Wouldn’t it be great if you could finish your work one hour earlier every day? One full hour cut from your work schedule every day. One hour extra to do anything you want.
Over a week, that’s 5 extra hours you gain back. Over a full year, that’s more than 32 workdays saved. Another month and a half of (paid) vacation every year. Time you can use to do everything you want.
Time you can use to start the side business you have been delaying forever. Or to upgrade your skillset. Or even to be with your family and friends.
But is it possible?
You are skeptical. You are not a slacker and you work hard to complete every task. You even manage your time to the last second to ensure maximum efficiency.
How can YOU work faster?
In this article, I will show you how to work faster using the 7 strategies I use daily. I will show you that working faster doesn’t need to be stressful or complicated. It’s something that you can do without obsessive planning.
Why Can’t I Work Faster?
Here’s the tricky part:
Speed isn’t all that matters to finish fast. Throughput is what gets results fast or slow.
Think about your job. When you start a project, it’s probably broken down into parts. Each of those requires different skills and tasks to complete. Most of which depend on each other.
For example, let’s say you need to complete three tasks:
If you want to work faster, you have to do well in all three.
If you’re unskilled at editing, it doesn’t matter how much time you saved when writing.
Or maybe you’re a fast editor but very bad at research. In this case, your bad research will make you take longer to write a decent story.
You end up working fast in some parts, which makes you feel productive. But then you lose time on one task, dragging the whole project back. That’s a bottleneck.
When you finish, you wonder:
How could it take that long if it started so well?
You can only go as fast as your slowest process. And if you ignore the problem, it’s going to exponentially reduce productivity.
Fast work is simple. It’s not about being faster at the things you do well, but those you do slowly. The seven following strategies are the easiest ways to boost your productivity.
#1 Single Tasking
One of the reasons you want to work faster is to work on different projects. After a while, any project gets boring. So, we try to split our time equally every day to make progress on everything. And it doesn’t work very well.
There’s this false belief that your productivity splits in all the projects you multitask. But what you don’t realize is that context switching costs you 20% of your performance for every extra project. Two tasks aren’t 50/50, but 40/40. Three don’t make 33% each, but 20%.
But let’s say you have multiple important projects. How do you avoid losing this 20%?
- Don’t commit to any future tasks until you finish the current project. Until then, look at those tasks as optional
- If your boss assigns you a second project, ask which one of the two you should finish first. If you find resistance, explain how single-tasking makes you work better and faster, and how that benefits the company
- Take short breaks when switching tasks to avoid multitasking mentally
Some projects take a long time. So if you don’t want to delay the others for too long, you can still work on them every day by setting time blocks.
#2 Energy Timing
Within the same project, you can find that some tasks are harder than others. Maybe it’s because of your skills, or what type of work it is.
It’s tempting to postpone the hard things and start with the easier ones. But by the time you do that, you have less energy and motivation to complete the hard task. And when you work in those conditions, it takes you longer to produce anything.
The one-size-fits-all solution: do the hardest task first. You arrange your daily activities from most to least energy-intensive.
High energy could be analytical work that requires you to focus. Low energy can be creative work and brainstorming. They’re both important, but you do them faster when it matches your energy levels.
Here’s a straightforward exercise:
- For the next 3-5 days, ask yourself how energized you feel every 1 to 2 hours (excluding sleep).
- You answer from 1 to 10, being 1 no energy/wellbeing and 10 being optimal energy/wellbeing
You can do it just one day if you’re impatient, but the data won’t be as reliable.
Note: If you drunk coffee, worked out, had a bad night, or anything, you write that down as an observation.
Once you gather the data, you may find that you have similar energy levels at the same time every day (it changes with every person’s ultradian rhythm).
- Do the hardest tasks whenever you have the most energy
- If that time isn’t available, use your second best time
- When you have low energy, use that to complete tedious or creative tasks (as long as it doesn’t involve deep work)
#3 Time Challenges
It’s a common belief that “practice makes perfect.” But unless you challenge yourself, you’ll never improve. So if you want to work faster, you need to be intentional with your work speed.
Here’s a time challenge I use to become faster every time:
- Start choosing your session length (e.g., 20 min). What’s the longest you can feel comfortable working at full speed without feeling drained?
- Whenever you start one session, you try to beat your best time
This exercise assumes you have a metric to measure how much work you do per time, which could be words, calls, or pages. If your career doesn’t have such numbers, your metric can be any two-minute task that moves the needle.
