From Vision to Goals to MicroTasks

We were having an intense discussion. Talking about the next Indian Education Reform cannot be less than that. That’s when Priya said, ‘What is a long-term vision, but a series of short-term goals?’

vision

We dismissed her statement then. Vision cannot be simple as that, we thought and moved on. So did Priya – neither did she mind it. But apparently the idea had stuck with me.

Dreaming and Doing

Our great business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” – Thomas Carlyle

We have grandiose plan for ourselves and for the future. We think nothing is impossible. Nothing to limit us. Our generation (those born after 1980s) has been filled with hopes that seldom can be challenged.

However, reality does strike us down once in a while. Those got struck have become evident cynics, those who have not are the dreamers. But I wonder where are the doers, those who are actually living the dreams – or striving hard to live those dreams.

Being an enterprising self, I ask myself, ‘How do I achieve the dream?‘ That is the elephant in the room.

How do you eat the elephant

One bit at a time. The answer is well-known. But we need to take this lesson to the heart.

eating-an-elephant

Remember, we cannot do everything. But you can do one thing, the next step. I have seen successful people (like my previous boss and an ex-colleague) deal with complex situations in a surprisingly cool manner. They don’t feel overwhelmed. But conquer it by taking one step at a time until they are resolved.

By definition, a long-term vision renders itself to haziness. That’s when doubt creeps. While we want to champion the cause (like Educational Reform in India), we feel anxious and are even scared that we may not achieve it. Most give in. I suggest you to strive.

The Game Plan

You need a game plan. You need to make the incomprehensible vision to a conquerable next steps. Here is a neat logic, I learnt from Todoist blogger Rodu Popa.

  • Mid range goals contribute to long term goals,
  • Short term goals contribute to mid term goals, and
  • Tasks contribute to short term goals.

50,000 Feet and the Runway

David Allen has another way of looking at it. He calls it 6 Horizons of Focus.

  • 50,000 ft: The Big Picture. It is description of life purpose.
  • 40,000 ft: Vision. This is a picture of where you want to be 3 to 5 years from now.
  • 30,000 ft: Goals and Objectives. What do you need to accomplish within the next 1 to 2 years to make your vision happen?
  • 20,000 ft: Areas of focus and responsibility. Important spheres of work and life to be maintained at standards to “keep engine running”.
  • 10,000 ft: Projects or Outcomes you want to achieve that require more than one action and which can be completed within a year.
  • Runway Actions: Next physical, visible actions to take on any project or other outcome.

The idea is in taking this not so clear vision to make it comprehensible short-term goals. And still make them bit-sized projects by listing the actionable tasks.

There is danger at both ends. We don’t want to be caught up in the foggy clouds of our 50,000 feet vision, neither do we want to be caught up in the whirlwind of daily activities without having a sense of direction. In this article, I am going to be concerned more about the runway actions. I am calling it microtasks.

Microtasks

Jiri Novotny of Dextronet writes about how he tricks himself getting things done by breaking a task into sub-tasks and even further. self to complete a task. A great definition of microtask is given by Steve Pavlina.

A microtask is a very basic action item, so small that you’d be hard pressed to break it down any further without it being ridiculous to do so. An example of a microtask is to make a 5-minute phone call.”

In Getting Things Done, David Allen introduced his notion of the “next action,” which he defines as “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.”
Though the idea sounds simple, breaking a task into actionable physical steps seem to generate a certain amount of will that makes us feel that the task is conquerable. The very first action completion (though it could be as small as 2 min to 10 minutes microtask) generates momentum that seldom could be stopped. James Clear extends this analogy to Newtons’ Law of Motion applied to productivity. He suggests an interesting 2 minute rule, another idea inspired by David Allen.

He says to overcome procrastination, find a way to start your task in less than two minutes. Here are some examples he shared…

  • Right now, you may not feel like going for a run. But if you put your running shoes on and fill up your water bottle that small start might be enough to get you out the door.
  • Right now, you might be staring at a blank screen and struggling to write your report. But if you write random sentences for just two minutes, then you may find that useful sentences start to roll off your fingers.
  • Right now, you might have a creative block and be struggling to draw something. But if you draw a random line on a sheet of paper and turn it into a dog, then you might get your creative juices flowing.

Motivation often comes after starting. Find a way to start small. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” – James Clear

Create microtasks

You can create microtasks using this formula: “verb the noun with the object.” So, instead of writing ‘Guest post’, re-write your task as ‘Write the guest post on ‘xxx’ for ‘ABC’ website’, etc.

Another rule to remember is breaking the task into bit-sized entities. “Prepare the big presentation” might be improved upon by zeroing in on the physicality of a first step like “Draft four ideas for our presentation’s theme.”

Finally, remember to keep the task not to exceed more than 10 minutes. Meaning you should be able to do the task in one sitting, in one shot.

Why it works

1000-miles-single-step

As per system thinking, there are 3 types of work: simple, complicated and complex. Hitherto, most of our projects our hand are complicated, but has an image of complexity. The breaking up of a long-term vision to microtask methodically attempts at stripping the complexity of the project and presenting ourselves a simple ‘microtask’ to engage with.

In the quote above, Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher captures this in its essence. Let us not be worried about the 1000 miles ahead, but simple take the next single step.

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