The same approach applies to most tasks in the workplace: you can dawdle and let a task take as long as you want to give/waste, to fill your day, or you can blast through it in the shortest time possible.
[This post is part of a series; you can read the introduction/summary here.]
I had a convo a few years ago with a young colleague who wanted to know some of my techniques for being maximally effective. One of them caught him by surprise for its simplicity and obviousness: work faster.
I remember him writing it down and, as he did so, saying out loud, “Hm. Just work faster.”
It’s like when Homer and Marge attended a parenting course, and the instructor stressed the importance of putting garbage in the garbage can, rather than just throwing it out the window. Marge was mortified, but Homer dutifully takes the note: “Garbage in garbage can. Hm, makes sense!”
I explained that when I have a project, my mindset is to attack it, to blast through it, to get it done with the necessary quality in the shortest amount of time possible. I get satisfaction out of making an impact and getting things done, so blasting through tasks genuinely offer their own reward for me.
I gave him an example: Let’s say I have a network diagram to create in Visio. People, in general, are notoriously slow with Visio: they fumble around the interface, they don’t know keyboard shortcuts, etc., but the biggest problem is that they usually don’t know what they’re building, so they build it on-the-fly. The result is a prolonged attempt (easily extending into many hours) that creates a half-assed result.
When I first started making Visio diagrams, I’d always sketch/plan it out on a whiteboard or on paper – it’s just a much faster way of doing things (nowadays, it just appears in my head…practice pays off!). Then, as it came together (usually just a few minutes), I’d switch to software and whip it up. Keyboard shortcuts and some useful tricks (align, distribute, rotate, specifying angles and sizing, using layers, etc.) expedite things, as many individual delays add up to something large. The result is that in 20 or 30 minutes I’ve gone from nothing to finished diagram, and I’m on to the next task.
The same approach applies to most tasks in the workplace: you can dawdle and let a task take as long as you want to give/waste, to fill your day, or you can blast through it in the shortest time possible. Feel free to take the dawdle approach, but don’t be upset if your manager calls you out in a performance convo about how long it takes you do do things. Choices have consequences.
Feel free to take the dawdle approach, but don’t be upset if your manager calls you out in a performance convo about how long it takes you do do things.
One trick that works for many people is to consciously choose an appropriate amount of time that a task should take to complete or deserves based on importance. You set a time ceiling, and you do your damnedest not to exceed this ceiling.
Just this little shift – going from “I’ll work on this diagram until it’s done” to “This diagram should take me 45 minutes” – is often enough to drastically improve your return on time invested, without negative impacting the results.
And those last few words are important: the key is to hurry, but don’t rush (in the words of John Wooden). Quickly churning out total crap isn’t useful to anyone except a farmer (get it? Ha!).
You’ll also want to find, build and make use of helpful templates, as these can chop off unnecessary overhead from your tasks. I use starter templates for almost all of my whitepapers, technology showcases, infosheets/datasheets, wiki pages, Visio diagrams, regular emails, etc. – anything that is repeated!
Find, build and make use of helpful templates, as these can chop off unnecessary overhead from your tasks.
I also have a standard way of approaching each type of task. For instance, if I’m writing a new whitepaper, then I build a skeleton out of all the first, second, and third-level section headers as a first step, then I generate a table of contents and review it to see if the narrative makes sense. From there, I just toss in bullets in the appropriate section as ideas come to me. Then, to actually write the thing, I just bounce around the document and write out whichever part is most clear in my mind at that moment.
I’ve talked to several folks over the years about this mentality – attacking the task and blasting through it – and I look for it now when I hire. Some folks have it intrinsically, but it can also be developed through effort.
By training yourself to work faster, you’ll get the most out of any and all available time.