6 Tips on Getting Things Done Fast

Everyone wants to get things done fast. It has many benefits:

  • Your business can make more money
  • You can get motivated and confident
  • You can impress your friends

Of course, for me, it is about the first two, although having the third one can be handy too. :)

Anyway, over the past month working on OhBoard, I’ve came up and practiced some healthy habits that proved to work well. So to continue my philosophy of sharing everything I learned, I want to talk about six tricks:

1. Plan less

I used to plan very specifically on what I am going to do for the next 3-6 months. It might sound crazy, but once I had all these good ideas for my projects, I just wanted to put it on a to-do list, and assigned each the next available day.

Here’s what usually happened: I couldn’t get what I had planned for the day, and had to push to the next day. When the next day came, I tried to complete my previous tasks. But by the time I got sleepy, I never had a chance to start what was assigned.

So I decided to plan less. I didn’t plan any further than 3 months. For all tasks I needed to accomplish more than 2 weeks from now, I didn’t give specific actions and due dates. I only wanted to be super clear for the upcoming 2 weeks. Because it’s way to hard to predict the future. :)

(As you can in my to-do list on Flow, I had only planned 1 thing for today, 2 things for this week, 3 things for this month, and 5 things for next month.)

2. 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break

I can never sit for more than 1 hour straight in front of my computer. Not only my eyes, my fingers, my back, my shoulders and my feet hurt, my brain hurt even more. After 1 hour of high concentration, I got lost often time on whatever I am doing. That caused slow down in productivity and motivation.

So I tried to pause for about 15 minutes after each working hour. That worked pretty okay, except most tasks either barely took up an hour (miscellaneous things for support & marketing), or took a lot more than an hour (coding & design).

I then decided to cut it down to 25 minutes work time and 5 minutes break time. That showed to work out extremely well for me. During the 5 minutes break time, I could clear my mind and thought about what the next 25 minutes were going to be. At this point, I could plan things in details because the timespan was short. I could usually get all the way down to step-by-step directions. Then I started the work, which could be done pretty fast since I was already clear at what I was going to do.

3. Do not multitask

iPhone multitasking surely boosted up my mobile productivity. But multitasking was almost the entire opposite while I was working on OhBoard.

For any software company, tasks are most likely split into 4 parts: customer service, marketing, design & development. They require entirely different mentalities and different skills. For customer service, you need to be friendly. For marketing, you need to be strategic. For design, you need to be creative. For development, you need to logical.

I found it is extremely difficult and inefficient to work on them at the same time. Being interrupted to answer an email while designing a mockup sucks. Having to fix a bug while working on an article is not good feeling either.

What I eventually did was closing down all applications that aren’t needed for a specific task. Don’t open any of them until I got my task all done. 100% focus.

4. Structure your day

This is more of an extension to my previous tips of omitting multitasking.

I never “worked to death”. I never “burned out” while working. I actually thought my work days were pretty relax, unlike many others who claimed working 10 hours a day, and felt extremely exhausted every night.

Here’s my trick: I broke my work time into chunks. I had regular set time for specific tasks I need to perform every day. For example, I answered all emails during commute (for those who don’t know, I have schools daytime). Then I checked news when I got home ~4PM for 30 minutes. After that, I would start my 25-5 time periods, on I planned for the day.

Although I was trying my best to not break the rules of doing something else that I was not supposed to do, sometimes curiosity could attract me to click on an article (probably with a link-bait title). But as soon as I realized that, I forced myself to come back. And most of the time, the article ended up in Instapaper.

5. Find & Enforce your zone time

If you code, you should know what zone time means. It is a block of time that your (coding) productivity is at the highest point.

I found that my zone time is during weekends, when I had a huge chunk of uninterrupted time. I usually planned large periods of time for feature development on weekends. They were usually Saturday, 2PM to 6PM, 9PM to 1AM, and Sunday, 2PM to 6PM. That was 12 hours a week, which was long enough given my coding speed.

On any other days of the week, I would do anything besides development. Because I also found out miscellaneous tasks could be done more efficiently during short chunks of time. It worked extremely well in my 25-5 schedule. As I mentioned before, 5 minutes of planning, than 25 minutes of doing. They were just perfect for tiny things like editing copy, writing teaser blog post, answering few emails, and live-chatting with few visitors via Olark.

I encourage everyone to experiment for a little bit, find out what works the best at what time, and just use that schedule as much as possible.

6. Do it now

I think you’ve read for long enough. It’s time to apply them. I encourage everyone to practice these 6 habits. And I want to know how it works for others. Let me know in comments or email me at stephen@ohboard.com!

If it doesn’t work, feel free to blame at me. :)

Also, if you have more tips that can benefit folks to get things done faster. Shout them aloud in comments!

If you are interested in keeping up with OhBoard and Stephen, subscribe to the blog & follow on Twitter!

  • Doug

    amazing. thanks for all tips

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Doug! Glad it helps.

  • http://twitter.com/Oded_Harth Oded Harth

    thx, I’m gonna try them now.

  • Anonymous

    Great. Let me know how it goes!

  • http://twitter.com/chrisvt Chris V.

    I do the second, third and fourth regularly, I feel the same. My brother recommended this in his 1 Minute Yoga book, if you like I can send you a copy. There are exercises which helps the eyes and hands very well. I do 5 minutes for each, my eyes are fresh the whole day and hands don’t get pain despite long hours of typing and browsing in the computer. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks! I think I can buy one myself. :)

  • http://twitter.com/kwbsteo Kwbs (K.B.) Teo

    Thanks for the tips.

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome!

  • http://twitter.com/bufferapp Buffer

    Stephen, great stuff! I especially like your “zone times”. Since I am not a coder (but want to start these coming weeks) it is great advice to me as a newbie. Let me Buffer that post! :)

  • http://twitter.com/LeoWid Leon Widrich

    Oh, sorry, I wanted to post as myself, not as Buffer. Great stuff anyways, :)

  • http://stephenou.com Stephen Ou

    No problem. I love Buffer regardless!

  • http://stephenou.com Stephen Ou

    Thanks, Mr. Buffer! Just curious, do you know where to look for resources to start coding (except from Joel)? I’m researching if people have interest on that kind of post.

  • http://www.joshchandler.me Josh Chandler

    Stephen,

    That first point sounds familiar to me. I hate planning. I am just always in the mode of getting things done.

    However, you do have to include a small element of planning to keep you focused. I am working on getting better at that!

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