Feeling overwhelmed? Try micro-tasking - THINKERS Notebook

This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

Image caption appears here

Add your deal, information or promotional text

Feeling overwhelmed? Try micro-tasking

Today marks the end of Moving Week for my family.

It began last Friday with a weekend of furious packing in preparation for our movers' arrival on Monday morning. Then Monday was a whirlwind of getting our stuff out of our old house and into the new one.

The rest of the week has been a steady but slow process of getting all of our essential items unpacked and in their proper places.

Now, as I'm sure you can imagine, we're still up to our eyeballs in boxes -- both inside the house and certainly in our mess of a garage.

Don't get me wrong: we love the house and we're thrilled to be moved in. And there is a certain level of excitement associated with this fresh start to get organized and lay everything out the way we want it.

But that doesn't change reality. And the reality is that there is a seemingly endless amount of work to be done and decisions to be made.

And it just feels ... overwhelming.

As overwhelming as we allow it to feel, that is.

Once the movers were gone on Monday, and my wife and I surveyed all the boxes and bags and odds and ends, we decided to be pragmatic in how we attack it. 

So we broke it down into these simple steps to get started:

  • Get the bedrooms set up first, to ensure comfortable sleep.
  • Then get our offices set up, since we both had work to do on Tuesday.
  • Next, focus on the kitchen, because the kitchen being disorganized just makes everything else feel more cluttered.
  • And then after that, try to knock out a couple of boxes each night. 

And it's worked. 

We're making progress while minimizing feelings of overwhelm.

The benefits of micro-tasking

Without setting out to use any specific productivity strategy, my wife and I stumbled into micro-tasking.

Here's how the research website Wonder describes micro-tasking:

Micro-tasking increases productivity by keeping tasks manageable and specific, allowing room for feedback and adjustments when necessary, and keeping a person motivated to accomplish the overall task.

The key words that jump out to me are manageable, specific, and motivated. That's exactly what micro-tasking has helped us do as we've gotten settled.

And while it's easy to overlook the feedback and adjustments part, that's been important too. 

For example, last night I got excited about a few ideas for how to organize two different play spaces we're creating for our daughter. My wife had other (better) ideas. Fortunately, I didn't go too far down the road of organizing stuff before getting her input! ;-)

But micro-tasking isn't just a helpful strategy for breaking down expansive physical tasks into more manageable micro tasks. Micro-tasking can also be helpful for working through large cognitive tasks as well. 

How micro-tasking can improve your thinking

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when any large cognitive project is staring us in the face.

  • Writing a book
  • Researching a big purchase
  • Planning a garden
  • Outlining a course
  • Plotting a multi-city vacation

The examples are endless.

The problem comes when feelings of overwhelm cause procrastination. How many times have you avoided working on something simply because you didn't know where to start?

Just getting started can often be the biggest impediment to making progress. 

When you think through a big project in terms of micro-tasks, it helps you to see the bite-sized steps you'll need to take to move forward. And that's so much more inviting than feeling like you'll have to take a giant leap, especially when you aren't even sure which direction to leap in.

Below, you will find three links that will help you apply the concept of micro-tasking to your next big thinking project.

Here is the most important point to remember:

As soon as feelings of overwhelm start to grip you, take an immediate step back. (A deep breath or two wouldn't hurt, either.)

There's no magic step that will allow you to get everything done at once, so it's essential to accept that reality and then go about figuring out what first step you can take that will help you make meaningful progress.

It's amazing how much easier the next steps come thereafter.

Micro-tasking helps you stay hopeful and motivated


"Accordingly, breaking down a large project or situation into small, reasonable tasks that bit by bit add up to a brilliant whole is a key strategy. Some of those tasks can give short-term bursts of hope and energy that propel one’s momentum towards the end goal. Other times there are bits of drudgery and tedium that feel pointless, but also ultimately help you move forward towards the end goal.

"At each time point, it is important to check in with yourself and ask how you are doing, and whether you feel it is worth it to continue. If you feel overwhelmed at a given point, seek help as needed to get you past the hurdle. You should always feel like you are not trapped — that you have the power to actively reassess a situation and come up with different paths and strategies as needed, even if it means stopping altogether and choosing a different goal."

Read: How to Conquer Any Big Challenge (Psychology Today)

A methodical, step-by-step guide to better micro-tasking 


"A tasty task is a task that is so well written that you almost can’t resist doing it.

"One key feature of any tasty task is that the task will take you no longer than 1 hour to complete! And if you struggle with procrastination and/or staying focused for long periods of time, your maximum task length should be smaller still — closer to 30min.

"This sounds easy enough in theory. But many people struggle with creating small tasks."

Watch: How to break down large projects & tasks into bite-sized tasks (Amazing Marvin)

Why micro-tasking (or microproductivity) works so well


"Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don’t know where to begin,” explains Melissa Gratias, Ph.D., a workplace productivity coach and speaker.

"That makes sense, right? But, here’s the thing: Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why this tactic works? In the end, you’re doing roughly the same amount of work. So, what exactly makes this “one step at a time” strategy so helpful for all of us?"

Read: What's Microproductivity? The Small Habit That Will Lead You To Big Wins (Trello)

Quote of the week

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

-- Stephen King