I love what I do, and I don’t take that for granted. I know so many people who don’t feel the same. At the same time, there are days when I want to get as much done as possible — as quickly as I can.
Sometimes I’m in a rush because I’ve set a goal and want to finish that goal. Sometimes I rush fast on the lists I’ve made because I have other plans, like going on a vacation or want to enjoy a hobby I have — or a new hobby I want to pick up. Other times rushing is because I’ve been putting in too many hours, and I’m just done with work.
Regardless of the exact reason –You want to speed things up, get work done quickly and get on with your day. But, how can you speed up and achieve your goals without sacrificing quality?
Work against time.
You have likely heard of Parkison’s Law. It’s an adage attributed to British naval historian C. Northcote Parkinson that states, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” History really can become a lesson. Here is how you can apply yourself and learn how to work faster.
Let’s say that you set aside two hours to work on a specific task. Or, if you aren’t trying, even worse, you don’t also allocate or look at a particular timeframe. You’re going to take longer than it takes to complete that task, and you can’t be faulted for that. When it seems like you have all the time in the world to get something done, of course, you’re going to work in a manner that will take longer. You will sabotage your “speedy” self. Speed takes practice.
The easiest way to combat Parkinson’s Law is to block out the appropriate time to complete a task. If it takes you three hours to write up a report, block out three hours in your calendar solely for this responsibility. I would suggest that you first track your time for a couple of weeks. It will give you a more accurate understanding of how you spend your time so that you can realistically block out the correct amount of time.
But, if you want to speed things up, work against time.
It’s almost like playing a game. If you know that it usually takes three hours to write a report, give yourself a shorter timeframe like two hours. Challenging yourself like this will encourage you to work more rapidly. As Simon Reynolds notes in Forbes, you will also experience Flow more often.
Another trick — you could try is pretending that your day ends early, like around 11 a.m. “If you knew you had to go home at that point, yet you still wanted to achieve some worthwhile jobs, what would you do?” asks Reynolds. “Create a small list then start on those important tasks immediately.” Employing this “technique works brilliantly because it forces you to take action quickly on what really counts.”
A similar hack would be implementing a 4-day workweek.” Just because you’re working fewer hours with a 4-day work week doesn’t mean you have to be less efficient,” explains Choncé Maddox in a previous Calendar article. “Since you know that cutting your work schedule down will decrease the time you can spend working, see if you can focus on working more efficiently.” (Also, take a look at The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris.)
Get those Nikes on your feet.
We’re not shamelessly plugging a product here. We are, however, championing the brand’s iconic slogan, “Just do it.” For a great read check out Phil Knight’s book, Shoe Dog –– I have zero affiliation — but was inspired by both of these books.
There are a variety of reasons that procrastination and perfectionism are problems. As Max Palmer explains in “Getting Started Should Be Top Strategy on Your List,” it may be because you lack confidence or you’re “dreaming too big.” Sometimes it’s because you psych yourself out. We’ve all looked at a to-do-list or calendar and see a task that we’re not looking forward to. Without realizing, we may have even blurted out, “This is going to suck.”
Regardless of the exact reason, it is possible to get started on anything. It just takes a little planning in advance.
- Have a plan to nudge you to get started. If you had to write that report, then make sure you have all of the tools and resources needed to complete this task.
- Put your most important responsibilities in your calendar.
- Get in the zone by removing distractions and working during your prime time.
- Break down larger tasks into more manageable pieces.
- Set time limits.
- Practice self-compassion.
- Get over being perfect — it doesn’t exist.
If all else fails — try out the five-minute rule. It’s a straightforward cognitive behavioral therapy technique for procrastination where you commit to working on something that you are avoiding. If you still feel terrible in about five-minutes — move on to something else. However, usually, you’ll notice that merely getting started will build some momentum, and you’ll keep at the job until it’s completed.
Tune in, tune out.
I am always surrounding myself with music. It’s one of my greatest loves in life. While that may seem like a bold statement — music is still there for me no matter how I feel. If I’m stressed out — I go for a drive and blast some hard rock music. If I want to get motivated to work out — there’s nothing like the “Rocky soundtrack.”
