Case Study

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Simple Action

Work

UI & UX
Prototyping
User Testing
Info. Arch. (IA)
Data Analysis
UX Research

Client

Thinkful

Role

Jason DeCruz
UX Designer & Researcher

I've been a procrastinator, as most people have, as it turns out. I read a book called Getting Things Done by David Allen and found it quite helpful. Part of his approach involves understanding that people often procrastinate because their next, exact step on a task is too often too vague or unorganized. This makes the goal unapproachable and unactionable. I wanted to test this hypothesis with a product that forced users to plan their very next step the next time they sit down to work.

Getting Things Done

By David Allen

Beyond finding this book personally inspiring and helpful, its approach can be even more powerful in the form of a digital product.

There are many concepts and principles in this book, but the most immediately valuable part of this book was one concept: recording the following exact actions for a task at the end of your work session.

Next Actions

Based on Allen's methods

Allen developed a process for managing and tackling tasks. The cornerstone of the process is the Next Action stage and is the stage in which I'm the most interested.

Many people procrastinate on a task because they are not sure where to start or how to continue. The following steps seem too vague and unapproachable.

The vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it.
Getting Things Done, David Allen
Part 1

The Problem Statement

People procrastinate because they lack clarity on their next most immediate action. 

Competitive Analysis

I experienced eight of some of the best task managers out there. I looked for ones with critical terms like 'motivation' or 'procrastination' in their descriptions. I checked out their features, walked through them as my personas, and imagined them using these products to tackle their procrastination.

I wanted to see what features each product had to understand the unique selling point of each better. My overall goal was to identify some niche needs in the market.

Help that's available
  1. A way to plan your day.

  2. A way to make or break habits with goals.

  3. A way to track your habits over time.

  4. A way to share your progress and connect with others.

Help that's not available
  1. A way for a user to learn about their specific procrastination problem.

  2. Teaching users to not undervalue one goal while overvaluing another.

  3. Teaching users that they don't need to have 'extra energy' for less important 'side tasks.'

  4. Life distractions like laundry and kids.

With these insights, I was able to piece together the niche in the procrastination, habit-tracking space I realized my product could confidently occupy.

Check out the analysis

Why do people procrastinate?

It turns out there are many reasons why people procrastinate. But they boil down to four basic categories of users.

1 : Fear of failure

Some tasks become so important in our minds that they become too important to touch, causing procrastination.

2 : Feeling overwhelmed

This was the most common reason people procrastinate: they have difficulty breaking their tasks down into simple actions and feel overwhelmed.

3 : Minimizing the task

Some feel the pressure of all their other "more important" tasks far too much to approach a new task they want to take on.

4 : Underestimating time

Some tend to think that they have all the time in the world and can get to it whenever they feel like it. They forget that time is finite.

5 : Expectations too high

Many put too much pressure on themselves to perform. They respond by working far too hard on their tasks for a short while only to burn out and procrastinate out of exhaustion.

6 : Next actions are vague

Some reported that they feel hesitant to return to their project because they know they need to do 'something' but are unsure what.

I used these reasons for procrastination to craft two distinct personas that encompass these frustrations.

Persona 1

Anxious Andy

32 Years old
Full-Time Data Analyst
"I love my biology and psychology classes, but I dread Chemistry! I can't seem to get to my Chemistry homework in time."
His current journey
His daily life
  1. Works regular hours

  2. Works 50+ hrs/wk

  3. Likes to play racquetball

Reasons for his procrastination
  1. He doesn't know where to start.

  2. He wants to wait for things to be set up perfectly first.

  3. He obsesses about what could go wrong.

  4. His perfectionism causes anxiety when he begins to work.

Solutions to his procrastination
  1. Committing to a time and place to work.

  2. Having a clear next-actions list setup.

  3. Set time limits for preliminary tasks like researching approaching.

  4. Asking himself what he is actually avoiding when he's procrastinating.

What he may not realize
  1. Starting at all is more important than starting 'right'.

  2. His perfectionism stems from a core belief that this task's result represents his fixed abilities.

  3. Done is always better than perfect because only one exists.

Persona 2

Exhausted Emily

32 Years old
Clinical Researcher in Psychology
"I really want to write that novel, but I just don't have the time in my busy schedule."
Her current journey
Her daily life
  1. Unpredictable

  2. Hectic

  3. Lots of extra-curricular activities

  4. Has next to no free time

Reasons for her procrastination
  1. Feeling that every step she makes has to be heroic.

