Even with the best plan at hand we often struggle to execute them efficiently. Learn about common obstacles of actually “doing it” and how to deal with them.
~~~ Efficient: Do the Task Right! ~~~
Efficient means to do the task right. It does not mean as good as possible. In fact, often it means the opposite: do the given task as good as required. Don’t spend more time or resources than economically necessary. Be efficient with everything but in particular with unimportant tasks. Don’t cut corners, just be time-smart.
~~~ Ready, set… ~~~
One of the biggest difficulties in following a plan is to actually start doing what you have planned. You may have a great plan on paper or in mind and then struggle executing it in the face of reality.
Make your decision in advance - Imagine you just came home from work and are now considering going to the gym. How likely is it that you end up at the gym when you have the choice of watching TV, having a snack or sitting on the balcony? Maybe you think, “I’ll just watch the news and then go to the gym.” Right! Studies have shown that people are less likely to make any decision when given too many options. Abundance of choice is a curse. If you have planned your day, mentally rehearse your plan in the morning to bring it back in mind.
Keep momentum - Let’s take this example further. What is better: going to the gym after work or after dinner? A proven tip is to do things while you still have momentum. For instance, going to the gym straight after work is easier than going after dinner. By the time you had dinner you will have settled and slowed down. It is much more difficult to find the activation energy again.
Make things easy to start - Ideally you have your bag packed and had a snack beforehand so you can go to the gym straight after work. Think what could stop you from doing your plan and prepare in advance. If you don’t stick to your plan for an unexpected reason, next time do something in advance to eliminate the obstacle.
~~~ … go! ~~~
Have you ever experienced how good you perform when a deadline is approaching? All doubts and hesitations swept aside, decisions made in split seconds, all unnecessary points disregarded! Leverage this effect by setting yourself ridiculous deadlines!
This tip from Tim Ferriss is so counter-intuitive that no one ever tries it deliberately. But it occasionally happens due to circumstances. Think of the last day before your vacation. It also works if you set yourself these timelines. Don’t let tasks take as long as they take. Try it for two weeks and start making a habit out of it. You will be surprised.
You have done this many times before. Ever had someone coming over in an hour and your place was looking like a mess? Did you start a spring clean or only focussed on the most obvious things?
Cutting to the chase helps with challenging deadlines. Focus only on the most important aspects of a task, particularly if it helps doing it in a fraction of the time. This is Pareto revisited. If you are doing a task for someone else, propose an approach that allows you to accomplish the same in much shorter time. If she doesn’t accept it, propose to try it once. If it goes well, you have got your precedence for the future.
If you find this difficult, here is a little trick. Commit to a deadline with the recipient of the outcomes. Now you have your deadline! Next, think how long it would take you to complete that task. Start working when you have about half the time before the deadline expires.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
– Cyril Northcote Parkinson
Parkinson’s law is a known phenomenon. The more time we have, or the more time we give ourselves, the longer a task drags out.
But the opposite is true as well: you can manage to less! The adrenalin rush will mobilise energies that you didn’t know you had. Think: Time’s up!
“Work decreases so as to fit the time available for it’s completion”
– Time Smart Me
~~~ Keep going ~~~
Once started, you need the energy and the focus to progress your task. Keep the end in sight.
Focus means progress - There is a lot around that can distract you. The pages on “Focus of Mind” show many tips and an exercise to improve your ability to focus.
~~~ Call it finished: 4 Ways to come to an end! ~~~
You have come up with a plan, you got started and you are doing it. Now it’s just one more step to be a hero: reach the end!
1Come to an end! You can always do more on a task and never come to an end. Most people try to do everything perfectly. Only a minority of your tasks should require perfectionism. In today‘s fast-paced world, speed is crucial. Start the habit of finishing things when time is up. When you haven’t progressed a task for a while that is also a good sign that you are done. Be brave and call it finished.
2Park it - If you have problems finishing things off, put the task aside when the allocated time is up and move on to the next task. Go back to the parked task at a later stage. Chances are that you are much more comfortable calling it finished then.
3Think on your feet - For instance, when you are preparing presentations just focus on the three most important aspects. Be prepared for questions and improvise during the presentation. Your audience will appreciate not being victimised to “death by power point.”
4Apply this tip in other areas, such as emails. Focus on the top three points and let people ask if they want to know more. They rarely will. You will start learning to think on your feet. A great skill!
The key of the “doing” step is to actually do it. Get your plans done most efficiently. This is really not the time to question your plans! We will review our plans in the next step.
Learn about time management principles
Check out our main article on time management or one of the specialised articles below.
Learn about the Pareto method. A real eye-opener when it comes to distinguishing between important and unimportant. And check out our tips on how to get rid of unimportant tasks.
Reviewing what you have achieved at the end of the day is the simplest form of “measuring” and can yet be extremely powerful. Here are some guidelines how to get most out of it.
Executing and measuring your plan will give you valuable tips on how good the plan was and what can be improved. Here is a little tool that will help you with it.
Putting it all together
Find some tools and templates that will support you putting all parts of the Plan-Do-Measure-Improve framework (PDMI) together.
I am suggesting a different approach to prioritisation. One that aligns more with the changing world. If you are interested, check out our key article: a step-by-step guide on Prioritisation (click this link).
By Murat Uenlue, PhD, PMP, 2013.