The Little Picture

25.07.2020 |

Episode #2 of the course How to stay focused: Ten top hacks for motivation by K.C. Finn


A large part of this course encourages focus and motivation through habit-formation, like the short mental clarity activity that we practiced during Lesson One. As you progress through all these small habits, so your tendencies towards remaining focused will be honed and perfected without ever having to make a large, stressful change. In Lesson Two, we focus on the smaller steps that we take during any large project as a means of feeling a sense of achievement at each stage, rather than having to wait for 100% completion to celebrate.


The Theory

The idea of taking “baby steps” has been around for a long time in productivity and organizational thinking. Some people like to imagine it as a metaphor for building a house: the frame can’t go up without the foundation first being laid, just as the windows can’t be placed without first installing the frame. A newer term coined for this step by step approach is micro-productivity, which looks at the very small steps which make up each large project that we attempt to achieve. It is designed to be a perspective rather than just a practical approach so that we never approach a job with the idea that it is “too much” or “too difficult”.

This is a mental habit that we can train our brains into, so that every time we face a new job, we immediately begin to see the component parts of it rather than the massive task at hand. It is highly motivating to see a series of small achievable goals rather than one massive one which may be hours, days or even weeks away, and it can give us cause to celebrate every workday in completing say ten small tasks rather than lamenting the fact that the overall job is not yet complete.


In Practice

Some people may prefer to use a computer for this exercise, but I like good old-fashioned pen and paper when I’m doing a breakdown. I find that being physically involved in the action of writing and organizing my thoughts and projects activates the creative part of my mind, and this is the part that I most need in order to stay awake and motivated to the tasks I’m undertaking.

However you do it, the important thing to remember is that no step is too small. If you’re working on a report, even the layout of the titles and subtitles is a step in itself, and one that you can easily achieve even if you’re not fully “in the zone” yet. And with each small step that you complete, a motivating sense of achievement will build. When writing papers for my doctorate, I’ve been known to split an 8,000-word report into chunks as small as 200 words – perhaps only one paragraph – in order to keep chipping away at it until the overall task is complete. However small you need to make your pieces in order to break the whole job down, make sure that you have all of them listed on your page, and that you know the number of small boxes you need to tick for the overall job to be finished.



Some people can find it more daunting to see a hundred little tasks on a page rather than one big one, so don’t feel alone if that’s how this approach strikes you initially. But if you’re having trouble staying focused on that big job that needs doing, then stick with this method and follow it through in combination with the techniques you’ll learn in Lesson Three. Once you start to see tons of those little boxes getting ticked or crossed off every day, they won’t look so scary even when there are dozens of them on your daily list. And you’ll be completing the much larger tasks without even feeling the strain as you spread out the burden!

In this lesson, we’ve learned how to break our tasks into manageable chunks, but now what do we do with all these bits and pieces to keep them in order? Lesson Three employs a visual strategy for making charts and to-do lists to track our progress towards much larger goals, giving us a sense of organizational bliss.

See you then!



Recommended reading

To read more about micro-productivity and breaking down tasks, check out this fantastic blog post by Kat Boogaard.


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