In order to get more done, you need to invest more time, right? Working ten hour days will make you more accomplished than a colleague that only works seven, right? Studying three hours a day will get you better grades than the guy who skims through a few chapters before the test, right? More work = more results.
Not necessarily. If you learn to work smarter you won’t have to work as hard and in some cases working more can actually diminish the amount you get accomplished. I know this oh so well. In both cases, the degree effort matches outcomes have been overstated.
Working less and accomplishing more isn’t easy. It requires thinking of ways to find a more effective way or ways of doing things. But first you have to open our mind to the possibility that your way of doing things is not necessarily as efficient and effective as they could be. Once you let go you can look for ways to get more accomplished and creative. Here are a few ways to start looking:
1) The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) basically suggests that a small amount of inputs contributes to a much larger amount of outputs. Using this rule means to minimize time spent in the unproductive (or less productive) 80%.
In reality, you can’t simply cut everything that doesn’t directly contribute to your bottom line. Some things, however trivial, still need to get done. The purpose of 80/20 is to force you to be more ruthless in cutting time in areas that contribute little. Here are a few suggestions:
Cut e-mail time to invest more in larger projects.
Say no to people who want commitments that don’t contribute enough value.
Spend more studying core concepts and key terms than less important details.
2) Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law states that “work will fill the time available for its completion.” This is a side effect of focusing on doing work instead of getting projects completed. Give yourself strict deadlines and cultivate a desire to finish projects, not just check tasks off on a to-do list.
Here are some applications:
Set a timer for 55 minutes to finish a small project. When the timer sounds, you can’t continue working on it, so think fast, work fast and don’t waste time.
Take large projects down into smaller pieces. Strive to complete those pieces, rather than just working on the entire project as one big huge task.
3) Energy Management
Energy management, as opposed to time management, forces you to think of results as a function of energy, not time invested. You can’t management time anyway you can only really manage your focus. Working intensely for a short period of time can accomplish more than working for days, tired and distracted. When you are working in one of these periods of intensity, be where you are. No phone calls, no email, no nothing except the task.
You can’t do this forever or long. Pushing yourself is like a runner doing a surge in the middle of a race to push ahead of the completion at a crucial time in the race if you try to sprint the whole thing you will end up on the side of the road depleted, or in a low energy mode and actually accomplish less than if you passed it out. Here are some ideas:
Work in bursts or surges. Divide yourself between a complete focus surge, paced workflow and rest.
Finish things up. Don’t spread tasks that only take a few hours to compete over several days. Sit down and finish them. This method keeps your energies focused and satisfaction and esteem high.
Your health, rest and having fun do matter. Enslaving yourself to your work and being a work-o-holic can actually accomplish less. You can have an identity of yourself worth form your career and profession but working 7 days a week is not good. Let yourself be recharged when you need it.
4) Only Use Sharp Tools
There’s an old story of two lumberjacks in a tree-cutting contest. The first was a big burly fellow who instantly picked up a rusty axe and ran into the woods immediately to start chopping trees. The second, a lean tall fellow promptly sat down and spent 15 minutes sharpening his axe. 4 hours later he spent another 15 minutes to sharpen his ax again and take a quick breather while the other lumberjack kept whacking away at tree after tree. At the end of the day the tall lean fellow’s output was vastly greater than the strong burly lumberjack.
The moral? Take time to sharpen your tools and take a break every now and then.
5) Outsource things you don’t excel at.
Don’t waste your time doing things you don’t intend to be excellent at. Outsource or delegate them to someone who does have the knowhow and sharp tools to get it done quickly and correctly. And for the things you do want to master, make it a priority to sharpen your tool beyond what is necessary to cut. Skill saves time.
6) Rule With Numbers
Assumptions are the biggest waste of your time. Don’t guess at things. When your intuitions about the world don’t match the way it works, you can never be efficient. The only way to combat false assumptions is to test them and follow them up with numbers. The results of a test can save you hundreds of hours if it shows a current process has no impact or suggests a faster alternative.
Here are a few examples:
A/B Tests - Test out two different methods simultaneously. This can allow you to know with greater accuracy which method works best.
Track Numbers - Don’t just weigh yourself or count calories, track them. See how they go up, down or change over time.
7) The Rule of Quality
Is it better to be a perfectionist or sloppy? One can never get a project finished if another project you “finished” constantly requires being working on and fixed. That is the biggest time waste. When the extra input you need to invest exceeds the output gained you have made a crucial mistake.
Measure the difference between different amounts of time spent. Try doing your e-mail for 30, 60 and 90 minutes per day. Compare the effectiveness changes when you change the amount of time. Can you really justify spending two hours doing e-mail?
Compare the amount of time spent polishing up a project with the time needed for repairing it. If it takes more time to repair than polish, you’re quitting too soon. If repairs are draining your time and polishing is fast, slow down and be careful.
Larson note: Be in the now. More than ever do what you do best and what brings you the best bang for your buck. Use people in their best areas or places or in places where you do not excel in so you can maintain your competitiveness. Above all watch out for the Peter Principal: promoting people to their areas of uncompetence.
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