  2. Undervaluing this goal while overvaluing others.

  3. Having no 'extra' energy for 'side' tasks.

  4. Life distractions like laundry and kids.

Solutions to her procrastination
  1. Committing to a time and place to work.

  2. Having a clear next-actions list setup.

  3. Reminding herself that working toward this goal will enrich all areas of her life.

  4. Working in smaller timeframes and planning breaks.

  5. Making sure she has reasonable goals.

  6. Seeing that making tiny steps are not laziness.

What she may not realize
  1. Her lack of energy may be due to her unwillingness to plan breaks.

  2. Her first step may not be writing; she may be skipping a step causing her to feel unprepared when writing.

  3. They were making seemingly trivial actions like working on it for 5 minutes every other day could significantly impact.

User Survey

What other reasons could there be?

To further understand the problem of procrastination, I decided to create a user survey to understand their reasons for procrastinating. I also wanted to provide an opportunity for participants to offer me some open-ended responses to why they think they procrastinate and what has helped them.

Scope

  1. Ages 14–45
  2. United States
  3. Understand how participants naturally name their tasks ('tasks' may not be the right term).

Purpose

  1. Determine the most common type task avoidance.
  2. Understand the most common type of tasks participants procrastinate on.
  3. Understand how participants naturally name their tasks ('tasks' may not be the right term).
  4. Learn about what has helped participants with their procrastination.
  5. Learn why participants think they procrastinate

Results

Participants procrastinate in general because they feel overwhelmed by their tasks.

In general, they don't know how to break down their tasks into specific actions. They tended to see their tasks as a big, scary whole rather than by each step they need to take. When I asked participants why they feel they procrastinate, one answer stood out to me.

Large tasks sometimes give me anxiety, and I do not feel ready to begin the hours-long process.

This participant shares that they feel no other option than have to take on hours worth of work to get started. I hypothesize that this is because their high standards won't let them break their tasks down into small chunks. They perhaps feel like they are letting themselves down for only working on something for 15 minutes. This can make all tasks seem unapproachable they causing procrastination. Other participants echoed similar concerns.

[I have] too much going on at one time or needs more time than I have to give at the time.
I want to avoid the feelings of being anxious and overwhelmed while I do the task I set out to do.
I am overwhelmed and feel lost so I don't know where to start.
I procrastinate because there is so much to do.

One participant spelled her issue out perfectly:

[I tend to procrastinate because] some tasks appear more intimidating and time-consuming than they really are.

What kinds of tasks invite procrastination?

College students are the biggest procrastinators. 90% of those interested in taking a survey on procrastination were in their 20's and 30's. This means that my personas should keep this in mind. It is also essential to keep in mind that this product will be for more than just homework, and it may be that different types of tasks require different approaches.

Key insights

  1. College students are the biggest procrastinators.
  2. The ages of those interested in taking a survey on procrastination are either in their 20's or 30's.
  3. Users procrastinate on more types of tasks than school work all of which may require different approaches.
  4. Open-ended answer: "Manageable is more important than motivated. I am either motivated or not. After that, it comes down to whether the task is manageable or not."

Manageable is more important than motivated.

Most competitors focus on motivating users with motivational quotes about working hard and regularly. Since most procrastinate because they find their tasks too overwhelming, I want to make a product that focuses on making sure its users find their tasks manageable rather than making sure they are motivated to work them.

Part 2

The Solution

Creating a product that makes tasks managable.

What am I not building?

This is often the question I ask first to discover my MVP, determine the project scope, and develop a research plan.

I am not building a way for users to break down their entire tasks into digestible chunks.

A product that solely helps users break down their tasks would be helpful but risks being overwhelming, which is the main frustration they're currently suffering.

What am I building?

I am building a way for users to decide their — specific actions quickly and commit to a work session.

Users need to know:
  1. When they are going to tackle their task.
  2. What PRECISE action they are going to perform when they begin their work session.

I emphasize 'precise.' Another main reason for procrastination is that their subsequent actions are too vague to be actionable.

