Two secrets to getting more done in less time
(c) Copyright Angela Booth 2002
You're completely bogged down with work. This week you must
complete three client proposals, and two of your staff are out
sick. You feel you have a better chance of sprouting wings and
flying than getting those proposals done. From experience, you
know that each proposal will take around four hours to do.
However, you just don't have those 12 hours to spare. You decide
that you will have to call your clients, tell them that you're
overwhelmed, and assure them that you will deliver the proposals
What can you do when you've got way more work than you can get
done? Whether the reason you're overloaded is that you're a
procrastinator or someone who takes on more work than she can
handle, these two techniques will work for you.
Double your output and get your work done in half the time
What if you could complete each proposal in two hours? Can't be
done? What if someone were to offer you a $1,000 bonus if you
completed each proposal in two hours, could you do it? What if
they offered you $10,000? Without any doubt, if someone offered
you $10,000 to complete those proposals, you'd do it. Our work
always expands to fit the time we allot to it. You can get your
work done in half the time. The key is to have confidence in
yourself. You need the initial confidence to at least try it and
to believe that you can do it.
There are a couple of tricks you can use. The first trick is to
focus all your energies. You do this by relaxing, yet also
becoming alert at the same time. It sounds paradoxical, but it's
a meditative process, and it only takes a couple of minutes.
Try the exercise below, just once, immediately before you start
work on something that requires concentration. You'll be amazed
at how much more work you get done. The exercise is drawn from
Chi Kung, a Chinese meditative exercise form which is used in
Read the exercise through a couple of times to get a sense of it.
The focusing exercise (two minutes)- should be done where you
can see a clock, immediately before starting work on a task
which requires concentration.
The first couple of times you do this exercise, you may spend
half the allotted time getting your posture right. With
practise, you can get into position within a few seconds, and
focus on relaxing.
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Relax
your knees; don't lock them. Hold your head up, and imagine
there's a string fastened to the crown of your head, which is
pulling your head up. You should feel slightly taller. Relax
your shoulders. Keep your eyes open, but lower your gaze, so
you're looking slightly downward.
Put your right hand across your navel, with your fingers spread.
Your right thumb should form a straight line across your navel.
Put your left hand across the fingers of your right hand, also
with fingers spread. Relax both hands.
Relax your forehead, the corners of your eyes, and your jaw.
You're now standing straight and tall, but relaxed. Put your
attention in your body, directly behind your navel, and breathe
in and out from there. Feel as if your abdomen is gently
expanding as you breathe in, and relaxing as you exhale.
Stand for two minutes.
Start on your project immediately.
Nibbling at your task: you can eat an entire elephant one small
bite at a time
The second trick to doubling your output is to work in small
time periods. Fifteen minutes is ideal, although you can also
choose ten minute time periods. The reason for this is that each
project has three primary time periods: Start Time, Middle Time,
and End Time.
In Start Time, you're feeling your way into the project. You're
collecting materials and organising your work. If it's a report
you're writing, you may spend an extended period working on the
introduction. (And you're worried you won't complete the project
on time.) Start Time is difficult because you're fighting
inertia, and also because you're uncertain of the project.
Whatever its length in real time, Start Time seems to drag.
In Middle Time, you're used to the project, and working steadily
through it. Chances are that in Middle Time, boredom will be the
biggest danger. Middle Time is the longest stage of any project.
Finally you reach End Time. You're almost done. You work
quickly, racing to the finish line. No matter what its length in
real time, End Time feels short. It feels good.
When you deliberately work on a task in short periods of time,
each period lasting no longer than fifteen minutes, you
eliminate both Start Time, and much of Middle Time. Start Time
is eliminated because of the fact that you're only doing this
task for fifteen minutes, so you don't dither, you simply work
because you know the fifteen minutes will soon be over. You also
eliminate the dragging boredom of Middle Time: you don't get
bored because you tell yourself you can stand anything for
Combine the focus exercise and fifteen minute bites to halve the
time you spend on your projects
The focusing exercise is the key. It gathers your energy and
puts you in an alpha state. You're relaxed, yet completely
alert. It's important to do the exercise standing up. Do the
exercise before each of your fifteen minute time periods.
You may be wondering how you split the time if you're working on
three projects. You can split them up in any way that makes
sense to you. You can choose one project, and work to completion
with it in fifteen minute sessions, breaking up the sessions by
your focus exercises, and doing something else for ten minutes
to an hour in between, say having a meeting or making some phone
calls. Or, you can work on all three projects at once, working
for fifteen minute sessions on each.
These two techniques are simple, but they work.
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