Set Macro Goals and Micro Quotas
Anthony Trollope was one of the most
successful writers of the 19th century. He wrote 47 hugely popular novels, along with 18
non-fiction books, and numerous short stories, plays, and articles.
The most surprising thing about
Trollope, though, is that he achieved all this despite working a 9-5 job at the
post office, doing his writing between 5:30am and 8:30am each
Now, writing a full-sized novel is no
small feat. In fact, it is far from uncommon for would-be novelists to quickly
find themselves overwhelmed and, as a result, either quit or procrastinate
themselves into oblivion. I’m sure you can, unfortunately, emphasize with
So what was it that made Anthony
Trollope different? How did he avoid the all-too-common pitfall of feeling
overwhelmed and procrastinating?
Well, Trollope developed a strategy that
can be summed up as follows: Set macro goals and micro quotas.
Obviously, Trollope’s macro goals
consisted of writing full-length novels. So what were his micro-quotas? (Keep in
mind that “micro quotas” are basically little goals—or “quotas”—that moves one
towards the achievement of their “macro goal”).
Well, here’s Trollope’s secret: Each
morning after rising at 5:00am, he would be seated at his desk by 5:30am and
employ the following anti-procrastination strategy, which he describes in his
“It had at this time become my
custom,—and is still my custom, though of late I have become a little lenient of
myself—to write with my watch before me, and to require of myself 250 words
every quarter of an hour.
“This division of time allowed me to
produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept through
ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each
in the year…”
At first glance, Trollope’s approach
seems dead simple. Despite the simple appearance of Trollope’s approach, it is
ridiculously effective, and for so many reasons. Let’s take a look at just some
of those reasons and see what we can learn.
First of all—and most importantly—big
projects, regardless of whether they take months to complete, or days, or in
some cases, even hours, can be overwhelming and frustrating due to the sheer
volume of work and time required. That said, it’s not so much the immensity of
the work required nor the overwhelming length of time needed for its completion
that’s the problem. The true problem lies in the fact that we lose any sense of
accomplishment or satisfaction at having completed something. It feels like
we’re swimming across the Pacific Ocean with no end in sight. As a result, we
procrastinate. And procrastinated. And thanks again to Newton’s first law, we
continue to procrastinate forever.
So what’s the solution? And what can we
learn from Anthony Trollope who, in writing full-length novel after full-length
novel, pretty much swam across the Pacific not once, but several dozen
Well, Trollope divided up the immense
work of writing a novel—we’ll continue the analogy of swimming across the
Pacific—into laps up and down a 25 meter (82 feet) swimming pool.
Now, why is this so
Well, I’m sure you can relate to how
frustrating and disheartening it can be to be stuck doing a single task for an
extending period of time. It feels like it’s taking forever, there’s no sense of
accomplishment or satisfaction. It begins to get discouraging. And so
Trollope’s solution overcomes this by
finding a different source from which to drive that feeling of encouraging and
motivating feeling. Books can take months (or years) to complete. That wasn’t
going to work. Even chapters can take several days. That wouldn’t work either.
So Trollope’s solution was to measure his progress in 15-minutes
With this approach, Trollope gets a
regular dosage of motivating feelings of accomplishment. He doesn’t need to wait
months for the book nor days for whole chapters. He gets these small wins every
Even if you are not a novelist like
Trollope, there is much you can learn from this approach.
First of all, small indicators of
progress spur you to do more and more. You gain momentum and become
significantly more likely to finish the task.
Secondly, these little
accomplishments—much like an effective morning routine—help to quickly develop
your day into one with an attitude of effectiveness and productivity.
One of the most common reasons we
procrastinate is because we feel intimidated and overwhelmed. But this doesn’t
mean you should stop dreaming big or taking on challenging tasks and projects in
order to avoid the temptation to procrastinate. By far the most effective
approach is to follow Trollope’s lead. Find a way to balance the satisfaction of
getting things done and pursuing your biggest and most ambitious goals by
setting “macro goals” and “micro quotas”.
As Anthony Trollope himself said, “I
found it to be expedient to bind myself by certain self-imposed laws”—for, as
Trollope also said, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the
labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”
You get the best of both worlds: The
motivation of pursuing an inspiring long-term goal as well as the motivation
derived from small accomplishments and seeing your progress along the way. When
it comes to big projects and long-term goals, there’s no better way to beat the
temptation to procrastinate.
Set Macro Goals and Micro Quotas