When you’ve got a full plate, getting all your work done can seem unthinkable. As soon as you finish one task, a new job raises its head. Delegating, prioritizing and getting into the ‘deep work’ zone all help, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get ahead. Or are there? Rather than punishing yourself by knuckling down until it’s done, try to work smarter, not harder. There are dozens of strategies to streamline your workflow and get more done in less time; here are five of the best.
1. Create an intelligent schedule
Having a routine that plays to your natural strengths and working patterns is one of the best ways to save time and get more done. The more choices you have to make in a day, the more you tax your brain, and have less mental energy available for actual important work. When your schedule‘s mapped out for you, you can just lock focus – there’s no worrying about which task to work on next, or whether or not you have time to take a break.
When planning a work schedule, think about your peak productive times and play to your natural productive rhythms. If you aren’t sure when they fall, track your performance to pinpoint where your attention fractures, tasks take longer than usual, or procrastination creeps in. Biologically speaking, we all have different chronotypes that affect our daily cognitive performance. So, if you’re not at your best in the morning, schedule this time for tasks that don’t require as much creativity or effort – things like replying to emails or other admin tasks.
2. Time block your work
The time blocking method is another great way to improve your daily focus and efficiency – which is precisely why it’s used by some of the world’s most productive and successful people. It essentially means scheduling your day into set units, planning in finite portions of time to focus on different tasks. It’s best to keep time blocks as small as you can – maybe ten minutes to reply to emails, and blocks of around 40 minutes for longer, more creative or complex tasks.
Time blocking is a direct response to the theory that work expands to fill the time available to complete it. If you know you have an hour to finish a job, most people expand the task to use all that time, when they could have actually completed it in half the time. By allotting strict time limits to your work, you can become more focused and results-driven – so the theory argues. Try it out and see how efficent you can really be!
3. Automate unproductive tasks
While we are all hired to apply our specific skillset, tons of low-value repetitive tasks creep into our day and keep us from the work that actually matters. While they may be essential for wider company operation, creatively speaking that are wildly unproductive – managing inboxes, creating timesheets, logging expenses and invoicing are all common culprits. But most of them can be outsourced or automated with the help fo a few well-chosen tools. You just need to figure out which work you can outsource. Consider:
- Which unproductive tasks place the greatest demands on your time;
- Which tasks interrupt your focus or place themselves infront of important work;
- Which work tools are too fiddly and cumbersome to use.
Once you’ve isolated your biggest time wasters, you can start researching solutions. By automating the unproductive parts of your work, you’ll have more time and mental energy for the parts that actually move you forward.
4. Re-Use what you already have
Whatever job you have, whatever your responsibilities, there are almost always opportunities to save time by reusing previous material. This doesn’t mean rehashing old projects and passing them off as new – or duplicating web contentm – but you probably have a lot of overlapping material you can rework or repackage without compromising quality.
For example, when producing a report, instead of taking the time to write each and every word anew, copy and paste a previous analysis and only tweak what you actually need to. Starting for scratch doesn’t make sense where originality makes no difference to the quality of your output. Look for opportunities in your work where saving a stock example makes sense.
5. Don’t repeat yourself
In a similar vein, always try to avoid repeating effort needlessly. Think about recurrent tasks – like writing articles and emails, producing weekly reports or presentations, or drafting meeting agendas. All of these can be expedited by using a templates, shortcuts and inventories. If you write a lot of emails, create templates for different topics and save them – then whenever you’re working on that subject you’ll know you’ll have the bulk of an email ready to send in just a few clicks.
This principle can be extended to nearly every part of your workflow, and doubles as a useful security measure – ensuring you include all necessary elements required for a certain piece of work. Just make sure you have a filing structure and document naming convention to make it easy to locate and access these templates. The whole endeavor is undermined if it costs you extra time hunting down a specific piece of work you made months in the past.