Have you ever felt that you spend way too much time on something? You started reading a book, but eventually realized that the time you spend on it far exceeds the value you get. Or maybe you worked on a project, but after completing it you realized that the project could actually be finished much sooner.
Why do such things happen? While there might be external factors that contribute to the situation, I believe that there is one main cause: we waste our time on unnecessary stuff. We spend our time on things which do not contribute to the final results, and that eventually causes us to overspend our time. Obviously, the cure is:
Do no more than what is necessary
It is easier said than done though. Here are some tips to help you do that:
1. Set a clear expected output
An important reason why we overspend our time on something is not knowing precisely what the final result we expect is. If we don’t even know what we want, how can we decide whether or not something is necessary? As a result, we do things which will later be found as unnecessary. So the important first step is to set a clear expected output. It should be specific so that you can know for sure whether or not you have achieved it.
2. Write down the expected output in a prominent place
Having a clear expected output is good, but it’s often not enough. The problem is we may forget it once we dive into work. So we need to somehow remind ourselves about it.
One way to do so is by writing the expected output in a prominent place you can easily see. For example, if you are working on computer and use Google Desktop, you can write it in Scratch Pad (see screenshot). Since Scratch Pad is always visible, you can easily reread the expected output of what you are doing.
3. Realign yourself with the expected output every now and then
While you are busy working on something, it’s easy to get off track. So you need to regularly realign yourself with the expected output. To do so, whenever you are about to do a subtask you should ask: “Do I really need to do this to get the job done? Can I just skip it or do it in a different – more efficient – way?” These questions help you evaluate the way you work and get yourself back on track.
If asking these questions before doing a subtask is difficult, you can alternatively ask them at a regular interval. For example, if you usually do 50 minutes of work followed by 10 minutes of break time, you can then ask these questions whenever you enter the break time.
4. Set a deadline and work with inverted pyramid structure
Setting a deadline is another way to help you do only what is necessary. By setting a deadline, you are forced to prioritize the things you are doing. The best way to work within a deadline is using inverted pyramid structure: do the subtasks from the most important down to the least important. This way, if the time is up you can still deliver the best possible output.
Working in this way is actually similar to the way newspaper articles are written. By placing the most important facts first and the least important ones later, a newspaper editor can easily trim an article to fit into the available space. Similarly, by using the inverted pyramid structure you can easily trim your work when you hit the deadline.
5. Stop when you already get the expected output
It may seem obvious, but when we already get the output and still have some time left, we may be tempted to spend more time to polish it. At the end, it may introduce some unnecessary stuff into your otherwise productive day.
Donald Latumahina is an avid learner who blogs regularly about personal growth and effectiveness. Read his articles on 26 Tips to Stay Calm When Situation Goes Bad, and How to Develop Your Ideas Exponentially.