Do you find yourself repeatedly putting the same tasks on your daily to-do list?
Are you waiting to work on projects until the deadline gets dangerously close?
Want to understand how to stop procrastinating once and for all?
Procrastination is a prevalent problem that often causes stress. In fact, a study published by the American Psychological Association revealed that 94% of the respondents indicated that procrastination has a negative effect on their happiness, and for 18% that effect is “extremely negative”.
While there are many reasons people procrastinate, one common cause amongst professionals is the lack of a clear overview or a sense of overwhelm by the scope of the project.
This is where The 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method comes in. Instead of leaving bigger tasks on your to-do list and increasing the chances you’ll procrastinate, you’ll break it down into smaller steps that help you get it done with less stress.
What’s The 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method?
One of the foundational time management concepts of The 7 Minute Life is the difference between Projects and Micro-Actions. We define Micro-Actions as tasks that take 20 minutes or less to complete. Any task that takes more than 20 minutes is considered a Project that needs to go through a simple, repeatable process to be broken down into smaller steps. An effective to-do list exists of only micro-actions, because this pushes you to clearly define each step, accurately estimate the time it takes to complete it, and more easily fit the task into your busy schedule.
Why you should replace any projects on your to-do list
Most to-do lists resemble something like this:
- Prepare for tomorrow’s meeting
- Create the slide deck for next week’s training
- Answer emails
- Call HR during lunch
- Not only are these tasks not specific or measurable enough, but most of these tasks are also Projects that take more than an hour to complete.
Why does this matter? Why should you replace Projects with Micro-Actions on your to-do list?
- It’s harder to accurately estimate how long it takes to complete a Project
How long will it take to complete this? The bigger the task, the less accurate your estimate will be. Breaking down Projects into Micro-Actions gives you a clear picture of what’s required and how long each step will take, which avoids constantly feeling behind on your tasks!
- You’re more likely to procrastinate on a Project
People procrastinate because they don’t have clarity on the action they need to take or because they feel overwhelmed. The 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method combats procrastination on both fronts. First, replacing one big Project with a list of Micro-Actions provides you with a clear outline of what you need to do. Second, tasks that take less than 20 minutes are far less daunting than a project that may take several hours.
- A to-do list consisting of Projects is harder to fit into a busy schedule
When was the last time you had 3 uninterrupted hours to work on a single project? Most professionals have meetings and events spread out throughout their workday, leaving them with short, scattered timeslots to work on other tasks. What if you could use every spare 15 minutes to contribute to the completion of an important project instead of merely spending it on endless emails or busywork? Micro-Actions are easier to fit into a busy schedule, because the tasks are easy to fit into small gaps in your schedule. This empowers you to be productive even during your busiest days.
- Distractions and interruptions make you lose track of a Project
What about “deep work”? Aren’t we supposed to do our best thinking when we can focus on one thing for an extended amount of time? Breaking down Projects into Micro-Actions doesn’t replace deep work, it enables it! Realistically, you rarely can go offline for hours. Even if you have an afternoon without meetings or conference calls, you have to regularly check your phone and email to stay in the loop. When working with a to-do list filled with Micro-Actions instead of Projects, it allows you to be productive even on days where your team needs answers to questions, phone calls need to be returned promptly, and email replies can’t wait several hours. Simply work on one Micro-Action without distractions, followed by a few minutes to check your phone or email. You won’t lose track of your progress because each Micro-Action has a clear endpoint. You can easily pick up where you left off by starting the next Micro-Action after you have returned that important phone call.
How to break Projects down into Micro-Actions
Luckily, the 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method is designed to be repeatable and applicable in a myriad of situations. Whether you apply it to your personal goals or to manage your projects at work, it takes merely 3 simple steps to break down a project into smaller steps.
Step 1. Identify the desired end result
Most people skip this step, but it’s arguably the most important one! If you don’t define the desired end result of your project, how do you know it’s done? Moreso, how will you know if it’s done well? Your project is likely a part of a bigger goal, one that matters to you. Allowing your picture of the final product to be too ambiguous affects your ability to successfully accomplish other aspects of the goal. This negative ripple effect can be prevented by starting each project with one simple question:
What does it look like for this project to be finished and done well?
Write down the answer to this question, using no more than 3 sentences. This forces you to clarify your desired result to the point it can be contained in concise language and brief description.
Tempted to skip this step? Consider the results of a goal-setting study led by Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, reported by Inc. It reveals you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down!
Step 2. Break down the project into phases
Like a good story, each project has a beginning, middle, and end. This step may be brief, but even the most straightforward projects can be broken down into simple phases like prepare, execute and review. For bigger or more complex projects, make sure you define the desired end result for each phase.
For example, say that you have to create a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting. The phases could be defined as:
- Prepare information and visuals
This shouldn’t take more than a minute, but it provides a helpful skeleton to guide you during the next step.
