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The Power of Micro Wins

Wisdom from the Head of Research at Harvard Biz School


Continuing our theme of spending time with some of the best productivity thinkers on the planet, let’s cruise on over to Harvard Business School and spend some time with its head of research, Teresa Amabile.

It’s almost impossible to read a book on productivity without bumping into Teresa Amabile and her decades of research on what makes people happy and productive at work.

In her Harvard Business Review article The Power of Small Wins and book The Progress Principle, Amabile walks us through what we know about how to Optimize at work.

She tells us that it all starts with our “inner work life.” In other words, what’s going on in our heads as we go through our days. In short, if we’re feeling good, we tend to be more productive and creative. If we’re not feeling so good, well, we’re not as productive and creative.

That’s pretty straightforward.

What’s not as obvious is how we dial up our feeling-good-ness to make sure we’re consistently crushing it and enjoying the process.

Quick question: If you were managing someone and had to guess the #1 thing that would most boost their inner work life, what would you guess it to be?

Well… What’s your guess?

Amabile has surveyed hundreds of top executives and managers. 95% (!!!) of them get that question wrong. They just don’t know what motivates people.

What works? Small wins. Progress on meaningful projects.

People feel their best and perform at their best when they’re making progress on something that matters to them. It doesn’t need to be a huge, Super Bowl-winning moment (which, by definition, happens very rarely). It’s the TINY little wins we can create for ourselves day in and day out that make the most difference.

And yet, few managers prioritize this.


Today’s +1. As the CEO of Yourself, it’s time to manage your rockstar employee as well as possible. Two more little questions will do the trick.

#1. What’s a meaningful goal for you? (Perhaps your Wildly Important Goal?)

#2. How can you make just a little bit of progress on it today?

Repeat tomorrow. And the day after that. And the one after that. Make creating micro wins for yourself a habit. And watch your well-being and performance soar.