Getting Things Done... faster
When it comes to maximizing how productive you can be there is a lot of talk about adopting frameworks like GTD or Covey’s Seven Habits, cutting down your projects list to the essentials, finding the right tools, avoiding procrastination etc. However in this article I want to discuss another point to increasing your productivity that tends to get overlooked – speeding up your work so that you will be getting things done faster (for the purposes of this post lets call it GTDF).
Imagine a manufacturing plant. The quicker products can be brought through the construction line to completion, the more productive the plant is considered to be. Why can the same approach not be applied to your own work? You may not be a machine who works 24/7, but the benefits are still clear — get your work done more quickly and it will leave you with more free time to play with.
Of course there is a catch to all this. We also don’t always have to work quickly through our work, though with our jobs becoming stressful and demanding it is becoming increasingly important to achieve more in less time. Also, some projects don’t suit well to being done faster, especially those that require lots of brain power and/or creative thought. However there are those projects that you can work at more quickly with negligible loss of quality, or as David Allen would call them, the widget cranking projects.
With all this in mind, let’s look at how we can work faster…
Set time limits
One of the most basic but effective ways to speed up your work is to set time limits. There are two fundamental approaches to using time to your advantage:
The more traditional approach is to see how quickly it takes you to do the task or project, log the time, and then regularly challenge yourself to beat that time. It’s a simple but effective way of keeping your motivation high using your competitive drive, while allowing you to gradually improve your overall speed and efficiency over time.
Pick a set time on a clock or stopwatch and then see how much you can get done before the time runs out. This is useful if you have limited time and want to become more disciplined with how you use it. For example, recently I decided to clean out the storage cupboard. However I had to fit it in with my other work, so when I had some spare time I gave myself a thirty minute time limit and set a challenge to see how much I could clear out before the alarm went off.
Manufacturing plants are active most of the time, if not 24 hours a day and though you obviously can’t be expected to be that active, it is important you stay focused as long as possible on what you are doing so as to build up momentum and in turn speed up your work. For instance, if you have the TV on in the background as you do your work (as I am doing while writing this) it’s difficult to keep focused long enough to get any momentum (hence this is taking longer to type than it usually would). As much as possible find a chunk of time to work where you won’t be interrupted, disconnect the phone and turn the TV off. While it is difficult to keep focused for any length of time, for those periods we are able to shut the rest of the world out, it’s important to take advantage of it.
Maintain energy levels
Well maintained machines don’t get tired or have off-days, 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 and not try to work at an high pace when our energy levels are low (you wouldn’t try and drive a car on an almost empty fuel tank would you?). Discussing ways of keeping energized and alert is a topic worthy of it’s own post so I won’t discuss it in detail here, however in brief:
Get enough sleep. The average person needs around eight hours to gain the full benefits, though this can vary from person to person. Note, that getting too much sleep can be nearly as bad as not getting enough.
Each person naturally feels more alert at different times of the day, which is where the night owl and early bird terms come from. For instance, if you do your best work in the morning, you can also do your quickest work.
Eat healthy and take exercise. This doesn’t really need much explanation but if you are physically healthy you’re also mentally healthy and this really helps with your energy and focus levels.
Use the right tools
Manufacturing plants have huge, often complex systems in place specifically designed to do their job quickly and productively. If one machine is old and out-dated it slows down the entire production. Likewise you need to have systems in place that help you achieve your goals with minimal complications. GTD is very reliant on speed, with David Allen stating that if you can’t add a next action to your system within a few seconds you simply won’t do it. The same applies whether you are trying to clean dishes with poor quality washing liquid, or trying to save files over a poor quality network. Find and develop the right tools for all the jobs in your workflow and if something doesn’t work quickly enough for you, replace it!
Lay the groundwork
Imagine again, the setup of a manufacturing plant with its mass production setup. It is a finely tuned and intricate systems which is able to create a set number of products quickly and effectively. You can mirror this by having habits, approaches and best-practices in place in your life that encourage fast, efficient functioning. Knowing what works for you and continually optimizing that approach is key to getting things done faster. That way you don’t let your bad habits, like procrastination, and lack of knowledge, like not having had any training to use a particular software, slow you down.
Photo: Flickr / Don Melanson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0