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5 Simple Tips to Save Time, Work Less, & Get More Done

These five tips from productivity and efficiency experts will teach you how to weed out the non-essentials, get more done, and have more time to relax.
by Tom Anderson | Nov 7 2016

Get things done today.

We’ve all been there: you’re sure that bright idea you’ve had might be a game-changer—the next iPad or Facebook—but amongst the bills that need paying, emails that need answering, and general life admin, your great idea gets downgraded in importance until it’s lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can find the time to make your wonderful idea happen, even amidst thickets of boring, everyday stuff. These five tips from productivity and efficiency experts will teach you how to nix the non-essentials, get more done, and have more time to relax.

1. Stop running errands. No, really.

Errands really add up, but they don’t have to. According to Ari Meisel, author of Less Doing, More Living, you can take back your time by automating and outsourcing. Services like Amazon’s Subscribe & Save, for instance, delivers necessities like toilet paper, razors, shampoo, and laundry detergent to your door at intervals you choose, saving you the hassle of picking them up, and even re-ordering.

For errands you simply can’t automate—you know, a specific purchase for the evening meal, or a sprint to get your computer fixed or your car serviced—you can outsource. Fancy Hands or TaskRabbit are great examples of online outsourcing marketplaces for just such things. Meisel once used TaskRabbit to hire someone in Los Angeles to buy his 2-year-old nephew a slide at an IKEA in Long Beach, transport it, and assemble it in the kid’s yard. A truly unforgettable gift—all for $47.

2. Use the 90% Rule

Essentialism by Greg McKeown outlines the surprisingly challenging task of identifying the things in life you can do without, then doing what’s left over to a higher standard.

One way to decide what should be cut out is to adopt the 90% rule. Start by considering the most important criterion for the decision you’re making. For example, if you’re cleaning the closet, your essential question might be, “Will I ever wear this again?” Then, give each item a score between zero and 100. According to the 90-percent rule, anything that is less than 90 (even an 89) is a zero. After considering all the options, discard everything that scored less than 90. Even if it hurts. Even if Aunt Elsie knitted that garish cap.

3. Save time by recognizing your Decision Points

From answering emails to attending weekly meetings, you engage in all sorts of autopilot activities without stopping to consider whether they’re really serving you. This is where it’s handy to recognize what Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours, calls your decision points: moments in time when a given task is completed or interrupted.

At a decision point, you have the opportunity to consciously choose what you do next. Say a colleague comes to your desk while you’re mid-task and asks you to go to lunch with him. You could either decline his offer and continue your work, or take a break and get a bite to eat. It seems like an obvious move, but consciously considering your options will leave you better able to make a decision that most benefits you and your productivity.

4. Make a Master Task list

The most irritating place to be in a project is knowing you’ve got to get it done, but having no idea what the path to finished looks like. You need a sherpa of organization to help haul you up the mountain. This is where, according to Work Simply author Carson Tate, you need the Master Task List.

A MTL is a list of all the things, big and small, that comprise your goal. When you’ve made this giant list, organize each item into two categories: project actions and next actions. Project actions are overarching tasks that require smaller action steps, and can take days or months to finish, such as reorganizing your kitchen or planning an off-site workshop. A next action is a single step, something that moves you forward. These should be listed starting with an action verb, for example: Call Adam. Or perhaps: Revise speech.

The master task list releases you from the burden of holding all your “to dos” in your head, while making sure that you always know which steps to take next.

5. Become a virtuoso of the keyboard shortcut

What if you saw someone start their car by getting out, opening the hood and fiddling with the cables until the engine kicks over, then closing the hood again and getting back into the car. You’d probably think: “What a goof! Why don’t they just use the ignition?!” Well, this is basically what computer pros think whenever they see you use the mouse to save a document. Grabbing the mouse slows you down and adds conscious effort. Typing, however, is both quick and easy.

Instead, Bit Literacy author Mark Hurst, recommends learning keyboard shortcuts and one-touch access so that you can easily manipulate bits as quickly as you can think. There are programs out there that can help you do it, too! QuicKeys, for example, allows you to bind an application to a certain key. F5, for instance, could be for your e-mail client; F6 for your text editor; and so on. Once you’re in a program, virtually every operation is associated with a keyboard shortcut.

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