Get More Work Done
Posted on January 31, 2015
Many have heard the idiom “perfection is the enemy of good.” I like to modify that a little bit and say, “perfection is the enemy of done.” Think of the things on your to-do list that are not complete. How long will it realistically take to complete those items?
As I glance down at my to-do list just now I can see many of these tasks will take only a few minutes. If suddenly the deadline on any of them changed to be very urgent—in most cases I could complete them quickly. Use the following tips to get more work done, each and every day.
Two Minute Task —Do It Now!
I am a big fan of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I can’t explore all the cool approaches in this short blog post, but I do recommend everyone read it. One nice takeaway from the book is if you have an action item that will take less than two minutes, just do it now! It is powerful to see just how many tasks will quickly be completed and cleared—and never even added to your to do list—with this approach.
Set A Timer For 20 Minutes
Not everything can be completed in two minutes. For big projects I discovered twenty minute bursts. The largest project I ever worked on was my Masters thesis. Between ethical review, interviews, reading, writing, and revisions, there was a lot going on. I completed my MA part-time while working full-time in student affairs. I found some Saturdays I would be distracted, unfocused and essential waste away the day. Then by midafternoon I would feel guilty. I would set a timer for just 20 minutes and stick to a task for that whole time without distraction. Some days I would get more done in that 20 minutes of hyper focus than all the hours preceding. This is when I identified the power of the 20-minute burst.
Twenty minutes may seem short for many of you. But if you are like me and sometimes struggle to focus it can feel like an eternity. I learned I can get stuff done in twenty minute increments. So what? Well here is what else I learned. If projects are broken into tasks, many of those tasks will take less than 20 minutes.
If Your Task Is Writing
Open your word processor, close all other windows, set a timer for 20 minutes and write. It will not be perfect but my guess is it will be an excellent (decent) first draft. If you are in a flow, keep going! Instead of updating colleagues that you are still working on it, you can now say, “Here is a draft for your review!” This way you are always advancing your projects.
If Your Task Is Reading
Sometimes in our work we need to read long reports and documents. This might take longer than 20 minutes. However, in my experience most of the reading required in my job can be squared away in 20 minutes or less. I suspect that to be the same for many of you.
If Your Task Is Email
I do not have to tell you that email will take over your life if you let it. There are thousands of tips, tricks and articles about how to manage email. Many of you probably have a system you use that works well for you. Here is one idea. Twice a day, set a timer for 20 minutes and you will clear most of your email. Some emails require more time,but most actually fit into David Allen’s 2-minute category. So set a timer, blaze through what you can, and move on to your more important work.
Perfection Is The Enemy Of Done
I am not suggesting you submit work that is poorly done or incomplete. If you plan on doing that, please don’t tell anyone I told you to do that! What I am suggesting is if you quickly draft something, it will be almost complete. If you need to come back to improve, get feedback, or revise, that is great. Again it means you are advancing your work.
Liz needed someone to write this blog post last minute. I found out I would be writing just before I went to sleep. When I arrived at the office I wrote the first draft of this blog post in about 20 minutes. Then I left and did a few things and came back to edit. It’s not perfect—but it’s done! Liz’s note: And I barely edited a thing!
Thanks for reading!
About the Author
Chad Nuttall is Director, Student Housing and Residence Life and the University of Toronto Mississauga. He is Past-President of the Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers (OACUHO) and a Director-at-Large on the board of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE). He holds an MA from the University of Toronto and a BA fro the University of Guelph. You can find him on twitter @chadtweets.
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