What I can offer:
  1. A list of ideas of how to break tasks down into simple actions based on 5–10 most common types of jobs on which people tend to procrastinate.
  2. A guided experience educating users about their particular type of procrastination type.
  3. A product that reminds users about the importance of taking things slow at first.
  4. A way for users to slowly increase the amount of work they can do in a single session as they build new habits.

You need two points to make a line. In the same way, a user requires two actions to know how to continue the project. After the first session, users should be asked to create two actions but never more. Two actions will be the maximum number of actions the product will prompt a user to record.

There will also be an ending session where users will need to decide what their following actions will be and when they can return.

Purpose of the product:
  1. Help users get over the initial hump of procrastination.
  2. Help users build new anti-procrastination habits so that they are less likely to procrastinate in the future.
  3. Provide a simple logbook for when they are going to get to their tasks and exactly what they are going to do when they get to it.

It's important to note that users can do this with Google Calendars or even a paper calendar. The unique offering I want to create is a simplified, guided education on how to slowly get themselves used to work on tasks again in a way that will stick. I also want to provide a straightforward platform that stores their work session appointments and following actions. For this reason, 'Next Action' became the product's working title.

Determining my MVP

At this stage, I began coming up with solutions (or features) and needed to start capturing, categorizing, and making some decisions.

MVP Features
  1. Next action(s) for next work session.
  2. Pick a date on when to get to their actions.
  3. Task reminders option.
  4. Slow-and-steady pre-defined work session lengths.
  5. A homepage where users can see their next task with actions, date of next work session, reminders, and future session length.
Check out my MOSCOW chart

User Flows

The User's First Session

To personalize the product, the onboarding asks the user to choose their type of task.

Task types

1. Work
2. School
3. Physical
4. Self-care
5. Chores
6. Creative

When a user chooses one of these types, they will be presented with a list of the first actions. Let's say a user wants to get to their history essay. They may think that their first step would be to write their first paragraph, but they may skip crucial steps to feel ready, like writing an outline.

The User's Second Session

Session two will be a bit simpler since the user is not answering what kind of task this is.

Check out my MOSCOW chart
Part 3

Prototyping

Making this real

Sketching

Choosing mobile

I feel that a mobile platform will be the most accessible because I want to make sure that users don't feel the need to keep tasks stored in their heads when they are on the go. From here, I can develop the website.

For the sketches, I explored some iterations on the homepage.

Pinch and zoom out from tasks to action
Traditional tap left and right

The homepage contains:

User's tasks
  1. Name of task.
  2. Next session date.
  3. Next session duration.
  4. Next session reminders.
  5. Next session actions.
Settings
  1. General appearance, timezone, notifications.
  2. Change their chosen user color.
  3. Calendar integrations.
  4. Social options to share ackomplishments.
Profile
  1. Create an account.
  2. Login.
  3. Task completion rate.

Wireframes

Check out my wireframes

Branding

The brand needs to be approachable and simple.

The tasks that users are adding to their lives with this product bring interest and color. Spots of colorful gradients in the background with minimal, simple layouts help keep things simple for users while making a typically overwhelming experience more approachable.

I decided to ask the user at the beginning to choose a color theme they find the most motivating rather than selecting a color for each task. This personalizes the entire product for the user rather than just the tasks.

Making it personal

Depending upon what kinds of tasks they tended to procrastinate on, each user will receive personalized motivational notifications. Allowing users to choose the color combinations they find the most motivating is another way to emphasize personalization.

Check out the HiFi's
Part 4

The Testing

Validating my work

User Testing

I gathered four potential users to test the product on their phones over ZOOM.

Scope

  1. Test if users understand the purpose of the product.
  2. Test if users feel the app is approachable.

Purpose

  1. Determine if guidance is clear and simple.
  2. Determine if users understand the homepage features.
  3. Determine if users felt comfortable and supported using the app.
  4. Determine if users felt confused or needed help during the process.

Since this is a product that guides the user through the process so thoroughly, I decided to give my users some context rather than give them a particular task.

Check out the template

Part #1:

You are a sophomore in college and you’re annoyed with your bad habit of procrastinating on your history homework. You were just assigned an essay and wanted to give this app a try.

