What does it mean to save time? No one can put aside three hours from today and choose to use it next week.
When someone says they want to save time, she typically means that more efficiency is desired so that more time will become available for other things. Those things might include enjoying more quality time with family, reading more articles about time-saving tips, or perhaps focusing additional time on more highly valued tasks.
If you have ever felt the frustration of not having enough time in a day to do your most important tasks, then you are not alone. Life gets busy, and before you know it, there is no time left for the things that you were hoping to complete. If you want more time to devote to your priorities, these three counter-intuitive tips can be highly useful.
TIP #1: SPEND MORE TIME WRITING EMAIL
Email is one of the greatest communication tools of modern times, but it is also one of the worst. The convenience and ease that email facilitates are also part of the reason that it is so widely abused. Often the expectation with email is that it should be treated more like instant messaging. Have you ever received an email from someone who, once the send button has been pressed expects to have a reply within an hour or two, if not minutes?
It is the prevalence of this expectation that draws many of us to deal with our email immediately. We spend far too much time reading and replying to short one or two line emails — batting away the flies.
- We react to email notifications as soon as we see them
- We are continuously reducing our inbox to zero
- We keep our email windows perpetually open so that we can read and reply instantly—like they are instant messages
There are many sound strategies to help minimize the volume of email and maintain flow. These include the use of filters, automatic tagging and sorting, and scheduling specific times to check and respond to your email. These are excellent suggestions, and you should utilize all of them.
Another strategy you can add to your arsenal is to spend more time to write longer emails. To understand how this will help save time, think about a typical email you might receive from your supervisor1:
Subject: Re: FWD: Division staff
Ken, Please write a one-page description of your role in our department.
You have a few of options. You could immediately reply “Sure, no problem” and demonstrate that you are on top of your email. With this path, you will most likely rewrite the paper a few times after comments begin to come back. That is not very efficient.
You could also choose to ask the first question that comes to mind: “Sure, no problem. When do you need it?” This reply is better than the first, but it will still result in a string of attention- and focus-robbing messages.
Alternately, you could take some time to think through the request. Instead of sending back a quick reply, process what this project looks like and respond by writing a more productive message. You will need to know:
- When is the deadline?
- Is the deadline for your draft or for when the final document is due?
- What is the purpose of this paper?
- Who is the audience? Should you write in technical or layman language?
- Do you write this in the first person or third person?
It should be clear now that you were missing a lot of information. If you just sent a quick reply “Sure, no problem,” there would have been four or five emails back and forth before all of this information is fleshed out. Each new email diverts your attention, is a time and energy drain, and delays your ability to begin properly.
A better email reply to this request might look like this (don’t forget to rewrite the subject line to make it clear, without even opening your response, that action is required):
Subject: Need information before proceeding with Description of Role
I will be happy to do this for you, but first I have a few questions.
- When is the deadline for my draft?
- When is the deadline for the final document?
- For what purpose is the document needed?
- Who will be reading it?
- Will it be a public or an internal document?
- Should I write in technical or layman language?
- Should I write in first person or third person?
I will write my draft and send it to you by email within one day after I have the answer to all of these questions. If the draft is okay, then no further response from you is necessary. If you have any edits, please send them to me with enough time to revise the document before the deadline.
Notice how this email makes it clear that work cannot begin without the necessary information. Also, it is evident what the procedure and expected next steps will be. This email exchange may be the only one necessary.
By taking the time to write a longer, more complete email, the number of exchanges required has been reduced and it is explicit how to complete this task as efficiently as possible.
TIP #2: SPEND MORE TIME MEMORIZING INFORMATION
I often promote the use of Getting Things Done® by David Allen. One of the core strategies of this method is to get everything out of your head and into your system. Allen is often quoted as saying:
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
This is good advice for your ideas and for your tasks, but it breaks down when it comes to information. Whatever topic you are interested in will have many details that you will need to know. If you have to rely on the internet to search for this information every time you need to recall something, you will waste a lot of precious time just researching. And re-researching.
A better option is to memorize what you need to know. While this sounds daunting, it is not as hard as one might think. Many memory techniques can be learned which make memorizing not only easy but also fun.
In a past article, I wrote about the use of a memory palace. That is only one of many memory techniques that can help you retain enormous amounts of information in your mind. By having relevant and useful references memorized and the ability to recall any of it instantly, you can save a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted by always breaking your flow to look something up online (or offline). That is not even considering the danger of being distracted by social media or other sites while surfing the web.
An excellent and practical resource for getting started with memory techniques is Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive by Kevin Horsley.
TIP #3: DON’T FINISH YOUR WORK
The work you are doing must naturally be complete, but it does not have to be perfect. By allowing
Naturally, do not make gross errors. Sales figures must be correct. Quotes must be accurate. However, instead of striving for perfection, focus your energy on getting the most out of your efforts.
One strategy is to give yourself a deadline. However long you think it will take to complete your task, make the deadline a little bit shorter than that. This will have the effect of forcing you to keep moving forward so that you can finish on time without allowing you to dwell on small details that will not have a significant impact on the final output.
Done is better than perfect.
By calling something finished before it is perfect, the goal is not to encourage mediocre work. Instead, do the best high-quality work that can be accomplished in the time given, then move on. There is no point in making something perfect if people will never see it.
More work will get finished. Less time will be wasted. Eventually, you will be seen as someone with a high volume of quality output. You will be highly productive.
So, stop trying to be perfect.
Although this example is work-related, it applies equally as well to