If you want to accomplish more than those around you, you have two options:
- Spend more time working.
- Do more in less time.
There aren’t any other options. To get more done, you’ll have to do one or both of these things, so lets look at them in more detail.
Spend more time working
This is how most people try to get more done. They work 10 and 12 hour days, work weekends, etc. While this can definitely help you accomplish more, it doesn’t scale very well. If you allow 8 hours per day for sleep and eating, you can’t go beyond 16 hours of work per day. If you were able to convert all of your extra time into productive work, you’ll only be twice as productive as the average person who works 8 hours per day.
However, just because you work twice as long doesn’t mean you’ll get twice as much done. Time is only one of the factors that determines how much you produce. Other factors that impact productivity are fatigue, mood, distractions and alertness. If you are trying to work 16 hours every day, fatigue will work against your productivity. If you try to work long hours indefinitely, you may find that your actual output during a 16 hour day is about the same as your output during an 8 hour day. You might be able to get more done by working a few long days here and there, but you can’t really plan on getting ahead by working twice as long as everyone else for the rest of your life.
This brings up a question. Since the amount we accomplish during each hour of our work day is not constant, is there anything we can do make sure that we are getting the most output for each hour invested? Basically, this boils down to asking if it is possible to accomplish more, not by increasing the total hours spent, but by focusing on making every minute invested in work productive.
For most people and most types of work, this is very possible. If you work for an hour, how many minutes of work do you actually accomplish? It is rare that an individual will consistently accomplish 60 minutes worth of work over every hour period. By the time you factor in interruptions, telephone calls, trips to the water fountain, etc., 40 to 50 minutes of work each hour is being very productive. Depending on the time of day, this ratio may be much lower.
By setting up an environment where distractions and interruptions are minimized, you can be far more productive than others simply by spending more minutes of each hour doing actual work. This leads into the second way that we can increase our productivity.
Do More in Less Time
This is the holy grail of productivity. While just working more hours puts us at the natural limit of 24 hours per day, there isn’t any concrete limit on how much you can accomplish in any particular unit of time. There are many ways you can accomplish more in less time, but we’ll examine just a few here.
Delegate – If you get paid for what you produce, you’ll want to focus your energy on doing the things that add the most value. Tasks where you don’t add significant value are candidates for delegation. In a business, this may mean delegating the payroll process to someone you hire or to an outside firm. In your personal life this may mean hiring someone to mow the lawn or change your oil.
I used to mow my own lawn, and it would take me about
1.5 hours each week to just mow. I found a company who would mow the
entire lawn in about 20 minutes and do some additional trimming for
$19.00 per week. All in all, I was able to buy back 2 hours worth of my
time each week for less than $9.50 per hour
Technology – Using technology to automate and enhance your capabilities can make drastic differences in how much you accomplish. Most people understand the benefit of using technology to accomplish “big” things like sending a personalized letter to 10,000 people, but not as many people understand the benefit of using technology to make you more efficient in small things.
I send my voice mail messages directly to my email
address as an attachment. This means I don’t have to deal with logging
into voice mail using the phone and I can easily forward messages to
someone else if necessary. It is a small thing, but it probably saves
me 30 minutes each week in dealing with messages.
Technology only makes you more efficient if it saves you time. It is easy to get a false sense of productivity when using a computer on tasks that could be handled more quickly without using a computer. You must constantly evaluate what you are doing to make sure it is being done in the most efficient manner.
Another potential pitfall of technology is the tendency to do things that are unnecessary. If you spend 5 or 10 minutes picking the font for a letter to your bank, your computer hasn’t helped make you more productive. Make sure you use technology to do things that are necessary instead of doing things just because technology makes them possible.
Increase your Intelligence – Modern work tends to rely more heavily on the skills of your mind than on physical labor. You are more likely to be limited by your inability to think of good ideas than your
inability to lift heavy objects. If success relied on your physical strength, you would probably exercise to increase what you could accomplish. Your mind needs the same type of exercise in order to be productive.
Reading books, taking classes, talking with intelligent people are all ways to keep you supplied with fresh ideas and keep your mind sharp. A common mistake is to focus exclusively on learning about the field in which you work. You’ll probably find that your most creative ideas come from combining ideas from other fields with your area of expertise.
Most people never really evaluate their own productivity. By simply examining your habits and applying some of the suggestions in this article, you can significantly increase the amount you accomplish even without increasing the amount of time you spend working.