get more done in less time

5 Ways to Get More Things Done in Less Time

Temptations, distractions and “make do” work spaces aren’t exactly conducive to getting things done, yet that’s exactly what those who work at home deal with every day. And don’t forget well-meaning friends and neighbors who don’t understand that you can’t just “drop” everything and give them “five minutes” of your time – or worse, watch their kids for the afternoon.

I remember when I first started my publishing company in 2002. My kids were 3 and 1. My little one was home all the time with me. My office was my dining room which did not have doors, privacy or any way to escape the chaos of two young children.

Of course, there are dozens of strategies and principles that claim to help you take control of your time and accomplish more than you realized was possible in a day. The question is, which one’s really work?

While everyone is different, there are a few techniques that can be incorporated into nearly every lifestyle to help you get more done in less time – even when you have kids, pets and neighbors strolling through your space.

I think the most important business lesson I had to learn had nothing to do with sales, marketing or finances but with organization and time management. Here are a few tips that will help you get more done in less time.

1. Do it now.

If a task is simple and quick, such as phoning to confirm an appointment, do it the moment you think of it.  If you forgot to put it on your list, write it in – and tick it off, the moment it’s completed.  (And this goes for household tasks, as well as work tasks.)

In “Getting Things Done,” productivity master David Allen recommends adopting a 2-minute rule: If a thing crosses your desk and can be done in two minutes or less, do it. Your time allotment might be a bit different (5 or 10 minutes rather than 2, for example) but the principle is sound, and will help keep minor tasks from clogging your to-do list.

2. Before doing a single task – breathe.

When you sit down at your desk in the morning, don’t immediately start opening programs and files.  Press your lower back as far back into the seat as it will go, straighten your shoulders, and take a few deep, slow breaths.  Inhale in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Then smile.  Say something encouraging, complimentary or nice to yourself.

Now you’re ready to begin.

3. Make time for planning at the beginning and end of your day.

Get into the habit of taking ten minutes to go over your plans for the day (and make any necessary adjustments or add a task you’ve belatedly realized you still have to do) in the morning.  (Make it part of sitting down at your desk with a cup of coffee.)
Last thing before signing off at night, create a simple to-do list (containing at least your top three priorities) for the next day.  (This is the list you review and add to in the mornings.)

3. Organize your office

If you chronically procrastinate or scramble to meet deadlines, it’s quite likely your work area and surfaces have grown a little out of control.  In fact, you may even have developed “blind spots” about chaos.

Resist the urge to tell yourself you “work best in chaos”.  Instead, take a break in the latter half of the morning or mid-afternoon and re-organize your physical work space.  Hint:  Do this every day and not only will it give your brain and body a refresher, your tidying will take only a few minutes.

When starting on a full-scale office overhaul, decide what to prioritize by answering the following questions.

  • What are you always looking for on your desk?
  • What never gets done?  Why?
  • What do you always forget? (e.g. where your tax file is)
  • What do you need at hand, so you can grab it without getting up?
  • What can be put in your “reference” section, across the room?
  • What can be kicked out of your office altogether?
  • What would make your office feel like a rewarding space to hang out in? (e.g. fresh flowers every week; a frame with multiple photo spots for all your kids’ individual photos – instead of those five awkward frames cluttering up your work area.)
  • What do you need in your work space that you don’t have?  (E.g. a more comfortable chair; a door; a Thesaurus; your own mug.)

Don’t get so carried away with this that it becomes your pet procrastination strategy – but do take at least two or three sessions to create your dream work space.

4. Get a door

If your “office” seems to be in the center of Grand Central Station, consider moving it – or renovating to give yourself a door (and a wall to put the latter in, if you need it).

If you can’t create or take over a separate room, invest in a nice, decorative screen (or an office cubicle screen you can pin notes on!)  People psychologically are less likely to attempt to draw you into conversation if you’re out of their line of sight.

For one of my clients, she was having a hard time getting family to respect her space plus she was spending way too many late night hours in the office. I suggested she invite her daughter, who loved to draw, create a sign for her office door (or screen, curtain, whatever) that said “Open” or “Do not disturb” on one side and “Closed” on the reverse side.

It’s an important mindset shift for you and your family when you work from home to create boundaries around time and space! Which leads to my 5th tip for how to get more done in less time.

5. Set your work hours

You’re running a business right? Then you need business hours. Even if those hours change to allow for kids’ activities and grocery shopping and laundry day, you should make it a point to have set working hours.

Here’s why: If you set your work hours ahead of your day, you can plan to fit work-related activities (and breaks) into these hours.  Knowing that you “have” to be finished by four p.m. (or whatever “closing” time you set) can sometimes help you stay focused on getting things done.  (Dressing for the office can help too.)

A wonderful side effect:  You’ll get more done – while working less hours than you usually end up doing, because they will contain fewer tangents and distractions.

I love working from home. I spent 5 years in a home office with no doors until I finally outgrew that space and leased an office, which had its rewards but also cost me money I didn’t need to spend. Now that I have two teens, I love working from home again and being here every day when they arrive.

I work hard and I do put in a lot of hours because I love what I do but when I walk out of the office, I am done!

A final bonus tip that I learned when I was first starting out and my kids were younger was to not do home-related tasks during my work hours. Act like the business owner you are and respect your own time; when you do that, others will respect your time, too.

“Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”