In the beginning, you will smash your record every other day. But as you gain experience, your record will become harder to beat. At this point, you can get discouraged from working and feel stuck. Whenever this happens, focus on executing the task as best as you can:
- If you’re good enough to beat half of your record, you should start immediately. But if your focus level is too low to do it, you’ll work faster after you take a break
- If your record gets stuck on high numbers, it’s time to increase the session length
This way, you’re improving your speed and endurance.
#4 Brain Dumps
You work the fastest when your skills match the challenge level. When that happens, you get so involved in your work that nothing else seems to matter. That’s what we call the Zone or flow state.
Staying in that state of flow requires a lot of concentration. And if you have no experience working in flow, every thought can break your concentration.
You will think about everything during a work session. From the items you forgot to pick up at the grocery shop yesterday, to the problems you will have in the next phase of the project.
And if you don’t find a way to handle those thoughts, you will feel overwhelmed and lose focus.
The bottom line:
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen
To maximize the hours you are in flow, you have to store those thoughts somewhere. A great technique for that is a Brain Dump.
Here is a quick Brain Dump exercise you can do in 10-15 minutes:
- Grab a piece of paper and write for 5-10 minutes about what worries you about the current project and your life
- If you have so much work that it feels endless, create a list with all the tasks your can think of
- If a task isn’t important, delete or postpone it
- If a task relates to each other, you can save time by batching them
- Organize the list by priority based on what’s the most urgent and important
- Add those tasks to your to-do list or calendar
Although it sounds basic, the power comes from moving your thoughts to paper. Without losing energy keeping track of thoughts, your brain can allocate more energy for focus.
It can make you think about 20% faster.
As a knowledge worker, you may have recurrent tasks, even though each product is different. For example, how to troubleshoot, plan a project, or research a topic.
When working on something complex, we spend most of our time figuring out what to do and why. And whenever you start a session, you have to remember what you did last time and what to do next.
Maybe you know how to focus at work, but it takes you 40 minutes to understand things and do the actual work. You can reduce that time about 5 times by creating a checklist.
- Define what your checklist does and what steps you would follow
- Test the checklist by following those steps and nothing else
- If you didn’t get the right results, correct and expand your checklist with your observations
- Test again, and keep repeating until it’s accurate
If you’d like to work faster, you may want to create a “time management checklist.” It’s basically a flow chart that points to what project you should work on. If project A is delaying, you work on project B, instead of waiting for A to resume.
#6 Double-Loop Work Sessions
You can only do so much with time management. It all comes down to the complexity of the task. If it’s simple to understand, you’re going to work faster.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist who likes brilliant work. I don’t tolerate mediocre quality. But if you try to build something great from nothing, you’ll spend a lot of time just thinking.
Here’s what I’ve found:
It’s a lot easier to say why something is wrong than why something is right.
It’s faster to correct work than coming up with amazing ideas. And you can use this to your advantage:
- The next time you work, challenge yourself to finish as fast as possible, even with a low-work quality. Allow yourself to create garbage, and forbid to edit/polish
- Set a timer to discourage perfectionism. Once the alarm goes off, you can’t write anything else
- When you finish, then you can correct what you don’t like
It may seem like you’re wasting time by working twice. But the mental work is much lower, which is why you can finish it 200% faster or more.
The question is: Do you have the humility to accept less-than-perfect?
#7 Intentional Focus
It’s no secret that work gets done faster when you focus. But it’s not easy to get into that state.
You may need to struggle for half an hour before you can focus, and most people give up before that happens. But you can use some mental tricks to make it happen faster. You just need to show yourself more intentional with work.
Imagine if, before working, you did all those little things productive people do:
- Clean the room
- Look your best
- Take a cold shower (if you’re at home)
- Eating healthy
- Working out
- Meditating 5-10 minutes
- Writing down your goals
- Preparing your virtual desktop
Are these things going to make your work faster? Maybe. But if you do all of them, you’ll suddenly find yourself very motivated. Because when you condition your environment, the brain understands your intention and adapts to it.
The more you prepare for work, the easier it is to focus when you start.
If you didn’t do all that, you may probably wonder: “Why should I do this work at all?”. But if you set your intentions right, you instead think: “How can I do this the best I can?”
How to Really Work Faster
Nothing is faster than the subconscious mind. It governs over 95% of our lives. It’s responsible for our habits and survival. And we can use that power to our advantage.
Our brains like consistency. And once something is predictable, they’re going to adapt to that scenario. So if you work consistently (same place, same time), you magically become faster over time.
If you want speed, stop changing things all the time. If you find a new strategy, say No for now.
Instead of adding one strategy every day, add them all at once every week or month as a “system update.”
So what do you say? Do you think you can work faster? Share in the comments what strategies you’re following.