As some of you may have learned, I, uh, don’t usually make rapid, astonishing progress towards any of my goals. That reality really, in the words of the incomparable Phyllis Neffler from Troop Beverly Hills, frosts my cookies. I so wish I was the sort of person who could see dramatic, super-fast progress in, like, pretty much any area of life — and knowing that I usually have to keep slogging away at stuff is super annoying. Maybe it’s because I’m just an Xennial whose brain was molded by the internet and instant gratification, but hey, we can’t all be perfect.
Instead, my progress tends to be slow but usually steady — and thank god, because if it weren’t for that part I’d lose my mind — and it tends to require a lot of work on my part to stay motivated, productive, and on task.
Like, a lot of work.
Like, an obnoxious amount of work.
Like, I should probably feel mortified and personally victimized by how much work it requires.
But the fact is, my slow progress is still progress. And even if I do things like 1) break a task into wee little tasks like “open the folder” or “put the receipts in the envelope,” and 2) write down tasks I’ve already done just so I can have a sense of accomplishment when I cross them off, it’s still productive. And at least my ability to be a functional adult hasn’t deteriorated to the point of being featured on an episode of Hoarders, right? (Please tell me I’m right.)
Anyways, all that being said, I felt super vindicated today when I read The New York Times’ Smarter Living column on how micro-tasks can help people gain productivity momentum when they’re struggling to get started with (or to finish) a task. Guys, my love of putting already-accomplished mini-tasks on my list has a basis in actual science!
Pardon the gimmicky phrase, but the idea goes like this: For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time. … What’s so striking about applying this law of motion to productivity is that once you shift your thinking into this frame — I’ve started being productive, so I’m going to keep being productive — you achieve those micro-goals at what feels like an exponentially increasing rate without even realizing it.
YOU GUYYYYYS. This actually kind of works, both in day-to-day and big-picture, grand strategy contexts: on a day to day basis, my goals tend to be pretty small, but each small step helps me move forward. It may be at the pace of a geriatric snail in a lake of molasses, but whatever. It’s still progress.
So, with that in mind, here are the mini- and not-so-mini steps that I took, and things that made me stop and really think over the course of the last week:
- I’m applied for a job that asks candidates to have “a defensible position on the Oxford comma,” and I basically started fangirling as soon as I read it. I haven’t put in a formal job application anywhere outside of the federal government for almost ten years, so this was a big deal for me. I don’t know if I’ll even hear from them, but I was at least excited and encouraged to find that there are, in fact, jobs that I can get excited about. UNICORNS ARE REAL, Y’ALL.
- I tried a couple of new and awesome face masks, courtesy of a dear friend who sent me an incredible care package. I have this burgeoning love of skincare, which comes at an inconvenient time since I’m unemployed — all the more reason to still be giddy about said care package — and I was super excited to try them out. The kaolin clay mask made me look like the Babadook when I had it on, but it detoxed the bejesus out of my skin and was therefore 100% worth it.
- I also spent a lot of time adulting this week: reviewing my finances, organizing and filing the papers that I haphazardly threw into a bin when I was rushing to get packed and moved out of D.C., etc. It was the total absolute opposite of glamorous, and I required a ton of popcorn to sustain me through these trials, but I was super relieved to get it all done.
- I installed two new apps on my phone — that’s not a big deal, since I tend to get a bit app-happy (Me: Ooooh, that looks cool and possibly useful! Also me: But do you need it? Also, also me: Screw it, this will be useful somehow!) — that are helping me stay accountable to myself. (And, apparently, to my phone. Because apparently I care about whether or not its judging me.)
- The first, Momentum, is a habit tracker that helps me keep track of all sorts of good stuff: you can customize the list, so mine includes flossing (my least favorite hygiene task in the history of my existence), drinking enough water, meditating, journaling, creativity, and reading. These are all things I want to do more of, but I tend to put them off until everything else is done, at which point…I zone out on my phone. (*Womp womp wommmmmmmp*)
- That brings me to the second app, Moment, which runs in the background and tracks the number of times I pick up my phone in a day, the amount of screen time I put in, and which apps I use the most. Fun fact: I spend entirely too much time with my face in my phone, and most of it is spent on Facebook (AKA: The Official Social Media Platform of Old People). I figure that Moment can keep me apprised of how ridiculous my screen time has become at any given point, and that Momentum can help me reincorporate the other things I love to do, like reading, journaling, and art.
- I’m doing a lot more running and biking these days, too — and good lord do I need it. I mean, yes, we all know about the physical benefits of exercise and blah blah blah, but you guys, it’s increasingly clear that my mental health depends on this. On days when I don’t exercise, I’m stabby and agitated. I have a short temper. I don’t like pretty much anything.But once those endorphins hit my brain, it’s like a whole new ballgame. I don’t hate everything! It doesn’t all feel like a cosmic joke! Granted, my face is usually so red that people wonder I’m going to keel over and die at any moment, but that’s not the point. Endorphins are the point, and they’re my homies for life. #selfcare, y’all.
I’ve also noticed that since leaving my job last fall, my chronic pain and fatigue issues have gotten dramatically better. I still get a little achy from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was a year ago. I never noticed until recently how much better I feel, and I suspect that this, too, was a case of micro-progress: the improvements were so incremental that I didn’t notice them until they really started adding up.
Fingers are crossed that my other life-improving efforts follow a similar trajectory, amirite?