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Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task

Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task
Overspending Time

    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

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    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

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    Google Desktop

      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

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      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

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      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.

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      1 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 4 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 5 How to Find Time for Yourself

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      Last Updated on January 13, 2020

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

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

      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.”[1]

      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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      From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

      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 6 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.

      More on Building Habits

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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