Micro tasks

by Admin
Updated: July 8, 2018

Breaking down objectives into micro tasks improves motivation and project tracking

Breaking down objectives into separate tasks is sensible and necessary. Otherwise, all you have is a goal and no plan. Micro-tasking takes the process a step further and breaks the tasks down into sub-tasks that can be achieved at a human scale.

If a task takes a week and you start it on Monday, how can you or your managers know on Wednesday if you’re on-track?

Micro-tasking breaks the main task down into smaller components that can be tracked daily. If the main task is subdivided into 14 micro tasks, everyone will be encouraged to see 8 of them completed by the end of Wednesday.


This is my definition - there are others.

Maximum size of a micro task: A micro task is not greater than can be achieved by one person within one work period, and a work period is not longer than one sleep cycle (sustainable).

Micro tasks are not micro management. If the work is being delegated or contracted out, this is the actual size.

It’s reasonable (and sometimes advisable) to get daily reports from contractors but more frequently can cause problems.

Personal maximum: When defining micro tasks for yourself or people you are working closely with, a micro task should not greater than half of what can be achieved within a work period.

This provides tolerance for disruption whereby some progress is ensured for every work period without fail.

For example, if a normal day sees the completion of two micro tasks, it should always be possible to complete at least one per day despite interruptions.

Minimum size of a micro task: Subdivision becomes less useful as the time required to record completion of the task approaches the time required to do the task so this really depends on the reporting requirements. When the micro task is the reporting, it can be very small indeed, e.g. taking readings.

In practice: A useful work period is the maximum work period subdivided by breaks. Work periods can vary in length but using this approach this I usually set a useful work period at around 2 hours with micro tasks intended to require 60 mins or less. Example:

Objective = Produce a book.

Tasks = Chapters, 10 count.

If the author can write 2000 words per day, the largest micro task would be 2000 words per day (possibly useful if you’re the editor) and the smallest would be one word, two thousand times per day (not really useful to anyone).

Practical micro tasks would be of the order of 250-1000 words subject to preference.

Vertical micro tasks

“Vertical” means they form a chain. Usually, but not necessarily, they have to be done in strict order, e.g. digital modeling must be completed before animations can be rendered, but the sound can be done before the rendering is finished.

Horizontal micro tasks

“Horizontal” means order is not important, but there may be constraints on how many can be done at the same time, e.g. rendering multiple animations with only one workstation.

Motivation and tracking

A project’s micro tasks can be plotted against time on a bar chart for visual feedback.

Seeing multiple achievements per day, every day is so much better than seeing only one aggregated achievement every few days.

Including an additional gauge of overall percentage complete vs target is even more inspiring.

More info

Micro tasks at facilethings.com.

Micro progress and other definitions at nytimes.com.

Microwork - subcontracting micro tasks - at thebalancecareers.com and bbc.com.

“Participation in Micro-task Crowdsourcing Markets as Work and Leisure: The Impact of Motivation and Micro-time Structuring” by Ling Jiang and Christian Wagner at pdfs.semanticscholar.org (PDF, 199 kB).

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