How to Get More Done in Less Time
Working Smarter, Not Harder
How often have you spent hours on a task that, with more focus, you could have finished in half the time? What else could you have done that day, if you'd been sharper?
Most people want to be more productive. But the trick is to learn how to get more done in less time, without sacrificing quality. In this article, we'll look at steps you can take to do this.
Strategies to Get More Done
Follow the steps below to work more efficiently.
Step 1: Set up Your Workspace
It's important to have a healthy and comfortable workstation. Studies show that when you set up an ergonomically-correct workspace, your productivity can improve. You'll also be more comfortable, which helps you focus for longer.
Start by making sure that your desk and chair are comfortable. Your workstation should be well lit, and heated or cooled appropriately. It should also inspire you – you spend all day here, so it should be somewhere you enjoy being! Our articles on Minimizing Workspace Stress and Creating an Energizing Work Environment give you more ways to create a comfortable place to work.
Next, reduce background noise: distractions negatively affect productivity. Shut your office door or wear headphones to get some peace and quiet. You might also want to listen to music or white/gray noise while you work; this study found that doing so can improve work performance and contribute to higher productivity.
Look for ways to minimize other distractions and interruptions. For example, if colleagues repeatedly pop into your office for a quick chat, talk to them one-on-one and politely tell them that you're busy. Instead, offer to catch up with them during lunch, or have a weekly meeting to deal with their questions all in one go.
Last, make sure that you have all of the resources you need to work efficiently before you sit at your desk. Repeatedly getting up to find a file or grab a book affects both your productivity and your ability to stay focused.
Step 2: Schedule Tasks to Match Your Energy Flow
Think about how your energy levels go up and down throughout the day. All of us have certain times when we're more engaged, just as there are periods when our energy naturally falls, making it more difficult to stay on task.
You'll get more done in less time, and produce higher-quality work, by organizing your work around these natural ebbs and flows. Schedule in difficult tasks, or those that require a lot of focus, when your energy level is up. Our article on Is This a "Morning" Task? has more information on making the most of your energy cycle.
To invigorate yourself during your low-energy periods, drink water, take a brisk walk outside, or – where possible – spend a few minutes meditating. If it's practical, take a nap during your lunch break: research has found that a short sleep fights fatigue and improves your memory.
Step 3: Eliminate Unimportant Work
Not all tasks are created equal. Some are valuable and truly worth your time, while others are unimportant and, in the long run, add little – if any – value to your organization.
Start by keeping an Activity Log to understand how you spend time every day. After a week or two, look at each of your tasks carefully. Which ones help you to achieve organizational and career goals? And which of them, really, are a waste of time?
If you have trouble determining which of your activities are the most valuable, use the Action Priority Matrix to sort through them and decide which ones are worth your effort.
If you identify tasks that aren't a priority but still need doing, you could delegate them to someone else. (For a particularly large activity, you can use the Outsourcing Decision Matrix to determine whether to outsource it, do it yourself, pass it to another team member, or eliminate it entirely.)
When you work on activities that are important, resist the urge to multitask. This can slow you down in the long run, and increase the likelihood that you'll do a bad job.
Step 4: Leverage Time-Management Strategies
Consider using time-management strategies to try to get more done in less time.
Start by managing your email with productivity in mind. Only check your inbox at certain points during the day. This limits distractions and allows you to manage your workflow more efficiently. To avoid disruption, turn off any audible or visible alerts that tell you when new emails come in.
Next, be aware of Parkinson's Law, which wryly states, "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." There's some truth in this – if you schedule two hours for an activity, then you'll often find that it takes two hours to do. However, if you only give yourself an hour, chances are you'll be much more focused and finish it in the allotted time.
By challenging yourself in this way, and concentrating your full attention on the task at hand, you're more likely to experience flow in your work. When you're in a state of flow, you operate at maximum capacity and feel a greater sense of well-being about what you do.
Another tool that you can use is Allen's Input Processing Technique. This helps you manage your workflow, so that you can accomplish your tasks more effectively.
Many other time-management strategies can help you work faster. One way is to pretend that your workday ends at noon. If this were the case, what would you have to do today? How hard would you focus if you only had a few hours to complete these tasks?
The Pomodoro Technique® can also improve your efficiency. This simple method encourages you to use a timer and work in 25-minute blocks. After a short five- to seven-minute break, you work for another 25 minutes. While it sounds simple, it can be surprisingly effective for doing boring jobs, because you only have to focus intently for short periods before you get the "reward" of a break.
Also, some people work faster when they know that they're accountable to someone else. You can use this to your advantage by asking another team member to set a deadline for you. For example, if you know your boss or a colleague expects you to finish a task in 30 minutes, you're more likely to get it done in that time because you don't want to disappoint them.
Step 5: Have Efficient Meetings
Professors Nicholas Romano and Jay Nunamaker conducted an analysis of meetings attended by managers and knowledge workers. They found that these groups of professionals spend 25 to 80 percent of their time in meetings. You likely fall somewhere in the middle of this range, which still means that you're in meetings for a large part of your working week.
Invest time in writing an agenda so you will have more effective meetings, and make sure that your objectives are clear and relevant.
Next, think carefully about who should attend. Write a list, and check each person's role. Does everyone really need to be there? The fewer the people attending the meeting, the more efficient it's likely to be.
When scheduling the meeting, give yourself half as much time as you think you'll need. If you believe that you need an hour, allow 30 minutes. Following Parkinson's Law, you'll focus better if you know that you're working to a tighter timescale.
If you get more done in less time, you can increase your productivity, which can lead to feelings of job satisfaction and happiness.
To work smarter, first make sure that your workspace is comfortable and meets your needs. Next, schedule your tasks around the ebb and flow of your energy throughout the day. Keep an activity log to gain a better understanding of how you spend your time, and delegate, outsource or eliminate unnecessary tasks.
Use effective time-management strategies to work more efficiently, and make your meetings shorter and more effective.