Step 3. List all micro-actions for each phase
Ask yourself for each phase: what does it look like for this phase to be finished and done well? What do I need to do to get there? With that in mind, create a list of steps that are necessary to complete each phase.
In the example of the PowerPoint presentation, this could result in a list of Micro-Actions like this:
Phase 1 – Prepare:
- Ask John for last month’s report
- Select 3-5 product photos
- Create a graph that shows this year’s industry trends
- Research how competitor A has dealt with this issue
- Write one paragraph about the board’s decision based on the meeting notes from last week
The second phase would include tasks like “write an outline of topics” or “create 5 slides in the Analysis Section”, the third phase could have micro-actions like “update all colors to the brand colors and include our logo in the footer”, and the final phase would include micro-actions that relate to proofreading and implementing feedback from a supervisor.
No matter the project and the number of defined phases, the most important thing to note is that each task in this list should be able to be completed in 20 minutes or less. If it takes more than that, it needs to be broken down into several, smaller tasks again.
You can apply The 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method to far more areas than project management alone. This method can help you effectively manage your household, work on a complex research project, achieve a personal goal, establish great habits, and even run meetings more efficiently. Stay tuned to learn more advanced applications of the Micro-Action Method, by signing up for The 7 Minute Life newsletter.
What projects will you successfully finish on time with less stress using the Micro-Action Method?
FAQ: How to Stop Procrastinating and Boost Efficiency with Task and Project Management
- How can I stop procrastinating and overcome the sense of overwhelm?
Procrastination often stems from feeling overwhelmed by the scope of a project. Learn how to break down tasks and projects into smaller, manageable steps using The 7 Minute Life Micro-Action Method. This approach helps you tackle tasks with less stress and provides a clear overview of what needs to be done.
- What is the difference between tasks and projects in effective task management?
In task management, it’s crucial to distinguish between tasks and projects. Tasks are defined as Micro-Actions that take 20 minutes or less to complete, while projects require a systematic breakdown into smaller steps. By focusing on Micro-Actions, you can accurately estimate time, maintain clarity, and avoid the pitfalls of procrastination.
- How does prioritizing Micro-Actions contribute to efficiency?
Prioritizing Micro-Actions allows you to create a more realistic and achievable to-do list. By replacing larger projects with specific, measurable Micro-Actions, you gain clarity on what needs to be accomplished and reduce the chances of feeling overwhelmed. Micro-Actions are easier to fit into your schedule, making you more efficient and productive.
- Can task and project management help combat distractions and interruptions?
Task and project management techniques provide a structured approach to handle distractions and interruptions. By breaking projects into smaller steps, you can easily resume work after attending to urgent matters. The clear endpoints of Micro-Actions prevent losing track of progress and enable seamless transitions between tasks.
- How can I break down projects into Micro-Actions effectively?
Breaking down projects into Micro-Actions involves three simple steps. Start by identifying the desired end result of the project. Then, break the project into phases, outlining the key milestones. Finally, list all the necessary Micro-Actions for each phase. This systematic approach enhances clarity, productivity, and successful project completion.
- Can the Micro-Action Method be applied beyond project management?
Absolutely! The Micro-Action Method is versatile and applicable in various areas of life. Whether you’re managing personal goals, maintaining household tasks, conducting research, establishing habits, or improving meeting efficiency, the Micro-Action Method empowers you to accomplish tasks effectively and efficiently.
- How can I develop better task management skills to overcome procrastination?
Improving task management skills is key to stopping procrastination. Start by prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance, breaking them down into smaller steps, setting realistic deadlines, and utilizing effective time management techniques. These strategies will help you stay organized and focused on completing tasks efficiently.
- What role does project management play in reducing procrastination?
Proper project management techniques can significantly reduce procrastination by providing a structured approach. Breaking down projects into manageable phases and tasks helps alleviate overwhelm, improves clarity, and promotes a proactive mindset. By setting milestones and tracking progress, you can stay on track and avoid last-minute rushes.
- What are some effective strategies for overcoming the temptation to procrastinate?
To combat the temptation to procrastinate, implement strategies such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused bursts followed by short breaks. Set specific goals and reward yourself upon their completion. Additionally, create a conducive work environment, minimize distractions, and practice self-discipline by holding yourself accountable for your actions.
- How can I maintain consistency and motivation to stop procrastinating in the long term?
Consistency and motivation are crucial for overcoming procrastination in the long term. Set clear, achievable goals and break them down into actionable steps. Celebrate small wins along the way to stay motivated. Surround yourself with supportive individuals or join an accountability group to stay on track. Regularly evaluate and adjust your strategies to ensure they align with your evolving needs and circumstances.
By implementing effective task and project management strategies, such as prioritizing Micro-Actions and breaking down projects, you can overcome procrastination, increase efficiency, and successfully complete tasks and projects with less stress. Say goodbye to the cycle of procrastination and embrace a more productive and fulfilling approach to work and life.