Time management helps you get more work done in less time.
But it doesn't necessarily help you work faster.
Time management systems allow you to prioritize and organize your work, but how do you optimize the velocity of each task?
Here are six tips you can use right away.
Allocate Less Time for Tasks
In 1955, The Economist published an article titled "Parkinson's Law: The Pursuit of Progress" by Cyril Parkinson.
It's a complex study of bureaucracy and how government organizations tend to create work for one another.
Over the decades, the world of organizational productivity distilled Parkinson's law into this one basic principle: "Work expands to fill the time we give it."
A couple of tongue-in-cheek versions of Parkinson's law include:
- If you wait until the last minute to do something, it only takes a minute to do it.
- Work contracts to fit in the time you give it.
- In a ten-hour day, you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.
The point is you can work faster by allocating less time for your tasks.
If you set aside a day to draft a monthly report, try setting aside four hours.
If that works, try setting aside three hours.
Keep honing the time you allocate to tasks to minimize time spent.
You can do the same thing with meetings.
Does every meeting need to take an hour?
We're used to hour-long meetings, but they don't all have to take that long.
If you want to work faster, schedule meetings for 15 or 30 minutes.
You’ll be surprised how much more efficient your conversations will be when they have a hard stop.
Turn Off Alerts
The electronic alerts that notify you when an email, text, or chat message is in your inbox are productivity killers.
Every time you move from a task to check a message, your brain switches gears, and researchers estimate it takes 20-25 minutes to regain focus on your original task.
This shift is known as "switching time" that time slows you down.
That said, all those messages will need your attention at some point.
You can timebox, (which means setting specific times in your calendar,) to view and respond to emails, texts, and instant messages.
You may have to set (or reset) peoples' expectations for your response time if you're known as someone who responds right away.
In most chat apps, you can create a do-not-disturb notice so that people can see that you are not available.
While you may be slower to respond, you’ll work faster and finish deliverables sooner.
Do One Thing at a Time
There was a time when "multitasking" was a badge of honor.
Being busy and juggling multiple tasks simultaneously were seen as a signs of talent and power.
That ship has sailed.
Study after study has found that multitasking is actually a productivity killer.
The time it takes to switch focus is one reason multitasking doesn't work.
And there's also evidence that multitasking reduces cognitive functioning.
Our brains are being rewired when we constantly move between stimuli, and it's causing us to lose our ability to focus and do the deep work that will make an impact.
A study of knowledge workers found 92 percent read emails and other messages during meetings and cannot remember decisions or action items as a result.
"Frequently switching between tasks overloads the brain and makes you less efficient," said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. "It is a formula for failure in which your thoughts remain on the surface level, and errors occur more frequently."
To work faster and wiser, Chapman recommends:
- Focus intensely, without distraction. Silence your phone, turn off your email and try to perform just one task at a time. Start with 15-minute intervals and work your way up to more extended periods.
- Give your brain some downtime. Taking a break will help make space for your next brilliant idea because a pause in constant thinking slows the mind's rhythms to allow more "aha" moments.
- Make a to-do list. Give the most important tasks your brain's "prime time," as Bond called it. Working fast on unimportant tasks is good, but tackling the critical stuff is better. You want to work faster, but you also want to work smarter.
It might seem counterintuitive that taking extra time to review work thoroughly will help you work faster.
But tasks that are incomplete or inaccurate will cost you more time overall.
In a fast-paced environment, the balance between quality and velocity is crucial.
You want to move initiatives forward as quickly as possible but speed is counterproductive if quality assurance is lacking.
Time is one of the hidden expenses of inadequate quality control, according to quality consultancy ETQ.
Using the iceberg metaphor, lost revenue, rework costs, reputation, and customer satisfaction are the most visible costs above the waterline.
Lost time delivering a quality product is under the surface but just as damaging.
Simple quality control checks you can do every day include:
- Spelling and grammar in documents
- Data in spreadsheets and CRMs
- Bills, invoices, and payments
- Schedules and meetings
- Travel plans
- Event logistics
- Sales reports
- Third-party and internal data used in reports
Doublechecking and validating the quality and accuracy of your work will save time in the long run.
It will also save you some embarrassment, especially regarding sensitive emails, important meeting invitations, presentations to your managers, and high-profile reports that can also set back your career development.
And it's always a good idea to have a coworker review important projects before checking them off as complete.
A classic example of this is proofreading.
It isn't easy to proofread your own work, especially if you've already gone through multiple drafts, but others will spot your errors in a second.
Yes, it can be uncomfortable.
But it will help you get work done faster.
A colleague's review can also help share ownership of the task and the end work product you create, creating team morale that elevates your business to the next level.
Ok, yes, it is important to double-check your work.
But that does not mean you have to triple and quadruple check it.
Perfectionism is another enemy of productivity and workplace velocity.
When your presentation for a customer meeting reaches version 47, something's gotta give.
And this is another area where getting feedback from colleagues can help.
Get your first draft of your project done, ask for input, accept what makes the project better, and call it done.
Remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfect.
Getting something done and refining it with others result in faster and better-finished products.
But the #1 best way to work faster?
Give your work to someone else.
If you have a hard time delegating, consider that you already do a lot of it.
Do you clean your own house, or mow your own lawn?
You outsource tasks all the time that need to get done, but they don't necessarily need to be done by you.
A lot of the time you lack the time, expertise, or interest to complete these tasks, and you know that it will make your life easier to have someone else do them.
Business is the same, and employees aren't your only option.
You can also delegate responsibilities to contractors, freelancers, and agencies.
Examples of functions that get delegated include:
- Website development
- Graphic design
Delegating these tasks is the obvious choice, because they're tasks that are not central to your business but they do require expertise that most executives don't have.
A software business leader is not an advertising expert, for example.
But what about the tasks that you're capable of handling, but that steal time away from the deep work you want to be doing?
The delegation that executives often struggle with has to do with work that is integral to the business, but doesn't require a specialized skill.
These everyday tasks keep the company moving forward, but they are not appropriate for the executive role.
- Calendar management
- Email communications
- Data entry
- Invoicing and payment processing
If you delegate these time-consuming tasks to a virtual assistant —someone who specializes in this level of organization— you'll feel a lot less overwhelmed and have much more time to focus on the work that only you can do.
If you're constantly fielding phone calls, consider outsourcing your phone system to a cloud PBX system, which will free up your time and help you prioritize tasks that require your attention.
Get More, Better Work Done
Follow these practices and you'll be sure to get more done in less time.
As a bonus, the quality of your work will improve too.
Your brain performs better when focused and not distracted, and investing a few minutes in quality control makes your finished product better.
So you'll be able to increase the velocity and the quality of your work at the same time.