Be More Productive with Micro-Tasking

Feeling drained after focusing your attention for large blocks of time? Or worse, do you not have a block free for focus time? Make time to recharge by mastering micro-productivity.

Published on
4 May

Our days are packed, but we still have these little moments scattered throughout the day (e.g., 5 minutes before a meeting, 2 minutes waiting in line, 10 minutes on the subway). Can we leverage these smaller moments for productivity in a way that they contribute towards a larger goal?

What is Micro-Tasking?

Micro-tasking (also known as Micro-productivity) is a new field of research that aims to take short spurts of time (micro-moments) and leverage them for useful activities. The concept is based on the observation that we often have small pockets of time throughout the day where we are not engaged in a primary task and are thus open to engaging in other activities. By recognizing and making use of these micro-moments, we can accomplish a lot more than we would otherwise think possible. For example, if you find yourself with a few minutes to spare while waiting in line at the grocery store, you could use that time to send a quick email or text message instead of simply scrolling through TikToks. The goal of micro-productivity is to help people make better use of their time so that they can be more productive overall. While it may seem like a small thing, micro-productivity can have a big impact on your ability to get things done.

Dr. Shamsi Iqbal at Microsoft Research believes you can make the most of these micro-moments, but the largest challenge is that you need to have the forethought to break down the tasks that you have into smaller chunks. You also need to be able to find or be reminded of these micro-tasks at the right moment. To divide tasks into smaller, more manageable steps requires careful planning and forethought, and we’re often resistant to taking the time to clearly understand the steps involved for a task.

Breaking Down Tasks

Task unitization is the process of breaking down a larger task into smaller micro-tasks. This process of "chunking" and task analysis can make the task feel more manageable and less daunting. The task unitization approach originated in the 1970s, when researchers had people watch videos of others performing physical tasks (such as folding laundry or mowing the lawn) and asked them to write down the individual steps involved. By identifying the specific actions required to complete a task, people are able to better understand the main goal of the task and how to accomplish it themselves.

For example, if the goal is to write a research paper, the micro-tasks might include finding a topic, conducting research, writing an outline, and writing the paper itself. Each of these subtasks can then be further broken down into even smaller micro-tasks. For example, the task of writing an outline might be broken down into sub-tasks such as determining the structure of the paper, creating a list of main points, and brainstorming supporting evidence for each point. By breaking down a complex task into small, manageable steps, it becomes much easier to achieve the desired goal.

Then, while waiting in line, you can decide on your main point, read a research paper in support of your argument, or make a list of evidence ideas. By having the micro-tasks tracked and easily visualized, you are incentivized to check off a quick task on your to-do list and over time make substantial progress. The key is to be intentional about how you spend those moments and to use them in a way that will help you achieve your long-term goals. By being mindful of the opportunities for micro-productivity throughout your day, you can make significant progress on your goals without feeling like you’re sacrificing your valuable free time.

Recharge with a Real Break

Between periods of focus, schedule in actual breaks and dedicated periods to relaxation. Savor the time to reset and regain motivation to power through until your next break.

The goal of micro-tasking is not to have you working all the time. Rather, it is a method to help you save time and manage your attention by setting you up for more productive periods of focus and rest. In those moments, instead of interrupting yourself with the tasks that plague your brain, capture what you need to know elsewhere and come back to it instead when the time is right.

Acting on your distraction and context switching to start a new activity opens you up for a chain of diversion. Studies show that it may take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to realign focus on the original task.

Making Time Management Easier

Micro-tasking is challenging to do yourself. It requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, a robust method for capturing and breaking down your tasks, and a system so you can find those micro-tasks in the right moment.

Smarty makes it easy to capture all your tasks, break them down into smaller steps that you can track, and find those bite-sized to-dos when the time is right. By capturing the relevant deadlines of everything on your mind in Smarty, you can automate batching similar tasks together, get recommendations on what to do and when, and rebuild your plan when interruptions inevitably pop up. So you do what you do best, and Smarty will do the rest :)

While micro-productivity is still a relatively new concept, there is already a lot to be learned on how best to leverage micro-moments for maximum benefit. Start by being mindful of how you spend your time, so you can harness the power of micro-productivity to achieve your goals.

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