15 practical ways to improve the speed and quality of your work - backed by science and expert insights.
There are lots of reasons you might be searching ‘how to work faster’ today.
Maybe you’ve got a looming deadline - or a lot on your plate - and you want tips for increasing efficiency and productivity.
Or maybe you’re living the dream and working for an employer that offers ‘limitless leave’ so long as you’re up to date with your work? There’s a thought 💭🏖️
Whatever your reasons for wanting to work faster, we’ve got 15 practical strategies you can act on today.
And not just to work faster. To work smarter and happier too.
Because however long your to-do list is, your health and well-being at work are more important.
Planning your workday can help you work faster and increase your productivity.
Work planning can help you work faster AND smarter. But remember, that life doesn’t always go to plan... Factor in time for contingencies and be adaptable if other priorities crop up. Trying to stick too rigidly to a plan can cause stress in itself.
Don’t limit your plan to actual work tasks. Set intentions for the day too - for example:
These positive affirmations can help you stay in control, minimize distractions, and overcome procrastination.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes - especially now more of us are working from home. But they can really slow us down.
Distractions will be unique to you. Maybe you can cope with chatty colleagues but can’t ignore the siren call of social media. Or you can easily ignore Instagram but not the laundry pile looking at you.
If you want to work faster, you need to identify and eliminate your specific distractions - at home and in the office.
Want to know the biggest distractions at work? The average worker wastes the most time on news websites - 1 hour 5 minutes - and social media - 44 minutes a day. Looks like we might all benefit from a website-blocking app.
Understanding your body clock can help you work more productively.
Different people have different chronotypes - the natural rhythm that determines when they are most alert and productive.
Research shows women are more likely to be early birds whilst men are more likely to hit their stride around lunchtime. Age can also impact your preferences.
To work faster and better, match your tasks to your body clock. Schedule work that requires focus, imagination, and accuracy when you’re firing on all cylinders. And save more repetitive, drudge work for when you need a slower pace.
If you’re a decision-maker at your business, consider taking flexible working further with asynchronous working.
Async working recognizes the benefit of letting people work towards shared goals on their own schedule.
We’ve moved to async working at Runn and it’s been a game-changer for our fully remote team.
Did you know music can make you work faster and increase your creativity? Research into the perfect playlist for businesses found that the right choice of tunes can increase your productivity, speed, and accuracy.
Transmit Startups compiled research from scientists around the world and discovered that:
One study they cite is from the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research, which found software developers worked slower and produced lower quality work without music. So pop on your headphones and get faster at work.
We humans have a tendency to overestimate how much we can achieve in any given time, and underestimate how long tasks will take. It’s called Planning Fallacy.
It means we’re often overly optimistic about what we can get done in a day - and explains why so many of us are disheartened when we don’t get to the end of our to-do list.
A never-ending to-do list can feel overwhelming, which can affect your motivation, and productivity, and slow you down at work.
To overcome this problem, try to be more realistic.
According to time management author Oliver Burkeman, we only have around three or four hours of focus time each day - that’s time when we’re able to knuckle down for uninterrupted work.
Keep that in mind to set realistic targets for your day. That way you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and resort to procrastination.
And you’re more likely to actually complete your to do list and feel that all-important sense of accomplishment we all crave.
If you’re responsible for assigning work to people - for example, you’re a project manager - aim for no higher than 80% capacity. More than that will lead to burnout and reduce productivity.
Read our complete guide to work management for more tips for efficiency-focused PMs.
All tasks are not created equal. So it’s not enough to just have a to-do list. You need to prioritize it.
Knowing which tasks to tackle first will improve your time management, reduce cognitive load, and increase the impact of your working day.
But how do you know which tasks should be your priority? Consider urgency, impact, and effort.
Alternatively, use the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize and prioritize as follows:
To avoid overwhelm and set realistic goals, aim to include just five priority tasks on your to-do list and put the rest on a separate sheet (just so they’re not buzzing about in your brain). If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, consider doing it immediately to free up mental space - but be careful not to let lots of little tasks distract you from your plan.
When you’re thinking about activities that are not urgent or important, we’re sure meetings will come to mind. The average employee has 11 and 25 meetings a WEEK. And 60% of people say they have more meetings than before COVID.
There’s a lot wrong with meetings these days. Many businesses have a scattergun approach to invites, inviting people who don’t really need to be there. While others have poor meeting discipline and let them run on for HOURS.
These bloated, unfocused, unproductive meetings cost time and money, as well as draining people’s enthusiasm and energy.
So how can you avoid them?
One way to do this is to tot up the hourly rate of each attendee and multiply it by the length of the meeting. It soon adds up!
Do you get to the end of the day and think ‘Where the heck did the time go’? Try a time-tracking app. It’s a great way to understand how you actually spend your time.
Download an app and it will prompt you to record what you’re doing at set intervals. Review your records at the end of the day, week, or month. This can help you to:
If you’re working in a project-based business, project time tracking might already be built-in. Use the technology as an opportunity to understand yourself better - and to improve your time management.
