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How to Get Work Done Quickly by Not Being Perfect

How to Get Work Done Quickly by Not Being Perfect
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    There is a dangerous mantra for doing good work:

    Ready, Ready, Aim…

    Keep aiming until every detail is in place and then — aim again.

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    It’s agonizing to grind through your work, making sure every detail is perfect. But it’s not only agonizing; it’s actually an inefficient way to work.

    The problem with working to perfection is that it causes stress that limits your productivity. You need to get the work done, it needs to be done well — but your focus on getting it perfect causes your anxiety to increase. How can you get the work done quickly…and do it well?

    I wondered about this as I watched friends finish 80,000 word manuscripts in weeks, while I kept slamming my head against a desk hoping to get a few paragraphs out for my thesis.

    It’s a frustrating feeling, but the solution is simple:

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    Stop Striving for Perfection on the First Round

    It’s much easier — and less stressful — to get the work done once and go back to refine it later.

    There is a feeling of freedom when you let go of making your work perfect and strive instead to simply finish it. And the work gets easier every time you commit to just finishing.

    When I stopped agonizing over making my work perfect, I began to write my thesis paragraphs at a time instead of one word at a time. I was happy as hell because the work was actually getting done! This ethic also carried over into other parts of my life and I found myself finishing a tremendous amount of items on my to-do list.

    My fiancée recently started a new position where she took over for a co-worker who was constantly stressed and did a tremendous amount of overtime. Two days into the job, she learned that this co-worker double-checked every detail as she did it. No wonder she always left the office stressed: she was doing double the work on every task.

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    These revelations helped me to commit to a new mantra:

    Ready, Fire, Aim.

    Now, my work schedule looks something like this:

    1. Establish Objective or Goal of the Project
    2. Work Until Objective is Met
    3. Make Necessary Adjustments

    Let your work sit, and then come back to it after your brain has had time to refresh. You’ll see mistakes (probably plenty) but don’t take it as a personal blow to your ego. In fact, tell your ego to keep its mouth shut so you can finish the job. This will lead to an increase in creative flow because your brain is focused solely on finishing the task… and nothing else.

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    It may take a few attempts to let go of that need for perfection; but it’s worth it. Next time you sit down to get something done, just keep telling yourself to finish the job and you’ll perfect it later.

    Your brain will thank you.

    (Photo credit: Closeup of Handsome Archer via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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