The reason I’m always looking for ways to get more done in less time is that there are many other things in life I enjoy.
Look, I’m not the most socially active person. It’s not like I travel all the time or go out every day. I like to have an empty calendar some days.
I’ll exercise, go to the sauna, read a book, watch a movie, or spend time on my hobby or side project. To get more done in less time doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work harder or wake up earlier.
It’s all about optimizing your time so you get the most out of every hour you work. It’s about working smarter and being more effective. Here are 4 habits that will help you to achieve that.
1. Begin at night
Some days, you wake up without clarity. You feel like you’re one step behind on the day. It’s like the day owns you, and not the other way around.
And then, you’re constantly thinking: What should I do now? Those types of small decisions take time and energy. It’s easier to be productive when you’ve pre-planned your tasks the previous night. You’ll wake up with clarity. And you know exactly what you want to get out of your day.
So try making a list of your top 3-4 tasks for the following day. I’ve been sharing this advice since 2015, and if you’re a regular reader, you might think I’m being repetitive (I am). But the truth is that this works.
While it’s simple advice, it’s hard to apply because life gets in the way. We are often tired at the end of the day. The last thing we want to do is to plan the next day.
But it’s all worth it.
2. Avoid clutter
Clutter creates distractions. And personally, I just can’t work when there’s too much crap around my workplace. But I don’t need my office to be completely empty or anything like that.
A neat workspace is enough. When I’m at my desk, I don’t want to see clutter in my view. To me, this is a habit that you can form by doing the following:
- Make your bed when you get up. Do this automatically so you won’t have to think about it.
- Spend some time clearing your desk regularly. Avoid stacks of paper or books.
- Arrange your files, notes, etc. And make it easy for you to access them when you need to add or remove things.
These small things don’t require much of your time. But they make a huge difference. You can be more focused on your work. And you’ll be more effective in less time.
3. Make everything easier
Getting things done doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. That’s where most people fail: When they’re trying too hard.
Instead, make everything easier. Try doing the following.
- Use your “best hour” — I call this the Munger technique, based on the advice of investor Charlie Munger. When you’re doing something that grows your mind, like reading a book or learning a new skill — do it when you feel most energized. It could be early in the morning or later at night. Whichever time works best for you.
- Allocate your energy — We all have limited energy. So don’t waste your reserves on menial tasks like “checking” emails. You can always put those off for some time later. Instead, do your most important work first. So you can get the best results for the tasks that matter most.
- Avoid indecision — Indecisiveness is a serious time and energy killer. If you’ve set up your tasks the previous night, you ease the burden. I found the book, Seeking Wisdom, to be especially useful in improving the decision-making process. The book’s insights helped me make wiser decisions.
- Remove distractions — This could mean turning off chat notifications so you can focus on your work, not putting your phone right beside you when you’re in the flow, and so forth. It’s better to have a proactive mindset. And reacting to chats or emails first thing is counterintuitive.
- Give yourself time to reach flow — Flow is a state where you achieve higher quality work at a faster pace. Sometimes, this happens immediately. But other times, it takes a while. And that’s ok. When you’re in a conducive environment, the flow will come eventually.
As psychiatrist John Ratey found, exercise is essential for reaching “high-performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.”
But it’s hard to make time for exercise when you have a hectic schedule. So try doing these three things:
- Say, “I’ll do just 5 minutes.” — When you don’t feel like exercising, just work out a little bit. A 5-min workout is better than doing nothing.
- Do it every day — Back when I tried to exercise only thrice a week, I often found myself saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” There’s that internal debate going on. But when I did it every day, I stuck to my exercise routine because there was no internal struggle.
- Do it first thing in the morning — You had a long day. You’re tired. And you just want to go home and watch Netflix. I get it. So workout first and get that out of the way.
When I applied those three things, I became more consistent with my exercise. And I started feeling better during the day.
4. Focus on what you control
Especially in an office environment (or anywhere that involves directly working with other people), it can be easy to get pulled into other people’s concerns.
The important thing is to focus on what you can control and stop wasting energy on things you don’t.
Marcus Aurelius said it well:
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
This also applies when you’re faced with a huge project. It can be tempting to sprint your way and get things done as soon as possible. But major projects, like writing a book, building your side hustle, and so forth take time.
So break down your tasks into little pieces and do them a day at a time. Just make a bit of important progress every day.
The rewards of consistency
You’d notice the above habits are pretty small. Most of them don’t even take an hour to do. And with enough practice, you can do them on autopilot.
That’s the power of consistency. When you do all these things every day, you make a lot of progress. It’s a matter of compounding.
We all know that good feeling we get when we accomplish what we set out to do.
By the time people are going for their next shot of coffee to get halfway through their workday, you are closing your laptop, having a leisurely lunch, and then taking it easy in the afternoon.
When we get the important things done efficiently, we avoid burnout. And our results are far better.