To Do Big Things, Take on Microprojects
The power of consistently creating small bits of work
Author Seth Godin writes a blog post every day. Karen X. Cheng, the founder of the creative agency Waffle, danced every day for a year — at work, at bus stops, in line at the grocery store. Kanye West, before he won dozens of Grammys, made five beats a day for three summers.
People like to tout “quality over quantity,” a phrase that sets up quantity and quality as two separate choices — in order to have more of one, we must compromise on the other. But quantity and quality are actually intricately connected. Making and releasing a high quantity of work is a reliable path to improving its quality.
In each of the examples above, we can see how small, consistent practices — or, microprojects, if you will — became part of a larger body of work. Godin turned his best blog posts into bestselling books. Cheng produced a timelapse video of her dance mini-sessions, and it raked in 12 million views. Kanye became Kanye.
Research has shown that active learning (interacting, participating, doing) is more effective than passive learning (listening to a lecture, reading). In a paper published in Teaching of Psychology, for example, students absorbed material more thoroughly with ungraded five-minute writing assignments than in five minutes of thinking time. And the process of turning an idea into a reality is one of the most active ways of learning there is.
In addition to lessening the mental load of things we need to remember to do, completing a project can also be emotionally rewarding. It’s nerve-wracking but thrilling to put your work out there, creating a sort of positive loop that makes you want to learn and do even more. Also, constantly “shipping” your work — declaring it done with and moving on to the next thing — can prevent what psychologists call “fixation,” the mental block that prevents you from discovering any valuable insight. When you’re able to show others what you’ve created, you escape the often-myopic trap of your own brain.
Microprojects allow you to reap these benefits more frequently. And when you create something small and release it into the world, you gain the momentum that propels you to do it again. And again. Here’s how to…