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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 October 21, 2019

    How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

    How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

    U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

    Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

    Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

    But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

    To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

    What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

    You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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    You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

    If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

    1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

    Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

    Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

    While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

    2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

    It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

    “While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

    In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

    Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

    3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

    Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

    For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

    4. Good leaders are students.

    In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

    I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

    Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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    As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

    5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

    It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

    “As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

    This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

    6. Good leaders understand themselves.

    I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

    Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

    Final Thoughts

    Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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    Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

    After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

    Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

    If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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    Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
    [2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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