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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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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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