Decreasing Time on Task

So much talk about productivity is about how we block out our time.

Not getting distracted too easily by the constant influx of pings that tear our attention away.

Creating dedicated space for deep work.

Managing to do lists, prioritization, deadlines.

And all of this is essential.

We also have the option to create more time in the way we complete our tasks, by finding our own path to efficiency on the things we do often.

Do we type 30 or 60 or 120 words a minute?

Do we spend 15 minutes debating with ourselves before mustering the courage to share our point of view with a colleague?

Does a simple email response to a client question take us 3 minutes to write? 10? 20?

Do our standing meetings last 15 minutes, 30 or 60?

Have we learned both how to listen to the relevant points of view and also to keep meetings moving forward?

These sorts of shifts are easy to describe, but we’re often more comfortable with some than with others. It might help to think of them in four distinct categories, and use these categories to diagnose which types of changes we find easier / harder to make:

  1. Skills: typing speed is just one example. There are tons of tasks we engage in as knowledge workers, many of them repetitive (e.g. switching between applications on our computers). Do we invest the time to learn to do these well AND quickly?
  2. Indecision: ultimately, our day is full of hundreds of decisions big and small. If we hand-wring over too many of these, our day will be gone before we know it.
  3. Emotions: the primary one that gets in our way is fear, the kind that paralyzes us to inaction.
  4. Structure: how long our meetings are, what days we have them, which tasks we do first thing in the morning, how we block our time.

When seen this way, it’s clear how much space we can create in our days and in our weeks, by accelerating the time from start to finish of our important, oft-repeated tasks.

I’d estimate that each of us has at least 10 hours a week we could “find” by taking this all on.