Time For a Change #12: Get More Done in Less Time

by William Reed on April 26, 2012

Rethinking Time

The characters in Japanese for the word time (時間 jikan) literally mean time-interval, or space of time. This is an interesting perspective, because it joins two concepts that in English are treated as separate things. Einstein spoke of space-time in the context of the Principle of Relativity, but that branch of Physics is still beyond the average person’s comprehension. For most people, time is something more closely associated with the clock and the calendar.

Consequently, when people think about how to get more done in less time, they usually focus on how to work faster or more efficiently, as if productivity against the clock was the ultimate objective measure. The production line mentality still holds sway over the way many people experience time. It is high time that we rethink that proposition.

From one perspective, time matters a lot. You may have noticed that time seems to fly faster as you get older. I remember commenting to a friend on my 16th birthday that the year seemed to have gone by quickly. My friend’s father, who must have been in his 50s, overheard me say that and said to us, “Boys, when you get to be my age, the decades just fly by.” The usual explanation for this is that one year is a smaller fraction of the whole for a 50 year old than for a 5 year old. Nevertheless, as time goes by you tend to appreciate how much it matters. Whether or not time is on your side depends a lot on how well you appreciate and use time. If you look back on what has gone well in your life, you realize that timing is everything.

From another perspective, time doesn’t matter much at all. It isn’t the quantity of time that you spend with people so much as the quality that you remember. The way we experience time is a lot more relative than the way it is measured in minutes and hours. If you are having fun and deeply engaged then 8 hours can pass very quickly, whereas if you are stuck in a boring job the minutes seem like hours.

Synchronicity is the phenomenon in which things occur simultaneously that cannot be explained with any apparent connection. A person suddenly mentions a thing that you were just thinking about. A friend calls you just as you pick up the phone to call them. A discovery or invention is made by two people at the same time living in different countries, despite having no apparent connection or communication between them. We are connected in mysterious ways that are  not bound by time and space.

The art of getting things done

If you want to get more done in less time, a good strategy is actually to do less, but to focus on doing the things that matter most. This is the thinking behind the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities. Manage the things that make a difference, and you will see that small efforts can produce big results.

If you focus too much on perfection your work will never be done. Better to focus on the process, leaving yourself room to breathe. It is not worth sacrificing your days for the sake of filling up all of the time you have with work.

The oriental game of Go has a fascinating strategy that can apply to life as well. Black and white stones are placed on the intersections of vertical and horizontal lines on the Go board, the purpose being to surround territory by surrounding and capturing the opponent’s stones, while maintaining breathing space for your own stones. Go strategy involves playing the whole board and connecting your stone groups across the board. If you play too tightly by concentrating on one of the corners, you end up missing the big picture and losing the game. The connections are not obvious until the mid-game, except to the experienced eye, which sees time in terms of space, not in local logical steps.

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell refers to the “10,000 hour rule,” which applies in many endeavors from sports to music, whereby world class success seems to depend in part on quantity, not years of practice but the number of hours of deep practice, focused, intentional, quality practice time. Such people not only practice, but also perform more consistently in a Flow state, described in Flow Psychology as a state of full immersion and joy in the task. One of the characteristics of being in Flow is a distortion of the sense of time. Hours can pass like minutes, making you wonder where did the time go? Time can also slow down, in sports when the ball seems to travel in slow motion. It is accompanied by a feeling of spontaneous joy, and freedom from the clock. People in the Flow state are also more likely to be successful, and get better results.

Common sense

Voltaire said that “Common sense is not so common.” It is therefore worth reviewing a few common sense approaches when it comes to getting more done in less time.

  • Eliminate. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Shorten your To Do List, and just focus on those things that matter most. Don’t get caught up in trying to do a task more efficiently, without first asking if it is the right task. Free your mind by striving first to be more effective.
  • Outsource. Trying to do everything yourself is not only futile, it is downright foolish. Just because you can is not always the best reason that you should do something yourself. Look for ways to free up your time by paying or training someone else to do the task for you. Instead of yielding to the seductive lure of routine, look for shortcuts that can save you time.
  • Right Tools. A good craftsperson is very particular about their tools. One of the most effective ways to get more done in less time is to select the right tools, and leverage them to accomplish more. Whatever your trade, tools save you time.

No regrets

A Catholic Priest once commented that of the many last rites he had performed for dying people, most of them expressed far more regret for what they did not do in life, than what they had done. Their primary regret was for a life not fully lived, dreams left unattended, words left unsaid.

If you want to live life with no regrets, it is important to attend to your dreams and work on your chosen goals. Your dream calls to you constantly, if you can just free yourself from the illusions of time which pull you away from it. When you are selecting your tools, be sure to consider GOALSCAPE as the tool of tools, because it helps you gain perspective and focus on those things which matter most.

Download a TIME MANDALA as a reminder of the attitudes and approaches that can help you get more done in less time.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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