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6 Rules to Work Less and Get More Accomplished

6 Rules to Work Less and Get More Accomplished
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    It’s impossible, right? In order to get more done, you need to invest more time. Working ten hour days will make you more accomplished than a colleague that only works seven. Studying three hours a day will get you better grades than the guy who skims through a few chapters before the test. More work = more results.

    I disagree. Working smart beats working hard. In some cases working more can actually damage the amount you get accomplished. In both cases, the degree effort matches outcomes has been overstated.

    Working less and accomplishing more isn’t easy. It requires thinking creatively to find more effective ways of doing things. But first you have to be open to the possibility that your methods aren’t as efficient as they could be. Once you do that you can look for ways to get more accomplished without just increasing your to-do list. Here are a few guidelines to start looking:

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    1) The 80/20 Rule

    The 80/20 rule basically suggests that a small amount of inputs contributes to a much larger amount of outputs. Using this rule means to minimize time spent in the unproductive 80%.

    In application, you can’t simply cut everything that doesn’t directly contribute to your bottom line. Some things, however trivial, still need to get done. The purpose of 80/20 is to force you to be more ruthless in cutting time in areas that contribute little. Here are a few suggestions:

    • Cut e-mail time to invest more in larger projects.
    • Say no to people who want commitments that don’t contribute enough value.
    • Spend more studying core concepts and key terms than less important details.

    2) Parkinson’s Law

    Parkinson’s Law states that “work will fill the time available for its completion.” This is a side effect of focusing on doing work instead of getting projects completed. Give yourself strict deadlines and cultivate a desire to finish projects, not just check tasks off on a to-do list.

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    Here are some applications:

    • Set a timer for 90 minutes to finish a small project. When the timer sounds, you can’t continue working on it, so think fast and don’t waste time.
    • Chunk mammoth projects into smaller pieces. Strive to complete those pieces, rather than just working on the project aimlessly.

    3) Energy Management

    Energy management, as opposed to time management, forces you to think of results as a function of energy, not time invested. Working intensely for a short period of time can accomplish more than working for days, tired and distracted.

    Working yourself into low energy can actually make you accomplish less than if you rested. Here are some ideas:

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    • Work in bursts. Divide yourself between complete rest and complete focus. Don’t constantly switch in-between which leaves you neither rested or productive.
    • Kill projects. Don’t spread tasks that only take a few hours over several days. Sit down and finish them in one sitting. This method of killing projects keeps your energies focused and time saved.
    • Rest, health and fun matter. Enslaving yourself to your work can actually accomplish less. Master the ability to recharge yourself when you need it.

    4) Only Use Sharp Tools

    There’s an old story of two lumberjacks in a tree-cutting contest. The first picked up a rusty axe and ran into the woods immediately to start chopping trees. The second spent almost until the end of the contest sharpening his axe. After which he walked up and quickly felled the biggest tree.

    The moral? Don’t use rusty tools.

    Don’t waste your time doing things you don’t intend to be excellent at. Delegate them to someone who does have a sharp tool. And for the things you do want to master, make it a priority to sharpen your tool beyond what is necessary to cut. Skill saves time.

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    5) Rule With Numbers

    Assumptions are the biggest waste of your time. When your intuitions about the world don’t match the way it works, you can never be efficient. The only way to combat false assumptions is to test them and follow them up with numbers. The results of a test can save you hundreds of hours if it shows a current process has no impact or suggests a faster alternative.

    Here are a few examples:

    • A/B Tests – Test out two different methods simultaneously. This can allow you to know with greater accuracy which method works best.
    • Track Numbers – Don’t just weigh yourself or count calories, track them. See how they go up, down or change over time.

    6) The Marginal Rule of Quality

    Is it better to be a perfectionist or sloppy? One can never get a project finished the other requires constant repair because they waste too much time. I think the answer is simpler: when the extra input you invest exceeds the output gained, stop working on it.

    An even better extension of this rule would be to say you should stop working on a project when the extra input invested gives less output than doing a comparable task. Here are some applications to try:

    • Measure the difference between different amounts of time spent. Try doing your e-mail for 30, 60 and 90 minutes per day. Compare the effectiveness changes when you change the amount of time. Can you really justify spending two hours doing e-mail?
    • Compare the amount of time spent polishing with time needed for repairs. If it takes more time to polish than repair, you’re better of quitting early. If repairs are draining your time and polishing is fast, slow down and be careful.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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