Does your productivity ever get dampened by your desire to find the best possible solution? As you seek the easiest or fastest route to your goal, you may find yourself stopped entirely by your need to over-analyze the situation. Sometimes you may even do this on purpose, to keep from having to make a decision.
However, there is a work-around. Perhaps you have heard of the term, “heuristic.” If not, here is your new word for the day. Heuristics are rules that allow a solution to be found more quickly. With a heuristic, a resolution can be found even when the entire path is not clear at the onset.
For example, if there were no paved roads, but you lived in New York and wanted to make your way to California, a simple heuristic might be:
1. Walk west as far as you can.
2. Walk around any obstacle, if possible.
3. If faced with a mountain range, walk toward the space between 2 small peaks.
4. Repeat until reaching California.
Does this heuristic give you the most efficient solution? No it does not. But, it will eventually get you where you want to go, and you will not waste a lot of time trying to make up your mind about what to do next.
Here are a few simple, behavioral heuristics to try out increase your productivity:
1. Choose the right time. Nearly everyone has times of the day when they are most effective and times when they tend to drag their behinds. It is smart to schedule the most critical tasks for your most effective time of the day.
2. Toss it. If a task does not really need to be done, just get rid of it altogether.
3. Get the bad stuff out of the way first. Do the unpleasant items quickly and as early in the day as possible.
4. Set a goal each day (or night). In the morning, decide what you want to accomplish that day. This can be even more effective when planned the night before. Once you have a sense of direction, you can spend all your time getting things done, rather than figuring it out! I use night to allow my subconscious mind to do some sorting.
5. Eliminate all communication. While you are working, turn off the cell phone, and do not check your email. Hang a sign on your door that says, “Do not disturb,” if necessary. You do not have to do this for all your tasks, but at least do it during the more difficult or more critical times.
6. Batch similar tasks together. Do all your emailing at one time. Make all your phone calls at another. Open your snail mail during a set block of time. You will waste a great deal less time by doing your work in this fashion.
7. Set a timer. Even if a task might take hours, starting will seem easier if you simply give yourself 30 minutes to get as much done as you can. A time limit seems to help many people concentrate and work better, too.
8. Set targets. For example, if you have to make cold-calls for your sales job, tell yourself that you are not getting up for any reason until you have made at least 50 calls. Regardless of what happens, refuse to stop until you hit your target.
9. Use the Pareto Principle. This principle states that 20% of the actions you could take will provide you with 80% of the benefits. So focus on the tasks that will accomplish the most. Unfortunately, these are often the tasks that are the least enjoyable. You might be surprised how little you really have to do if you focus on the critical 20%. See post: Pareto’s road to self-improvement.
10. Delegate some of your work. Is there anyone else who can help you? The people around you are resources. When appropriate, use their time and talents wisely to get things done more quickly.
11. Set a deadline. Having a specific endpoint will really help to focus your time and energy. If a task does not feel necessary, the chances are high that it will not get done.
12. Increase your speed. This sounds a bit silly, but this can really help. Try doing everything just a little bit faster. Walk faster, talk faster, type faster, and read faster.
Implement these heuristics into your life and you will find yourself getting more done in less time.
The ultimate secret is to stay on task and not waste any time.
These rules will help you do just that.