We are designed by evolution to be busy. That’s OK for the caveman, who needs to feed himself; not OK for you in the 21st-century when you have to deal with an ever-growing range of tempting distractions. Which is why it is so baffling that Paris has been identified as the city with the shortest working week, when France is renowned for having higher productivity than the UK.
As a coach who specialises in enabling people to get more done more quickly, I notice that those who get the most worthwhile work done in the smallest amount of time follow a set of rules. Oddly, we are never taught these rules, and most of us just stick to the same old unconscious (bad) habits. Here are eight rules to help you get the most done in the shortest time:
Lock yourself in a room away from distractions and focus fully on one task at a time. Sounds dead simple, but try it. If you multitask a lot, you will find this especially painful. And research shows, interestingly, that those who multitask the most are in fact the worst at multitasking.
2. Don’t fight distraction
Those who get more done quickly don’t fight distractions – we can’t. Rather, they work in short bursts, with high levels of focused attention, so that they benefit from the satisfaction of making headway on one important project at a time. They know they have been successful when they can answer a simple question: “What did I get finished today that was important to me and the organisation I work for?”
As Laozi said: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” So what can you stop doing? Habits drive us to continue doing tasks that don’t need doing. Try not to take on more tasks without first asking: “Why is this really important?” Often we say yes before even making a conscious choice. What can you simplify? Reduce emails and reports to the bare minimum. Enforcing brevity saves time for everyone.
4. Find your rhythm
Do thinking work in the morning. It’s tempting to clear out emails so you feel on top of things, but you will not look back when you are in your 70s and say: “God, I was proud of keeping my inbox to zero.” Instead spend the first 60 minutes of your day on the one or two really important tasks you need to get done. It even helps to write them down the night before – this sets clear intentions, which the brain likes as it can focus on what is in its control.
How much of your day is spent doing thin
gs you are not good at? You will get through much more work more quickly if you actively arrange your role so you can focus on what you are good at and, even better, practise getting even better at what you are good it. Does Usain Bolt run half-marathons?
6. Watch the robots
Be careful about trying to get too efficient. Robots are efficient, and they are taking jobs and transforming industries. It is better to focus on being effective, for example working on the most important task – which requires you to think and be creative.
7. Be honest
It’s often our own deeply entrenched habits that stop us from getting more done more quickly. If you find yourself regularly sitting in long, poorly run meetings, or if you constantly switch from one task to another, then you are likely to struggle in the 21st-century workplace, which is currently going through huge change.
8. Avoid articles like this
It’s easy to turn to self-help books when you consider the basic paradox: you won’t ever do all the things you need or want to do in your allotted time. But if you stop reading this and get to work, that might be a good start.