Also, music is a proven way to get in the zone. As pointed out in Quartz, music can work for you because it has the ability to:
- Improve your mood.
- Enhance physical performance.
- Make repetitive tasks more pleasurable.
- Promotes focus and concentration.
In short, music doesn’t just boost productivity. It can also make you work harder, better, faster, and stronger.
Another advantage of listening to music? It can also block out background noise that can distract you. Or, it can distract you from sorrow or other hang-ups you may be dealing with, so you can work. Instead of being drawn into that conversation your co-workers are having — you can remain focused on your work by listening to your favorite tunes
Speaking of distractions, identify the most significant “culprits of distraction,” so that you can remove them. For example, if those pesky smartphone notifications keep interrupting you — turn off your phone, block apps at certain times, or leave that phone in another room. When even one of these three options speeds up your trajectory, you’ve had success.
Plug energy leaks.
You are likely aware that you have a limited supply of mental and physical energy. As such, you mustn’t be careless with this precious resource. If you’re careless or you don’t pay attention — you just aren’t going to be at your peak performance.
Resolve to take care of your physical and mental energy. Plug those energy leaks so that you don’t go into an energy deficit, such as:
- Multitasking. Unless you’re talking about something easy like folding laundry while on the phone, it’s a myth. The brain isn’t capable of multitasking. Besides, switching between tasks is costly and detrimental. Preserve your time and energy by focusing on one thing at a time. You can also give job batching a try.
- Close open loops. These are those unfinished actions that drain “energy out of you by taking up space in your subconscious.” Amanda Bucci suggests in a Fast Company piece to “take an hour, day, or week to close the loop and do that thing.”
- Establish boundaries. If you’re already working at full capacity or have a full schedule, say “no” to additional time requests.
- Reduce decision fatigue. Stop wasting time on less critical decisions so that you can reserve your energy for more important objectives. For instance, every Sunday, plan out your meals and attire for the week. The small amount of time this entails helps with other choices throughout the week.
- Attend to your own well-being. At the minimum, this includes attending to your self-care and using your downtime more wisely. For example, unplugging for the weekend and doing something that you enjoy, like camping, visiting a spa, or attending a concert.
Declutter your life.
Numerous studies show that clutter is stressful and distracting. It can also slow you down and prevent you from efficiently processing new information. So, go ahead and get rid of that clutter for once and all.
Saying to get rid of the clutter once and for all seems like a broad statement. Start by creating a checklist so that you have a visual of what you can reduce. For example, what items on your to-do-list can be delegated or deleted? After determining your delegated and deleted lists — you should be left with a lean, mean list that is much more manageable.
You should also organize your workspace, simplify your goals, and reconsider your routine. Take these goals one at a time and attack those lists.
Maintain your energy levels.
“Well maintained machines don’t get tired or have off-days,” writes James Mallinson in Productive! Magazine. And, “though we as humans cannot maintain 100% energy levels all the time — there are measures we can take to stay as alert and energized as possible. Try not to work at a high pace when your energy levels are low (you wouldn’t try and drive a car on an almost empty fuel tank, would you?).”
The most obvious way to keep yourself in high gear is getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy snacks. How fast do you think you’ll work if you only got four hours of sleep, inhaled a Whopper meal for lunch, and you can barely walk up a flight of steps? Pay attention by being present — this will help with your healthy habits.
I’m not trying to be patronizing. It’s just a fact — if you want to have more energy and focus, then you need to be more like a well-maintained machine. Self-care is not selfish — it’s essential for speed and accuracy.
You will want to think about working on your most important tasks during your prime biological time because this varies from person-to-person. You can find your best time out waking-up without an alarm clock and recording your energy levels by the hour. After doing this for three weeks, you should find out when your energy spikes and drops.
Personally, I get scared by the alarm clock. Heart pumping shock isn’t healthy either. I tell myself the time to wake up, which is ten minutes before the alarm rings. I never miss — I wake before the alarm and get going. Try it.
Knowing the timeframes for your energy spikes and drops will help you pay attention to your body and mind. You can plan your days by energy levels — know when to eat, rest and exercise — so that you can get more done in less time.