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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.