If there’s one universal truth in business today, it’s that everyone is busy. This is what drives people to try to multitask (even though it’s not possible). It’s why we’re told that as marketers, we have only 30 seconds (or less) to get a reader’s attention, and why 40% of website visitors will abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load (four or five seconds – who’s got that kind of time?!).
It’s certainly not the case that five years ago, workers had all the time in the world–that they could stresslessly ponder the ramifications of and reflect upon the results of each task. No, people were already very busy back in 2008-2009; but the great recession magnified this. Many large companies have discovered how much they can get done with how little, and are unlikely to relax demands much even in an improving employment climate.
Here then are five ways to get more done without simply working longer hours.
The Rock-Pebble-Sand-Water Model
If you’re not familiar with this model, it involves categorizing tasks as either rocks (large and important projects), pebbles (smaller, but still somewhat important activities), sand (the small stuff, e.g., checking email) and water (everything else). The idea is that if you think of your time as a jar and start by filling it with pebbles and sand, the rocks will never fit it.
But if you put the rocks into your “jar” first, the pebbles, sand and water will fill in the spaces.
This model is popular with management gurus, but can be challenging to implement. The key is to understand that, ultimately, you have to decide which of your tasks are really rocks–and which are pebbles, sand, or even something that just doesn’t belong in your jar at all.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix
In the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (originally developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower but later popularized by Stephen Covey), tasks are organized into four boxes, with the degree of urgency on one scale and importance on the other.
Items that are both urgent and important (significant problems or opportunities) represent the largest “rocks” in the model above. Tasks that are important but not necessarily urgent (e.g., getting a blog post written for next week, catching up on project management organization) are smaller rocks. They have to get done, just not necessarily immediately.
Two important considerations when using this model are 1) making clear who decides which tasks are in which box (as it’s likely not everyone will agree on either the urgency or importance of any given task) and 2) properly setting expectations, particularly for those tasks which are important but not urgent.
Combine either or both of the models above with scheduling or day planning.
Once beyond college age, the majority of people are most mentally alert in the early morning hours. To take advantage of this, use the first part of the morning (i.e., from as early as you’re able to start work until about 10:00) to take care of “rocks” or urgent+important tasks, particularly those requiring significant mental effort.
Use the “core” hours of the day (10:00 to 4:00) for tasks involving communication and coordination with others, and late afternoon for tasks requiring time and effort but not strenuous mental exertion.
To help maintain this regimen, minimize checking email during the early morning and late afternoon time slots.
The Pomodoro Technique
While there’s an entire book devoted to this strategy, to grossly oversimplify, the Pomodoro technique involves working in short 25-minute bursts of concentrated effort, punctuated by five-minute breaks. After four “pomodoros” (Italian for “tomatoes”) have passed, you take a longer (15-20 minute) break.
Writers and others who need to get and stay “in the zone” mentally for a bit longer in order to be optimally productive may opt for what could be called the “big tomato” or “ripe tomato” variation of this strategy: work for 60-90 minute periods, followed by a 10-15 minute break, with a 30-minute break after three such stretches.
The most direct way to get more done is to get more people working. “Many hands make light work,” as your grandmother may have said.
Delegation is not only for those in management roles. Bloggers, for example, can delegate by inviting guest posters to contribute content or asking experts to answer questions for a round-up post.
Freelancers can be hired, often at nominal cost, to perform specific tasks. And partnering with another individual–and sharing the credit–is a great way to double the end result of a project, or cut the effort required in half.
What productivity hacks do you find most useful?