Ya know that moment when you say…
Damn, I’m busy. I mean I’m swamped. It’s going to take me forever (or longer) to dig out of this mudslide of deadlines and work commitments.
When we find ourselves “swamped…”
It’s not unusual to take a few hours, get really focused and accomplish as much work done as we can. And low-and-behold, a couple hours later, we’ve accomplished way more than we thought we would. In fact, after a couple of hours of very focused work, we’re not as “busy” as we thought we were. We’ve completed more in two hours then we thought was possible in two days. What’s going on here? Actually something really powerful is going on here, and when you know what it is, you can use it to consistently achieve more in less time.
First We Have To Remember That Constraints Evoke Ingenuity
When we are up against deadlines and responsibilities — self or others imposed — we feel constrained. We feel like we’re cornered by all the work, and there’s only one way out. The “way out” of the overwhelmed feeling is through the work. Constraints create energy. That is one of the rules of ingenuity. It’s why ingenuity requires a problem—whether that problem is connected to a challenge or an opportunity. If there’s nothing to solve, there’s no reason to be ingenious. And when we have a lot to do, we need ingenuity, as well as discipline, effectiveness and efficiency.
So here’s tip:
If you have a lot to do…like a writing project, or the examination of several reports, or important strategic think time, create self imposed deadlines. Give yourself 45 minutes to write your review. Set a timer and get to it.
When you’re in one of these high performance blocks of time, remove all other distractions. This is key. If while you’re writing the report you are also checking your email, answering three texts and talking to three people, you can forget having that report done in 45 minutes. Every time we layer another action (distraction) onto the primary action (writing the report), we decrease our focus and our brain’s ability to remain at optimal performance.
Think about a current unfinished project…
Think about a project you’re having a hard time finishing. Consider the moments you’ve already worked on that project. Ask yourself this question: When I last worked on that project, did I let other activities or ideas invade that time? If the answer is “yes,” then next time you work on that project, eliminate distractions and you just might find you don’t have to add more time. The problem with our work is not always that we need more time. Often it’s that we need greater focus within the time we’ve allotted. And that comes by constraining the time you give yourself and then remaining focused during that time.
Second, Start A Project And You’re More Likely To Finish It
If you’re procrastinating on an important activity or project, sit down for 10 minutes and start it. Don’t try and finish it, just start it. Get it going on the project and then put it aside. Once we’ve start a project, we are then more bothered by its incomplete state. If we haven’t started a project, our brain doesn’t poke us as much. But, once we’ve initiated something, we are far more likely to feel the need to finish it. This is because the incomplete project seems to bother us more than the not-yet-started one. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect. You can read more about it here. Some researchers argue that the Z-Effect is hard to reproduce in social science labs. But ask yourself this: What bothers you more: A project you’ve started and need to finish or one that you haven’t yet started?
When you’re feeling behind on projects, don’t think about all the time it’s going to take to FINISH. Just START. Even if you can only give it 15 minutes of your attention, it seems your are more likely to finish it because you started. And, if you refer back to the first tip, those 15 focused minutes might actually get you farther to completion than you think.
Try out these two ideas this week and see if you find yourself getting more done in less time.
One final and important idea: There is a time to NOT focus. There is a time to let your mind wander and relax. This kind of diffuse thinking can increase creative thinking and insights. That’s for another article. In fact, I’ve written about the rhythm of focused and diffuse thinking, here.