Questions:

  1. Overall, how was that for you?
  2. How did that make you feel?
  3. What stood out for you? What do you remember?
  4. Did you find anything overwhelming or confusing?

Part #2:

They land on the homepage and are allowed to explore.

Questions:

  1. What is this page? What is it providing you?
  2. What options do you have here? What's clickable?
  3. What do you expect to see when you click the 'take action' button?

Part #3:

You just finished your first session. Please start and end the timer.

Questions:

  1. Overall, how was that for you?
  2. Overall, do you feel this app would help your procrastination? How?
  3. What are the most beneficial features of this app? 
  4. On a scale from 1 - 7 with 7 being the very likely, how likely are you to use this app?
  5. On a scale from 1 - 7 with 7 being the easiest, how easy was this app to use and navigate?

Results

Part #1

Setting up their first task:

Benefits
  1. Users loved choosing their motivating colors.
  2. They felt welcome and guided.
  3. They liked the "good, probing questions" the product asked to help the user create their actions.
  4. They appreciated being asked why they avoid tasks and the advice given.
  5. They noted feeling relaxed and at ease.
Opportunities
  1. 2/4 users felt fatigued by the amount of reading.
  2. One user pointed out that they would like to have known that there was going to be a 15 minute time-limit when deciding their first task.
  3. One user was hoping for a reward system to keep them engaged rather than one that is step-by-step.
This is the most intuitive scheduling calendar I’ve ever seen!
This is unique and useful because these are only the things that are important enough to put on a do-not-procrastinate list.
Personalization makes it more memorable and welcoming. It just shows me that this product only cares about making it the best possible product for myself.
[This app is] gorgeous and easy to read!

Part #2

Homepage overview:

Benefits
  1. Users loved choosing their colors.
  2. They felt welcome and guided.
  3. They appreciated the simplicity.
  4. Participants understand the benefit of being guided on how to break down their task and commit.
  5. They were able to tell what is clickable, editable, and where their account and settings are.
Opportunities
  1. 2/4 participants were not sure what the 'Take action' button would do.
  2. 2/4 participants were hoping for some reward setting up their first tasks such as coins or points. They noted that they did not feel motivated to continue due to these features being missing.
I love the homepage because it’s so simple. It’s one task [and it keeps me] focused on a small, simple, specific action. This is helpful because] because we procrastinate on tasks because there is so much to them. Other apps keep track of everything, but the home screen is just what I tend to procrastinate on. There is no way to be overwhelmed by that.

Part #3

Ending their first session & planning their next:

Benefits
  1. They like the simpler experience as they end.
  2. They like the second action.
  3. They even liked the decentivization of the 'Procrastinate' button on the button to skip. They thought it was smart.
Opportunities
  1. 2/4 participants noted that they felt they could simply use a paper calendar to do the same thing. In other words, the benefits were not clear.
[The most beneficial feature is] The slow, rhythmic, pace makes sure I don’t get overwhelmed.
Manageability is more important than motivation. Once I know what to do, it only comes down to how manageable it is and whether I have the time and energy I either have or don’t.
I like that it forced me to slow down. Students tend to take on too much at once.
I love that I am more emotionally invested because I picked the color theme.

Qualitative

Likelihood of use

6/7

on average

Ease of use

6.5/7

on average

Next Steps

Here are the next steps for each section of experience.

First session

  1. Add verbiage about 15 minute limit for action when they are writing their action.

  2. Make durations twice as long.

  3. Create a goal-oriented perspective in the app. One where the user is trying to get to session 10. At session 10, you can let the app go and keep working.

  4. Change the subhead to “overcome the initial hurdle of procrastination” or something that talks about the unique selling point. The point of the app is to get over the initial hurdle rather than be using it long-term. “Beat your procrastination in ten, simple actions.”

  5. Consider removing the time-limit altogether.

Homepage

  1. Make another section on the homepage that is dedicated to task breakdown ideas by task type like in the first session.

  2. Rename 'Actions' section to “Home”.

  3. Add at ‘Tasks’ section on homepage.

  4. Add ‘Breakdowns’ section for breakdown ideas.

Second session & beyond

  1. Add repeating times for date option. 

  2. Remove subheads on all pages and minimize the amount of copy.

  3. Add a section in the account that is more expansive and includes the copy that is to be removed.

Check out the HiFi's

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