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Procrastination can be a tough nut to crack, particularly because it can have many different roots. For example, procrastination could stem from a physical cause, including clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder, or a technology-induced mental fog.
Other times, it’s due to an inefficiency in your productivity setup. For example, these bad workplace habits can drain energy and cause you to lose focus, motivation, etc. Same goes for bad workstation setups like a too-low chair or too-bright screen, which can also drain energy.
But if it’s none of those things, then your procrastination might just come down to poor goal management. In this article, you’ll learn all about micro goals and how they can trick your mind into actually being more productive.
Micro Goals vs. Macro Goals
A macro goal, sometimes called a long-term goal, describes where you want to be in the future. What are you working towards? Where is your destination? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Macro goals are about vision, desire, and ambition.
A micro goal, sometimes called a short-term goal, describes the individual steps and objectives that lead you in the direction of a macro goal. Whereas macro goals are focused on the future, micro goals center on what you can do right now.
Micro and macro goals aren’t opposed, by the way.
It’s not that micro goals are better than macro goals, and anyone who tells you that is misguided. Micro goals and macro goals complement one another. They feed into each other. You need both to succeed — macro goals for vision and direction, micro goals for concrete progress.
How Micro Goals Help With Procrastination
You may not realize it, but you already employ micro goals every single day.
Micro Goals Are Like Recipes
Do you cook? I do! When you think about it, creating a full meal from scratch is a huge task and a lot goes into it. Yet even though cooking does feel like a chore sometimes, it never feels daunting or dreadful — at least not in the same way as having to write a thesis paper or open up a programming assignment.
Why is this? It comes down to the “design” of recipes, which encompasses a macro goal (the dish you want to cook) and several micro goals (each of the individual steps). The recipe takes you through step by step from start to finish, and each step is small enough as to feel doable.
When the next instruction is as simple as “Dice the onions,” there’s no reason to procrastinate. It’s so easy, you may as well just get it out of the way. That’s the beauty of micro goals, and thanks to these micro goals, cooking up a plate of pasta is smooth sailing.
The entire idea of micro goals is to “take it one step at a time.”
Use the Recipe Method for Work Projects
Suppose you need to write a five-page essay. While that’s nowhere close to writing an entire book, it’s still a lot of work. You could crank it out in a day if you put your mind to it, but who wants to sit hunched in front of a word processor for that long? It’s boring, it’s hard, and you just don’t want to do it… so you procrastinate.
Stop thinking of it as one task. Don’t think of it as “write my five-page essay.” That’s your macro goal. Now you need to break it down into digestible micro goals.
Maybe the first micro goal can be “Come up with a title.” Another micro goal could be “What’s my main point for this paper?” Follow that with “Outline the paper into sections” and then more micro goals for “Outline section 1,” “Outline section 2,” etc. Eventually, your last micro goal might be a recurring one: “Write one paragraph this hour.”
Many Micro Goals Lead You to Your Macro Goal
Whenever possible, break goals into smaller goals. If you have a micro goal that can be broken down even further, do it! Ideally, you’d keep going until it can’t be reduced any further.
When broken down like this, monstrous tasks no longer seem so bad — unless you dwell too much on it. If you keep thinking of it as “I need to write my paper!” then, of course, you’re going to stay overwhelmed. Focus on the micro goals only. One step at a time.
And to be clear, micro goals aren’t separate from SMART goals, which we covered in our article on mistakes to avoid when setting goals. In fact, micro goals play an important role when setting SMART goals because micro goals are achievable, well-defined, and timely.
Tools to Set and Track Micro Goals
Since there’s nothing technically different between a micro goal and any other kind of goal, you can use whatever goal-setting and goal-tracking app you want. All that matters is that you think about your goals and break them down to be as small as possible when entering them. You can also use an ordinary to-do list app, tracking each micro goal as a task.
Some apps we recommend include:
- Goalify (Android, iOS): Set repeatable goals, track your long-term success rate, and even set up groups so you can progress together with others.
- TickTick (Web, Android, iOS): Arguably the best to-do list app currently available due to its minimal interface but full-featured functionality (see our TickTick review).
- HabitHub (Android): Great for recurring micro goals because HabitHub is designed for developing habits — do something every day and never break the chain!
More Tips for Overcoming Procrastination
The micro goals concept isn’t the only brain hack for beating procrastination. You should take advantage of other psychological tricks, including the Zeigarnik Effect, Parkinson’s Law, and Ego Depletion. You should also try these newer productivity techniques while ignoring these popular but ineffective productivity myths.
Note that there are some who think that procrastination can’t be cured with task management, so don’t despair if micro goals don’t work for you. Try one of the alternatives above and you’ll find something that works soon enough.
Do you use micro goals? Know of any other useful procrastination tips that have worked for you? Share with us in the comments below!