Or - if there is just too much on your plate - to start a data-informed dialog with your manager about your workload.
If you get a thrill when you tick something off your to-do list, you’re not alone. Achieving something - even a small victory - releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine into your bloodstream.
But how can that make you work faster?
When you complete tasks and check something off your tick list, you get your dopamine hit. And your brain craves more. So you’re more motivated to tackle the next item on your list.
Formatting your to-do list as a checklist gets a steady flow of dopamine running through your brain, encouraging you to keep going, and reducing the willpower you need to tackle the next task.
If you feel like you waste a lot of time on boring manual tasks, you’re not alone. Research suggests people spend three hours a day on tasks that could be easily automated.
If you want to work faster and smarter, integrating some easy automation tools could be the answer.
Use an app like Microsoft Power Automate or Zapier to create an automatic approval workflow, so you don’t have to email colleagues to keep a project moving. Or to add tasks to your to-do list when an email containing a certain keyword hits your inbox.
Explore options to integrate AI (ethically) into your work. Like generating visual ideas to kickstart your own creative process. Or overcoming blank-screen-itis by using AI to write a first draft of that email you can’t find the words for.
Let an AI-assisted calendar app - like Motion - automatically arrange, rearrange and prioritize tasks for the best fit and flow in your schedule.
If you’re a fan of Italian food, you probably hear ‘Pomodoro’ and think ‘tomato’. But in time management terms, pomodoro is a technique to increase your focus and efficiency.
In the Pomodoro technique, you stay focused on a single task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Psychologists say the Pomodoro technique works because putting a time limit on tasks makes them feel more achievable. This increases your motivation to complete them and get your reward (your break).
After three or four repetitions of this pattern, you take a longer break. For lunch, say. (Anyone else thinking bruschetta or a nice ragu…?)
Speaking of breaks… if you’re trying to work faster, it’s probably because your to-do never seems to shrink. In these circumstances, it’s tempting to just keep working without a break. But that is counterproductive.
Taking regular breaks actually improves your productivity and mental acuity. Plus, it’s highly recommended if you’re using computer screens.
According to Michigan State University, ‘Skipping breaks can lead to faster burnout and higher stress levels. Employees stepping away from work for a few minutes increases their productivity, job satisfaction, mental health, and wellbeing.’
Taking regular breaks improves memory, focus, and decision-making - which helps you work faster and better when you’re back at your desk.
So instead of thinking ‘Have I worked hard enough to earn this break?’ think ‘Am I well-rested enough to do my job well?’
It’s a myth that we can multitask. Multitasking has been proven to reduce work quality and speed. So, if you want to work faster and deliver better results, concentrate on one thing at a time. Use time blocking - where you block out time in your diary for specific tasks - to stay focused.
Why is multitasking so bad? According to psychologists, it’s the strain it puts on your brain. It undermines your focus and that reduces quality. Your mind is elsewhere instead of fully on the task at hand, and that can cause errors and oversights.
It is much better to commit to working on one thing, well, for longer.
Context switching is multitasking’s evil twin.
Repeatedly switching between different tasks increases your cognitive burden and stress levels, undermines focus and quality, reduces efficiency, and makes your day feel less productive. And it also wastes a LOT of time.
Research shows it takes around 25 minutes to get back to your original work after an interruption 🤯 So if you want to work faster, you need to keep context switching to a minimum.
One way to achieve this is to batch similar tasks together - like answering emails, making phone calls, doing admin, designing, or writing reports.
If you group similar tasks, instead of - say - 20 context switches a day, you just have three or four.
Switching between apps can be disruptive and distracting. Reduce context switching and keep people in the zone by creating an integrated software ecosystem - where tools work seamlessly together. For example:
Procrastination is the art of finding something you’d rather do more than the thing you ACTUALLY need to do. And it wastes a lot of time.
Often, when we do complete the task in question, we realize it was much easier than anticipated. But we’ve wasted hours, days, or even weeks letting it live rent-free in our minds.
The first step is to understand why you’re procrastinating. Get in touch with why you’re putting it off. Is the task boring? Too complicated? Are you scared you won’t be able to do it? Do you not know how to tackle it?
Then come up with a strategy to make it easier.
If you struggle with procrastination, prioritization, and time management more than others, it may not be your fault. These are classic signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - or ADHD.
People with ADHD have difficulties with some cognitive functions - and it often goes undiagnosed. In the UK, for example, ADHD UK estimates 2 million people are living with ADHD without knowing it.
If you have trouble focusing, think you may have ADHD, and it is affecting your work, speak to your employer. And check out this information on how to understand, forgive, and tackle your ADHD-related procrastination issues.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips on how to work faster and more efficiently. It’s all about you managing your workload well - so you can feel more in control, happier, and healthier at work.
Practicing good work habits will help you:
And we think that’s worth working towards 🙂 Good luck!
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