time for creative pursuits. By working in small chunks of time, “your old buddy procrastination has no chance to hit, if all you got are five minutes. And who knows, maybe…you’ll get an effortless 20 minutes of action, without even having to struggle.”

    So, if you’re interested in accomplishing big projects with just a little bit of effort, here’s the basic process to follow.

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    1. Set a major goal

    This is the time to dream big. Maybe you want to write a novel, get in shape, or earn some extra income with a side business. Decide what major life goal you have been putting off for years, and make a commitment to make a dent in the work required to make that goal a reality.

    2. Break down that goal into micro-tasks

    Say your major goal is to get rock hard abs by the end of the year. You might decide that the way for you to accomplish that goal is to do 100 crunches a day. If you’re committed to writing a novel, break down the work of writing into a set number of pages, chapters, or words.

    The important thing isn’t how you break down the work leading towards successful completion of your goal, but rather that you break down the work into small, manageable micro-projects. Think about what you can conceivably get done in a 5 or 10 minute period of time, or what you can do over several such blocks of time without major fits and starts.

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    3. Set a schedule

    For example, say you’re still planning on working on your abs, and want to do 100 crunches a day. You break down those 100 crunches into 4 groups of 25, making your goal easy to achieve during the commercial breaks of an hour long TV show.

    Or maybe you’re dead-set on finishing a novel, so you dedicate three of your coffee breaks at work each week to scribbling a few passages into a notebook.

    4. Get ahead of schedule

    How do you do that? Simple. Just make an effort to use any 5-10 minute chunks of free time that you would otherwise “waste” to work on your project. I mentioned working your goals into TV commercial breaks above. Other great places to sneak in a little productive time include your morning commute (assuming you are a carpool passenger or subway rider), or while you’re making dinner (while waiting for water to boil or the microwave to ding).

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    And when you’re ahead of schedule (which is easy to do when it only takes 5 minutes to make progress), you’ll find that your this boosts your confidence. And when you feel good about your project and your goals, you’ll be more motivated and more productive.

    Conclusion

    Obviously you shouldn’t use every spare 5-minute chunk of your day towards your goals. Everybody needs a little down time to veg out and recharge their batteries. But by making a conscious effort to spend a few minutes per day working towards a major life goal, you will make slow, measured progress that might not be possible otherwise.

    And even if you don’t have a major goal you’re working towards, using several 5-10 minute blocks of time towards a productive goal each day can really do wonders for both your personal and professional life. In an older post here at Lifehack.org, Leo Babauta wrote a great list of ways to make productive use of these small chunks of time. Those tips included balancing your checkbook, networking with your professional contacts, or even earning extra money by freelancing on the side.

    Big goals are scary. You can easily get derailed working on major projects if you get frustrated or anxious about working on them. Working on a project for 5-10 minutes at a time can keep you from becoming your own worst enemy. And when you aren’t getting in your own way, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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