Five ways to get more done without working harder or longer

How can you get more done efficiently?

People often tell me they stayed late at the office or took fewer breaks so they could get some more work done. While this might work now and then, it is not a sustainable strategy.

Here are five ways you can get more done without working harder or longer:

  1. Block off time for specific tasks. You can use the complete calendar method. For example, this afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., you’ll create the first draft of that spreadsheet. And that task is on your calendar, so nobody can invite you to a meeting during that time. Treat that time as if you were in a meeting, too: your coworker wouldn’t randomly bother you during a meeting, so don’t let them randomly distract you when you are doing deep work either. As you use this method, evaluate your predictions on how long tasks will take, so that you can plan more accurately as you learn. Also, remember that the limiting factor to how much can get done might be your energy rather than your time.
  2. Eliminate virtual and physical distractions. Before you start work, turn off notifications on your phone and on your computer. This is common advice. (Although it is not always easy to follow—it took me a while to consistently remember to do it!) But also try to eliminate as many physical distractions as possible, such as coworkers who talk to you about non-urgent matters or loud noises that you can block using earphones. Not that you should become a hermit at work—plan plenty of time to socialize, relax, and let ideas flow creatively, just as you plan plenty of time for focused work. 
  3. Take. More. Breaks. Seriously! I know that it is a radical and counterintuitive idea that you will get more (important, deep) work done if you spend more time taking breaks, more time socializing, and more time wandering about—in short, spending more time not working. But it’s true! You don’t have to take it from me. Run an experiment: force yourself to take more breaks for two weeks. Real breaks. Half an hour at 3 p.m. where you just go for a walk, read a book, or play some cards with your coworkers. Then see whether you got more of the important work done. And ask yourself whether it feels better, too—I bet it will. If your boss or manager frowns upon taking substantial breaks, tell him it’s an experiment and you’ll show him the data.
  4. Stop doing less important work. If you are an office worker, chances are you spend a lot of time doing “shallow work”: work that does not meaningfully add value for you, or for your company, your clients, or your customers. Yet it can feel like we absolutely must do this shallow work to be able to do the work that really matters. I’d like to challenge you, though, to identify some shallow work—perhaps some administrative work—that you think is not that important, and then to simply stop doing it. Stop sending your manager end-of-week summaries of what you worked on this week. Stop filling in monthly surveys. Sooner or later, you’ll find out that there are tasks you can skip altogether without anybody complaining. Or perhaps someone will complain, but you can easily ignore their complaints. This will free up valuable time and energy you can dedicate to the important work.
  5. Get eight hours of sleep. I put this tip last, but it is in fact the most important. Get eight hours of quality sleep and you’ll probably work productively and make good decisions on which work to prioritize. Get, say, six hours of sleep, and you’ll find it harder to focus and harder to choose which tasks are most important, reducing your productivity twice.

So, try these five tips and let me know whether they help. 

In the meantime, I’m curious: what are your favorite ways to get more done without working longer or harder?

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Are you procrastinating hopelessly? Have you tried every method in the book, but can you just not get yourself to work productively and efficiently? I can help. Let’s talk.

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