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Libby Marks

How to Work Faster & More Efficiently w/o Cutting Corners or Quality

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.

  1. Start your day with a plan
  2. Eliminate distractions
  3. Know your body clock
  4. Pick a playlist
  5. Be realistic
  6. Prioritize your to-do list
  7. Ditch unproductive meetings
  8. Track your time
  9. Embrace automation
  10. Focus for just 25 minutes
  11. Take regular breaks
  12. Switch to mono-tasking
  13. Quit context switching
  14. Stop procrastinating
  15. Be ADHD aware

1. Start your day with a plan 

Planning your workday can help you work faster and increase your productivity. 

  • It provides a clear roadmap of what you need to achieve - so you’re less likely to spend time on aimless activities that distract you from your goals.  
  • It reduces indecision and you don’t waste time wondering what to do next - you know your priorities and can work through them in a structured way.
  • It lets you intentionally batch similar tasks together - so you spend less time context switching, which can eat up hours a day.
  • It eases cognitive load - because you don’t have to keep everything in your head - so you have more mental capacity for the tasks at hand.

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. 

Be intentional 

Don’t limit your plan to actual work tasks. Set intentions for the day too - for example:

  • I will be intentional and organized with my work
  • I will prioritize the tasks that have the biggest impact
  • I will use my time wisely so I can finish work on time

These positive affirmations can help you stay in control, minimize distractions, and overcome procrastination.

2. Eliminate distractions 

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.

  • Download a social media blocker to prevent you from accessing your account 
  • Block out occasional ‘do not disturb’ time in your diary when you need to focus 
  • Turn off email / DM notifications and only check your inbox at set times
  • Try to avoid doing housework or non-work tasks during the work day
  • Don’t kid yourself - can you REALLY work with Netflix on in the background?!

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.

3. Know your body clock 

Understanding your body clock can help you work more productively.

  • Are you a morning person? Or does it take an IV of caffeine to kickstart your day? 
  • Do you get going in the afternoon? Or hit a wall once you’ve had your lunch? 

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.

Manager tip💡Review the 9-to-5

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.

4. Pick a playlist

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:

  • Classical music helps with tasks that require focus and increases creativity by 23%
  • Rock music can make you 12% faster with numbers and more accurate 
  • Dance music increases speed and accuracy of proofreading/spell checking 
  • Nature sounds and white noise can block distractions and increase focus

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.

5. Be realistic 

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.

  • Don’t give deadlines to please other people when you know they’re not achievable 
  • Don’t assume you’ll be able to work uninterrupted on a task
  • And - importantly - don’t assume you’ll have 100% focus, 100% of the time

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.

Manager tip💡Understand capacity

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.  

6. Prioritize your to-do list

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. 

  • Urgency: tasks that are time-sensitive, have immediate deadlines, or that other tasks are contingent on (ie other tasks can’t go ahead until this task is completed). 
  • Impact: tasks that deliver the highest business impact should be completed next.
  • Effort: tasks that require little effort but deliver impact should also be prioritized.

Alternatively, use the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize and prioritize as follows:

  • Urgent and important tasks - Do it now
  • Not urgent but important tasks - Decide when to do it
  • Urgent but not important tasks - Delegate to someone else
  • Neither urgent nor important tasks - Delete from your to-do list

Aim for five a day 

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.

7. Ditch unproductive meetings

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?

  • Get less embarrassed about asking ‘Why was I invited to this meeting and do I actually need to be there?’
  • Encourage managers to start assessing the time and financial impact of hosting meetings and who is invited 

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!

8. Track your time 

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:

  • Spot work patterns and opportunities to work faster - for example, if you’re regularly spending time on administrative tasks that could be automated
  • Overcome planning fallacy, by giving you a better insight into how long tasks actually take 
  • Notice when you’re spending too long on tasks - sometimes work expands to fill the time allotted, especially if your schedule isn’t packed

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.

Get that dopamine hit ✅

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. 

9. Embrace automation 

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. 

10. Focus for just 25 minutes 

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…?)

11. Take regular breaks 

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?’

12. Switch to mono-tasking 

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. 

13. Quit context switching 

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. 

Manager tip💡Keep people in the zone

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:

  • Integrate your media library with your graphic design software, so designers can access images without having to leave InDesign
  • Centralize your resource calendar, so everyone can see availability, allocations, projects, financials, etc. in a single place  
  • Connect your communication, productivity, and work management apps to automate task allocation, project creation, etc.

14. Stop procrastinating 

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. 

  • Boring? Accept it, buckle down, and plan a reward for completing it.
  • Too complicated? Break a big project down into more manageable tasks so it feels less daunting.
  • Not sure how to start? Talk to your manager and ask for guidance and structure.
  • Perfectionist? Remember ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘done’. Commit to getting the task underway - worry about perfect later, if you must.

Still flip-flopping? 

  • Find an accountability partner who can keep you motivated and celebrate with you when you finish the task.
  • Visualize successful completion of the task and how it will make you feel - satisfied, relieved, proud? This can give you the motivation to make a start.

15. Be ADHD aware 

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:

  • Reduce overwhelm, stress, and risk of burnout 
  • Feel more fulfilled at the end of the day
  • Release lots of happy hormones into your brain 
  • Sleep easier and enjoy your personal life more

And we think that’s worth working towards 🙂 Good luck!

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