I often get asked how I manage to get so many things done in a day. After being asked so many times, I have thought about it, and here's what I've come up with:
- 100% INTEREST IN WHAT YOU'RE DOING: When you are interested in what you're doing, you work really hard at it. You don't take breaks. You are more productive. You also tend to be better at doing the things you like to do. When I do things I'm not interested in, they drag on because I delay, procrastinate, and half-ass it. This makes it take longer. Everyone has things they don't want to do - that's life. Minimize those things. Outsource them. Stop doing them when possible - what's the risk/reward? Make sure the things you do most of the time are things that you like. If not, change quickly because you're wasting your life.
- BATCH SIMILAR TASKS: Do similar things together. Don't run to the bank every day - go once. When you walk down the stairs, bring something with you that needs to be put away downstairs - don't make two trips. Carefully plan meetings so you don't need to run across town constantly. Plan a single day with all your meetings or at least meetings in the same part of the city. I do batching on all scales. While I'm standing next to the printer waiting for a print, I'm responding to an email. While I'm planning my monthly agenda, I group work tasks distinct from personal tasks. Although it may seem obvious, I learned this tip from reading the "4 Hour Work Week." I suggest reading it. There's some great tips, and some may apply to your lifestyle.
- DON'T WASTE A MOMENT: Fill all moments with something to do. There is no moment too small to get something done. While I'm walking across the room to throw something in the garbage, grab a glass and set it in the dishwasher on the way. While you're waiting at a stoplight, check your calendar or email (not while driving obviously). Plan your moments. Rest needs planned too. Rest feels good, but how much do you really need. Be honest with yourself. What feels better to you - resting or accomplishing something cool? Get enough rest, but don't be lazy. You are more productive when well rested, so plan your day to get enough rest. With a plan, you can get enough rest and ensure you're not getting too much. Use that extra time to be productive having fun or getting work done.
- WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS: I heard goals are more likely to be achieved when you write them down. It is true. I've tried it. When you write down your goals, you are essentially planning - it's the first step of formulating a plan. Once you write down the goal, you inherently start working on it and are therefor closer to achieving it. You're more powerful than you think you are. You can achieve anything. Big goals have many small steps which are typically easier to attain.
- FOCUS ON EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS: Everything you do can be done better and faster. Think about ways to streamline your work. Develop new systems (or employ existing ones) to enhance your workflow. Drop the dead weight, and stop doing the things that are not producing results. Notice ways in which the 80-20 principle affects your daily life. (This is the concept that we spend 80% of our time doing 20% of our tasks, and we spend 20% of our time getting 80% of our results.) The 80-20 principle applies to so many processes all around us: science, billing, marketing, decision-making, traveling, etc. We spend way too much time doing things that yield too little benefit. Stop doing those things and study the more effective things you do to determine the qualities and characteristics about them that allow them to work well. Then apply those strategies elsewhere. Think about how you can increase your efficiency at everyday tasks at home and work. Consider your approach to washing dishes, for example. After eating pancakes, do you stack your sticky plates on top of each other? This leaves the bottoms AND tops of the plates sticky which doubles your workload. Staging them and washing them individually allows you scrub syrup off just one side of the plate while the bottom is pretty much already clean. After straining pasta, don't leave the colander in the sink. Once someone pours something greasy or sticky on it, now you have hundreds of mini holes to unclog and clean. Strain the pasta, rinse the colander, dry it in 2 seconds, and put it away. It will save time (and counter space). These types of little tips for efficiency all add up leaving you extra hours in the day to rest or accomplish other things.
- WALK FAST: I walk quite fast. I'm not sure if I look like a dork or not, but I get from place to place quickly. This enables me to get a little exercise while saving a few minutes here and there to be more productive. I also don't mind walking 20 minutes across town. It would likely take just as long or longer to battle the traffic and park anyway. I can get a phone call done during that time (which is why I may be breathing heavy when we talk).
- EXERCISE: I don't go to the gym. This works for some people but not me. I cannot stand expending hard work without accomplishing a tangible outcome. Going to the gym also takes time out of your day. I get exercise by playing sports. I enjoy (hockey and soccer), and I get most of my exercise from what I call "PE." Not Physical Education, but rather Productive Exercise or "Man Work." Sometime I call it Josh-Fit instead of Cross-Fit. I do a fair bit of home remodeling and yard work projects that require heavy lifting, back-breaking labor, digging, etc. Try mixing concrete or digging quickly. It becomes a cardiovascular and weightlifting exercise all wrapped into one. The best part about doing manual labor is you end up with something else also completed. Why hire someone to rake your leaves when you can go outside for an hour, get some fresh air, and get the work done yourself? If you rake quickly enough, it turns into exercise. Raking sucks. Why would you want it to take any longer than it needs to? Rake harder, get done quicker, and move on.
- DON'T MULTI-TASK: Multi-tasking may be appropriate in certain situations, but generally the lack of focus on one task is more of a hindrance. This relates to batching. Batching is all about doing similar things together. You cannot read Facebook while also drawing. They are both "computer tasks," but not similar enough to do both simultaneously. Get the drawing done, then check Facebook. Switching between the two is not effective. If you stay focused in one stint, from start to finish, you will get it done better. Once you finish one task, move on to the next and focus entirely on it. Don't let email or phones or other coworkers distract you. Shut them out. Turn of the phone, and check the email at the end of the day. I'm not a water-cooler chit-chat kind of guy. I go to work to design cool shit and earn money. I don't give a rip about your gossip or weekend happy hour when I'm at work. I'm more interested in that stuff when I'm at happy hour with you, and I also have a beer in my hand ;)
- WORK ASAP: Don't wait until the last minute to get things done. Start working on things the moment they are assigned. You don't know how long tasks are really going to take until you're done with them. If you work on stuff earlier, you may get done earlier. This allows more time to do other things like rest, fun stuff, or other work tasks - it's great to have those options. If you procrastinate, you leave yourself with no choice. You're at the mercy of the clock. When time's up, you're done - even if your work is low quality. Unnecessary pressure also leads to poor decision making. Working sooner leaves you without deadlines, so you can remain calm and less stressed. You also have the ability to fix mistakes. I often work through the night to finish work that a client may not expect to be done for another week. This enables me to check my work a week later with fresh eyes. Inevitably, this allows me to clearly see errors and also find opportunities to enhance my work. I had a professor that would say "kill your dragons while they are young - when they grow up, they will be fierce fire breathing dragons." I find this works with most things. Solve problems early, so they do not turn into bigger, more time consuming problems. Pay your bills sooner - avoid late fees. Get work done ahead of time - leaves extra time to catch costly mistakes.
- DON'T OVER-PLAN: You can plan all you want, but no plan ever goes precisely according to every step of the plan. This means that much of the effort you put into planning goes wasted. By planning minuscule, specific details, you are actually scrutinizing unreliable, speculative assumptions. You are better-off coming up with a rough framework for how you will achieve a goal and later revisiting that rough framework once you have already started working on the task. This enables you to modify the plan based on actual data accumulated through the tasks instead of speculating too many steps ahead. Adapting is much more effective than reworking over-complicated master plans. Don't get caught up in planning too much. Simply start the task, then take a pause to evaluate. Just jump right in and get started. You can always continue to plan ahead as you go. Making unnecessary preparations is a major hindrance in making progress.
There you have it. These are the things I do subconsciously as I'm brushing my teeth, drawing, and raking pine needles off my driveway.