I take time management seriously, but I didn’t use to. I used to spend hours procrastinating and putting off work, only to have to rush to complete tasks in the last minute just to keep my teachers and my bosses happy. My attention to detail suffered, as did my mental state as I struggled to fight off the anxiety that would creep up every time I was up against a deadline.
Somehow I managed not to fail out of school or get fired for negligence, but I knew that there had to be a better way to get by. Studies have found that people at work are typically only about 30% efficient in their daily activities.
This means, 70% of the time employees aren’t focused 100% on the work they’re supposed to be doing, likely distracted by those around them or other work-related events (i.e. emails, telephone calls, etc.) that are constantly popping up to get their attention. In the time since my “procrastination phase”, I have spent hundreds of hours interviewing people all around the world about their productivity and goal setting habits.
The following are five tips that will help you get more work done with less effort, if you’re willing to put in the time up front:
1. Define what success looks like
The key to getting more done with less effort (and in less time – in many cases) is to start a task with a defined end goal in mind. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What does success look like?
- What is my vision for how it will turn out?
- What purpose will it serve?
Define the parameters of your success for each major task you are working towards. Set time deadlines and delivery deadlines. The more precise you can be, the easier it will be to stay motivated to move forward and remain accountable to yourself and others.
“If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” – Zig Ziglar
2. Identify your most important actions
Think about what actions you must take at each stage to ensure that you reach your definition of success. Having the best strategy in the world to reach a goal will get you nowhere without clearly defined tactics.
If you have multiple tasks to complete within a set period of time, write each tactic down underneath the specified task. Alongside each tactic, write out what measurable outcome will define completion of the tactic along with a deadline for completing it.
An example might look something like this:
Goal – Lose 10 pounds by March
- Exercise (Run for 30 minutes 3 times a week)
- Eat healthy food (Eat 5 vegetables daily. Cut out unhealthy carbohydrates)
- Reduce Calories (Reduce diet to 1500 calories per day)
3. Focus on the hardest part first
We are constantly given reasons to avoid doing work we know that we should be doing. We live in a world full of distractions, and it is easy to get sidetracked by outside projects and commitments that pop up at the last minute.
One way to avoid procrastination and supercharge your productivity, is to commit to doing the most uncomfortable activity you have on your to-do list first thing in the morning, right as you start your day. By doing this, you ensure that you do your hardest activity when you are at your freshest and most focused, and you will do it with more energy and enthusiasm than you would later on.
4. Take action daily
Habits take between 30 and 90 days of repetition to form. Taking action on a daily basis not only allows you to make continual progress towards your goals, it helps form the action-taking muscle that will allow you to regularly take action on new activities and tasks as they arise.
No matter what task you are trying to complete, make sure you identify at least one tactic that you can complete on a daily basis that will contribute to the success of your larger goal.
“A good plan, executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” – General George Patton
5. Measure your progress
Finally, don’t forget to measure your progress. This means not only measuring progress towards the completion of the task at hand, but also measuring your capacity to complete each task efficiently and effectively.
For each task, goal or objective you set out to accomplish, keep a careful record of the tactics that make up each. Upon completing (or failing to complete) a defined task, review what happened so that you can learn for next time. Did you complete each tactic outlined under the stated goal?
If you didn’t then you should work to improve your ability to take action on specific tactics. If you’ve completed all of the tactics outlined and still did not manage to complete your task, you should assess the tactics themselves and work to create new tactics to meet your objectives.