I’m proud to say – I get a lot done.
I’m a content creator, speaker, writer, course instructor and budding author – all while working at a demanding (albeit fun) job at a top tech company.
My strategy for tackling it all?
Well, it isn’t to work nights and weekends, or to be boosted up on stimulants.
The strategy is to accomplish a lot, very quickly.
To do that, I’ve learned and practiced a set of principles that I will share with you. Here they are:
1. Ruthlessly prioritize
There is prioritization, and then there is RUTHLESS prioritization. The word ruthless is a perfect descriptor, because it entails being harsh, and it means giving up something that hurts. And that’s how it feels when you do ruthless prioritization correctly.
I’d love to do it all: take on new projects, help every single stakeholder at work, improve every system. But I can’t. And I never will.
Instead, I capture all requests, write down all my ideas, and evaluate them using frameworks. My two favorite frameworks are the “Impact – Effort Matrix” and the “Eisenhower Matrix”. These frameworks will help you strip away the tasks that may sound great, but actually take time away from the things that are truly important to you.
When you practice ruthless prioritization, you automatically get more done because you are using your time more effectively.
2. Move quickly
My default setting is to work with a sense of urgency.
I read quickly, type quickly, and even my mouse moves quickly across the screen.
Focus and speed often come together. A common example is the difference between a relaxing, lazy drive along the coast, compared to taking the next curve on the raceway at 200 mph. This is because moving quickly commands your attention. Your mind sharpens because you are both excited and fearful of making a mistake.
Try this: Imagine you only have 30 minutes left to finish an important project. Create a task list of all the things you need to do, and then set a timer. When the timer is up, you will have to stop for the day (remember this is pretend). Now get to work! Try to finish as many of the tasks as possible in under 30 minutes. You will be amazed by how much progress you can make when you apply speed and focus.
Remember that speed matters in business, and it also matters in your work-life. Getting a lot done now frees you up to spend time doing other things that you love.
3. Group medium value tasks together and set time aside to do them
Let’s get real. There will always be mundane, chore-like obligations that we all have to do. They are not life or death priorities, and most of them are not that hard to do. I call them “medium value tasks”. A medium value task could be paying your bills, or pulling a report that your team is obligated to do, but doesn’t provide much value.
“Medium value” will have a different meaning for every person. These tasks get cut away when you are doing ruthless prioritization, but if you let them build up they could cause some problems somewhere in the future. So you just have to do them.
I gather all of these things in a to do app (I use Evernote and Microsoft To Do), and typically save them for the final hour of the day. You can also save these tasks for times when your energy is low, and you aren’t able to do the “speed work” that we talked about earlier.
4. Get into the flow state
If you haven’t heard of the “flow state” or “getting in the zone”, this personal story illustrates its power. I was working all week on a complex, 6-page business plan. I struggled for days, starting and stopping, and in the end had not made much progress. On one of my breaks when I went to walk my dog, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration. I had an idea of a completely new way to position my plan.
I went home and began furiously typing away. Within two and half hours, I had created a comprehensive business report, which I met with the team about later on to very positive feedback.
Two and half hours of flow state work was exponentially better than my week of slow, painful work. That is the power of flow.
So the question is: how do you get into flow more often?
This will be a personal question, and will be different for everyone. While this may seem like a magical, serendipitous state – I believe you can encourage the flow state to happen more often by trying to keep these key things in your life: (1) Creativity, (2) Excitement, (3) Focus, and (4) Calm.
How you keep those things in your day and in your life will be up to you. But remember that by bringing those elements together and creating a flow state more often, you will be able to move mountains.
5. Talk to a lot of people to spark new ways of thinking
Working productively often means learning something new or generating new ideas. Humans are social, collaborative beings, and there is something about dissecting an issue with someone else that brings out innovation.
Often, this may be a simple slack message that says “Hey, what do you think we should do about XYZ?” The answer you get may be in a completely different direction than you were thinking, and can start you on the path of the best solution. When I’m struggling, I’ll schedule a meeting with multiple subject matter experts to get their opinion. I’ll walk them through the issue, challenges, and possible solutions. Then I will sit back and listen. While we may not come up with a direct answer, this type of session always fires up the synapses in my brain and helps me think outside-of-the-box.
So rather than beating yourself when you get stuck on a problem, create momentum again by talking with others who can help.
6. Focus on sleeping everyday
Does this strategy for getting things done surprise you? I love sleep, especially naps. I am painfully aware of the difference a good night’s sleep can make. A restful sleep can help you get into the flow state faster, which can make all the difference in the world
Treat yourself like a star athlete. Focus on getting your recommended dose of sleep each day by going to bed early. Wake up refreshed and ready to work hard.
7. Find hidden pockets of time where you can learn
One of the ways to get more done is to become better at your job. This means developing your skills and knowledge. But learning takes time, and you can’t just keep adding hours to your work day. My solution to this quandary is to find hidden pockets of time where I can fit in learning, or more accurately, learn while I’m doing other things.
I’ll listen to a marketing podcast while doing laundry. I’ll play an industry webinar on my phone while brushing my teeth and shaving (I try to pay more attention to my razor during the shaving part), and I’ll listen to an audio book on improving my communication skills while in the line at the grocery.
Pockets of time like this exist in many places throughout the day, or the week, and they really add up. In the past year, I’ve listened to over 30 books and probably 300 hundred podcasts just from finding these pockets of time when I’m physically preoccupied, but my mind is free to learn.
To sum up
I hope you’ll take these strategies and make them your own. The feeling of getting things done is rewarding, and you can experience that regularly, without throwing your entire life off balance.