How can we accomplish more in less time? Although productivity can be analyzed through many frames, it can be roughly understood as a function of the number of hours that can be productively worked in a day, the effectiveness of the activities engaged in, and the intensity with which those activities are accomplished.

 Think about these elements by using the following examples. First, waking earlier or going to bed later allows for increased productivity because of an increase in the numbers of hours productively worked. Second, not all activities are created equal. Some activities produce a lot of return and some are relatively worthless; by engaging in activities that bear the most fruit, more can be accomplished. Finally, zealously engaging in work, as opposed to doing things in a rote or mechanical manner, will undoubtedly produce better ideas, work product, solutions, etc. Here are three tips to increase efficiency.

1. Parkinson’s Law: Work Expands To Fill Time Available

Parkinson’s Law denotes that the time taken to complete a deadline will grow to meet the applicable deadline. Any project that has an amorphous end-point (as opposed to a quantified conclusion) will fill to meet the deadline.

The reason that the law holds true is two-fold: humans have an inherent desire for iterative improvement and temporal deadlines often creates increased intensity. To exemplify that humans have an inherent desire for iterative improvement, note that given unlimited time, one will seldom stop at the first idea, draft, or generation. Second, many people believe that they “work better under pressure.” This may or may not be true but it does tell us that those people will work with greater intensity as a deadline approaches. 

Given our understanding of human psychology, what can be done to reduce available time (or at least the perception of available time)? The easiest way to decrease the time available is to create an internal control. For example, simply tell yourself that you will have a writing done in 30 minutes. However, this is often ineffective because self-enforcement forces a person to adhere to the implementation but also to enforce it. Externalizing the implementation by using a commitment contract can be useful. For example, tell your friend that if you do not have a first draft done in two hours, you must pay him $100. Externalizing the implementation forces you to adhere to the implementation but eliminates the self-enforcement mechanisms.

2. Eliminate Time-Wasting Activities

Some activities are very beneficial and some activities are merely time-wasting activities that do not fruitfully contribute to an ultimate goal. One problem is that the activities that meaningfully contribute to an ultimate goal are often challenging, difficult, tiresome, etc. Indeed, it is no surprise that people often avoid “high-level” work because it is emotionally, mentally, physically difficult.

One way to eliminate time-wasting activities is to track the activities engaged in and question whether such activities are really fruitful or whether they simply waste time. For example, for one week, write down how many hours were filled with productive work, administrative tasks, or pure leisure. The first step to optimizing any system is to monitor the system and ferret out the inefficiencies.

3. Outsource Some Responsibilities

Outsourcing allows will increase the amount of productive time worked; however, it is also a highly dangerous suggestion. Outsourcing activities to others can increase productivity and improve peace of mind. There are two very salient pitfalls that often hurt most people in their outsourcing efforts. First, outsourcing is great for repetitive menial tasks that can easily be completed by another party but which takes time to complete. However, outsourcing high-level activities that require complicated problem solving may lead to sub-par work that is instrumental to success. Second, it might take considerable time to explain a project to another party. If it takes an hour to explain the full project to somebody else but could have easily been completed personally within that hour, this process should not be outsourced. Remember that it is not imperative that every activity is outsourced.