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.
Mitzi Ray says
Great suggestions. Many people don’t realize how much time is spent on little things. For some of us it might be a good idea to “budget” our time as some do money.
Dmitri Eroshenko, Relenta says
I’d also add that deciding what not to do is as or more important as deciding what to do.
A important part of getting more done in less time is to reduce the number of interruptions. Interruptions consume as much as 50% of a typical knowledge worker’s day.
Typically you switch between email, contact manager, CRM, calendar, to-do lists, etc. to accomplish most trivial customer service or sales-related activity.
Interruptions are the norm, information is all over the place, and you’re in a permanent state of stress and anxiety because you fear that you’ve left something out.
And that’s why we created Relenta. Relenta is a simple email-based contact and task manager that gets things done.
It automatically links together sent and received email, tasks, notes and files and displays them as a chronological activity stream for each relationship. This way you and and your team always know what’s going on and what to do next.
Speaking of increasing your intellectual capacity, a friend of mine tool speed-reading class and says it saves him quite a bit of time.
Great post, Mark!
This is a great post . It is making more sense why delegation of tasks is the tool of the successful people.
Thank you for bringing this article to our attention.
Julia Dalton says
I think planning is a big one too. Making a list at the beginning of each day of the major things you need to accomplish for that given day, really seems to help me. When my mind wanders or I get off track, taking a quick look at that day’s list brings me back on track again.
Prioritization is critical too. You mention that in your delegation point, but it is really important to know how to create the most value out of your time.
St wad says
Getting enough sleep and then being able to wake up at the crack of dawn can instantly add a few hours to your day. For those who find the very notion of waking up at 5am a dream, try investing in a Sleeptracker watch, they are great!! Mine was from LovingOutdoors.com they did a review too which is worth a look
Shane Pateras says
Recently, we have decided to switch from Relenta to WorkForceTrack . Because it is cheaper than Relenta and has the same functions. As far as I know, they also offer some kind of discounts and localization from English to other languages. So, I am recommending you to try this
Increasing intelligence as a means to be productive…very interesting.
Thanks for pointing that out, Mark. Based on your explanation, I think it makes sense.
I’ve seen how some of my friends in college who didn’t study will be unproductive when the exam is near.
They’ll move around all the time but nothing’s done.
Subhorup Dasgupta says
Great tips. I made a decision four years back to not work more than a total of 160 hours a month, 80 for a livelihood, and 80 for probono projects that feed my soul. Of course, it was uphill since I was not equipped with some of the things this article mentions. I started looking at what slows me down, and tried to get to the root cause of it. For example, rising early was a goal, but the root cause that I was not able to get there was our family dinner time. Similarly, organization of attention across projects was a challenge area, and the root cause was lack of focus and discipline. I worked on both the cause and the manifested expression (for example, my lack of focus manifested in a cluttered workflow and workspace), and it took time, but slowly, the ideas that this post talks about began to work, and I am much happier with where I am with my time and productivity today.