Too many people work slowly because they fear making mistakes, but the cliché saying is true: time is money. Jeff Bezos recently argued that being wrong can hurt you, but being slow will kill you. Evolutionary biology tells us the same. It was, after all, the meek, but speedy, rodents from 160 million years ago that ended up inheriting the earth as humans today.
Speeding up your workflow doesn’t require you to sacrifice quality. Sloppiness and mistakes are more often the result of fatigue. Working faster can actually boost your productivity and accuracy, as long as you take strategic breaks between those bursts of adrenaline.
Keeping a quick pace throughout your workday will help you move through more tasks, identify opportunities for efficiency, and actually save you time in the long run by helping you focus on those actions that actually produce results.
Here are a few techniques for how to work faster to save time and minimize your mistakes without tiring out:
1. Work With Goals: To-Do Lists are your Friend
Is there any greater satisfaction than crossing an item off a to-do list? Completing a task stimulates a psychological reward process in the brain that results in a rush of dopamine, the neurotransmitters directly connected to pleasure and motivation.
If you don’t set daily goals, your brain chemistry doesn’t get to experience the rush of motivational feelings nearly as often, resulting in burnout. However, when you create a checklist of tasks and complete them, those feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment come regularly throughout your work day.
So much of productivity is setting up the right circumstances to thrive. So don’t make the checklist on your phone, as it’s too easy to get a popup notification and derail your focus entirely. Also, your list doesn’t need to include everything you need to do this month, just the most important tasks you need to get accomplished today.
A checklist is a simple way to set a roadmap, so that once you’re up and running, you don’t have to slow down to regain your bearings. Also, it sets the right circumstances for those reward signals to keep on coming, keeping your brain stimulated, energized, and moving forward.
2. Work in Sprints: Try The Pomodoro Technique
Working at full-speed and in top-form for the entirety of an 8-10 hour work day is impossible for anyone. The Pomodoro Technique is all about breaking your workday into smaller, more manageable increments, so you can keep up a fast pace for the entire day.
The famous productivity hack suggests breaking your work intervals into 25-35 minutes. By continually restarting the “pomodoro,” (which references the shape of the kitchen timer the inventor of this technique initially used), you train your brain to stay hyper-focused during those shorter periods of work, resulting in more stamina and productivity over the course of a day.
The Pomodoro Technique encourages short breaks between each interval, and then a longer, 20-30 minute break after 4 work sessions. Like a daily checklist, this productivity technique transforms the cycle of work into a process of staggered rewards. Each completed increment brings its own sense of accomplishment (and dopamine!).
Although, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” is often referenced when it comes to accomplishing long-term projects, interval training is the better workout metaphor for an efficient daily work flow. High-intensity interval training is considered the most efficient form of cardio because it helps you burn more calories in less time.
Similarly, these bursts of hyper-focused work increments produce more results because of the intensity. The scattered breaks (or periods of low intensity) allow you to rejuvenate and refocus before the next round.
3. Work Smarter: Remember the 80/20 Rule
It’s important to remember that productivity doesn’t have a direct correlation to input. Yes, your coworker may be putting in ten-hour work days — but how much of that extra time is translating into real results?
The 80/20 rule — or the Pareto Principle — has historic roots dating back to the mid-19th century, and the basic tenant is that 80% of results are brought about by only 20% of your efforts. So although a 10-hour work day may appear successful if measured in input rather than output, it’s likely the most tangible results only came from 20% of that time.
The Pareto Principle is not an exact science, but a kind of inevitability. Some of our efforts won’t always be fruitful. Those people who fear working too quickly for the fear of slipping up don’t seem to realize that mistakes are inevitable, and most of them can be corrected and repaired. Plus, mistakes give you the hindsight to get it right the next time.
When you apply the 80/20 rule to your own work day, it gives you a tangible way to measure which of your actions result in the most production. A daily checklist, or a productivity schedule like the Pomodoro Technique, can help you pay attention to the 80/20 rule more closely. What items on your checklist took more effort? Which pomodoros produced the best results?
When you start to identify these patterns of input and output, you can redelegate and refocus your priorities toward that 20% that actually produces high-quality work. Then, replicate those circumstances whenever you can rather than slowing down.
4. Work for Momentum: Break the Rules When Necessary
Some hesitate to adopt an incremental schedule from fear of bringing those moments of heightened productivity to an abrupt stop. Whether you’re “on a roll,” or “in the zone,” momentum is a real state of being, and you need the time and space for your productivity to naturally build and recede.
People tend to build momentum at similar times of day. I’m a morning person, and do better waking up at 6am and working till noon. So much of productivity is getting to know your own tendencies, so you don’t always have to rely on tricks like the Pomodoro Technique or the 80/20 rule to find your flow.
Break the rules when you have to. When you understand when, where, and how you work best, you learn which circumstances lead to mistakes or lower-quality work, and you can avoid them. And on those days when the struggle is real, productivity hacks can keep you on schedule and help you avoid procrastination. Tell yourself you’re going to work on a task for just 5 minutes, or you’re going to write just one paragraph, or you’re going to get just one item off your checklist done.
These little steps usually are enough to get some traction until your productivity takes off. And remember that in order to stay alive, you just have to make sure you don’t slow down.