A micro-task should be presented in a concise short note, with a clear goal and due date. Below are our explicit findings and detailed methodology.
How to present a task:
- In order to achieve the best result, a micro-task should be presented in small short notes, with no more than three chunks of information. It should also be clear, with a very specific goal, excluding anything irrelevant.
- Ideally, each task would have the following attributes: Task Title, Responsibility, and Start and Due Date (date wouldn't count as a "chunk of information"). Again, having a clear and specific goal has shown to improve performance.
Work Memory Capacity:
- Several experiments found out that adults, in general, can only memorize and focus on 3-5 “chunks” of information at once.
- The central working memory faculty in adults is, in general, limited to 3-5 chunks of information.
- These “chunks” mean connected information. An example of this is comprehending a text, this is, the reader must maintain the general idea of the text, the last paragraph he/she read and the one he/she is reading at the moment.
- When chunks of information are lost or someone is overloaded with information, parts of it is lost, which could lead to loss of context or even poor judgment.
- When being careful about stimulus control, central capacity limits are useful in predicting which thought processes individuals can execute, and in understanding individual differences in cognitive maturity and intellectual aptitude.
- According to the Goal-setting Theory, specific goals are needed in order to achieve high performance.
- Specific goals should exclude anything that’s irrelevant (to increase focus and sense of purpose) in order to incite effort and inspire the target to be more persistent.
- It’s also noted that specific goals also combine the difficulty and the specificity cue to force the target to search for strategies to attain the goal.
- A study conducted on 162 undergraduate students, showed a correlation between goal specificity and level of performance.
- Another part of Goal-setting theory shows that breaking a big project into smaller pieces allows/gives chances of feedback and adjustments, which is crucial for higher productivity.
Employees and Tasks:
- When a worker fails to prioritize project tasks, he/she misses deadlines and generally under performs, teams can lose as much as 24% of their productivity.
- Three in five workers agreed to take on more tasks than they can actually get done on their to-do list.
- Seventy-three percent (73%) of workers said their to-do lists become overgrown because they want to be accommodating, helpful, and polite; 56% said because they have a tendency to solve problems, while 39% said because there were no clear limits or rules about which tasks they should accept or reject exist.
- Fifty-two percent (52%) of workers worry about disappointing themselves or others, and 20% said they regret taking on so many tasks in the first place.
For the purposes of answering the question, we have described the level of granularity or detail that micro-tasks typically needed to achieve higher levels of performance. We chose this correlation as our focus because one of the main aspects of micro-tasking is its ability to increase performance.
We started our research by searching for publicly available models of micro-tasks with proven high performance. Unfortunately, the only sources we could find specific to micro-tasks examples were from software vendors, and after careful examination, we decided that those sources could not be used as an example, considering their explanations were directly related to the product they were selling.
Next, we investigated what makes micro-tasking productive. Here, we looked for information that could help us answer the research criteria. With this strategy, we found two very interesting studies that relate to the topic, "The Work Memory Capacity" and "Goal-setting Theory". We later used both studies to answer the research questions.
Finally, we broadened our research to see how a task should be presented in general. With this approach, we found a very detailed presentation with multiple ways to present a task. However, even though the author mentions breaking tasks into smaller ones and different ways to organize tasks, there were still pieces of information missing to deeply answer the question.
To answer the level of detail a task should have to achieve higher levels of performance, we combined three different sources to provide an answer. We divided a task presentation into three parts: Length, content, and structure.
- Length: Using the Work Memory Capacity study, we estimated that a micro-task shouldn’t have more than three chunks of information to be retained by the employee. More than that would mean that the employee would have to keep coming back and forth between the notes, which would mean a waste of time and could potentially lead to important information/requirements being lost.
- Content: To establish the content, we took the Goal-setting theory into consideration. Clear, difficult, but obtainable goals are proven to increase performance levels in several different scenarios. Also, worth noting that this part correlates to another part of the project, Micro-Tasking and Reward. Achieving goals triggers dopamine flows, which in turn increases motivation. Another important part of the attainable and short-term goals is that it allows feedback, another important aspect of higher performance levels.
- Structure: The structure chosen was one of the structures proposed by the Task Management for Project Managers presentation that seems to be a better fit for the two previous criteria.
Also, we have included a survey that shows how workers feel about their tasks, which we considered to be helpful in understanding people’s behavior around work management.