On Micro-Transitions and a Sense of Momentum

Today’s snippet comes from my desire to figure out how I work best.

A micro-transition is any time during my day when I’m shifting from one state to another. For example, the transition from waking up to starting my morning routine or the transition between finishing lunch and getting back to work. There are a handful of these transitions that happen throughout the day that when handled correctly often have an inordinately huge impact on how productive I feel.

Focusing on these micro-transitions makes it less daunting to try improving larger aspects of my life. Instead of feeling like I have to nail the 4–5 aspects of my morning routine everyday I’ve learned that if I simply focus on the micro-transition of minimizing the time between my eyes opening and me standing in front of my coffee maker everything else tends to take care of itself. Once I’ve got the coffee process going I know the rest of the morning is going to be okay. If I wake up and then fiddle around with my phone in bed then I know I’ve messed up.

Another micro-transition I’ve been practicing is how I spend the first ten minutes after lunch. My inclination is to open Twitter or Reddit and find something to read. However, if I instead take those ten minutes getting organized or writing the rest of the day tends to go much better. It’s when I get sucked into a mindless browsing spiral immediately after lunch that I get frustrated with myself.

I may have buried the lede here but I think this concept can be extrapolated to organizations and teams, too. Obviously, each person in an organization has to deal with micro-transitions similar to the ones I described earlier but there’s a version of these that collectives experience. How does a team manage the transition from being in a meeting to getting back to work? How does a team manage the transition from the end of the weekend to Monday morning? Or from the end of a workshop to the first day after a workshop? There’s a line that needs to be traversed between celebrating feelings of progress (“That was a great meeting,” or “We crushed phase one of this project”) and keeping the momentum going over time. The most successful projects I’ve worked on have a steadily increasing level of momentum (often with a final spike right at the end) whereas the worst projects experienced extreme variations in momentum with often a final burst of panic at the end. Teams who manage their micro-transitions keep momentum building whereas teams who do a poor job optimizing transitions don’t.

We can experiment with creating structure in our environment or developing habits within our own minds to take the actions we know we need to take. The key is to focus on the micro-transition (just open our eyes and get to the coffee) and not the overall intention (have a killer morning routine). It may take some time to land on the behavior that unlocks this shift but it doesn’t have to be a mystery — it just needs to be uncovered through experimentation and self-reflection.