Do you ever get to the end of a day, look back and ask yourself, “What did I really get done today?” You feel like you spent the whole day working but have nothing to show for it: Your business hasn't improved. You haven't reduced your stress level. You haven't increased your net worth. Nothing has really changed -- except that you sat at a desk all day.
Don’t feel bad -- it happens to almost everyone! We overestimate how much we think we can do, and then when we look back, we are often shocked by how few tasks of real substance we actually got accomplished. There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but here I want to focus on a four-step process for accomplishing twice as much work in half the time. And, no, it’s not magic.
1. Work on the right stuff.
Most of what you work on doesn’t really need to be done. You might think it does in the moment, but let’s be honest: We have far too many “TPS reports” to fill out, too many meetings to attend, too many hours in between tasks (which I have defined before as “dead space”) and too much effort spent on tasks that don’t move the needle.
Therefore, the first and most important step in getting more accomplished is to focus on the few tasks that move the needle. You might achieve "inbox zero,” but does that matter if you didn’t get the only task accomplished that actually would help you move your business to the next level?
So, ask yourself right now: What are the one or two most important tasks that need to get accomplished today? For more on this, read The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan or Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
2. Set a deadline.
Next, to accomplish twice as much stuff in half the time, set a deadline and schedule those actions to be completed. Without a deadline, Parkinson’s Law takes over, and the work will expand to the time allotted for it. A task that really needs only two hours of deep, focused work ends up taking six months, as it rots away on a "to-do" list.
To save yourself from "to-do list hell," set a pressing deadline by which that important task must be finished. Then, stick to it, no matter what.
For example, I’m in the middle of a large house-flipping project right now. This project could easily take six months, but because I have a June 1 deadline, my mind is working overtime (and subconsciously) to make sure it is finished by that date. I’ll hire more workers if that's needed -- but the job will get done. The deadline makes sure of that.
If you have trouble sticking to self-imposed deadlines, call in help from friends who will hold you accountable. For example, my buddy Joshua Long from 90DayDouble.com has been working on a book for the past year, but recently set a huge "stretch goal" of finishing by April 26 -- now, just a week away. Knowing that his deadline might not be enough, he enlisted the help of a couple of us friends to hold him to that date -- and you can bet we'll do just that. Maybe just this mention is enough!
3. Eliminate distractions -- and focus.
Third, to get more done, eliminate the things in your life that are distracting you. Identifying the right stuff to work is important. But the hard part is actually taking the time to work without being distracted by meetings, mail, text messages, crying babies or your spouse asking about dinner plans -- plus every other distraction that begs your attention. Distraction is the enemy of success.
So, go on the offensive. Schedule time to complete your most important work. This means actually going to your calendar and scheduling time to accomplish those "must-do" items. Find a quiet place that is 100 percent free of distractions. Turn off your internet, leave your phone in another room and do whatever you must to focus intently on the work at hand.
4. Track your results.
How many calories did you eat yesterday? I'm guessing you have no idea -- unless you happen to place an incredible importance on your food intake at the moment. You see, we measure what matters in our lives! I ate 2,611 calories, and I know this because I'm tracking it, so I can improve my health. I measure it because it matters.
So, does your productivity matter? Does getting finished with your work by noon matter? Does doubling your income matter? How about growing your business? If these things matter, measure them! And do that on a regular basis. Because, increasing your productivity is difficult if you don’t track the progress you are making (or not making).
For example, I wake up, and the first thing I do is track my progress from the previous day:
- Did I wake up by 6 a.m.?
- Did I eat under 2,500 calories?
- How much time did I spend in “deep work” mode?
- Did I write 1,000 words?
Then, I track my progress day after day, week after week to compare with my past results. Perhaps last week I accomplished only six hours of deep work. That’s okay, because now I have a benchmark to improve upon next week. Simply put: I’ve gamified my productivity! And you can (and should) do the same.
Remember, what gets measured matters, and what matters gets measured. If you truly want to work less and produce more, you must track your progress.
Finally, once you’ve mastered these four steps, the tough question is: What are you going to do with all the extra time you have?
- Spend more time with your family?
- Increase your net worth?
- Grow your business to incredible new levels?
- Travel more?
All these options are in the realm of possibility if you only make a daily, conscientous effort to increase your productivity by working on the right things at the right time. Then -- and only then -- can you truly get twice as much done in half the time.