5 Simple Practices To Get Stuff Done (Fast)
I used to be the world’s least efficient person. We’re talking about the human equivalent of a slug, someone who took years to accomplish things that others seemed able to do in a week.
And then something changed. Specifically, I got sober. But my newfound efficiency wasn’t just due to the fact that I suddenly wasn’t wiling away hours drunk and high.
While of course that’s part of the reason I became more efficient, it also turned out that what lurked under my degenerate, party girl persona was a Type A person to the extreme, the real life version of Reese Witherspoon in Election…Number 2 pencils always sharpened.
Minus the pencils. (I’ve always been a pen person.)
My point is that almost overnight, I transferred into someone who Got Things Done.
This was many years ago and I’ve continued to be that way ever since, honing and sampling different methods.
Here are the 6 best efficiency techniques I’ve discovered in those years.
1) Wake up earlier than you normally do and go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood
Another surprise of sobriety? I’m an early riser.
An early whaa?
Yep, the girl who liked to stay awake until the birds chirped found that she actually preferred to go to bed by 11 pm and wake up when the blue jays were singing their songs.
Sometimes I can take this a little far — say, waking up at 4:30 am and, instead of trying to go to sleep, doing that early-bird-getting-the-worm thing.
If you feel yourself about to groan, “I already wake up early — I can’t handle the concept of getting up even earlier,” here’s a secret: waking up earlier only sucks if it’s an alarm setting (and snoozing) situation.
If you tell yourself that you’d like to wake up early — that you’d enjoy gifting yourself this extra time — you may find that your body just naturally wakes itself up then.
This isn’t just Polyanna BS. It works.
And that little bit of extra time pays off in dividends in terms of your efficiency later.
I remember a friend encouraging me to do service work years ago. I told him that I would love to, of course…but I was simply too busy.
He countered with something I’ve never forgotten:
“Here’s the thing about being of service,” he said. “The more time you give to it, the more free time you magically have. See, getting out of your own head frees up so much mental space that you’re that much more efficient the rest of the time.”
I tried it and it worked.
And the same is true for that extra time in the am.
Somehow walking briskly around my neighborhood, either listening to meditation podcasts or just silently observing things that are right in front of me all the time but I somehow never see, frees up my mental space so that I’m twice as efficient once I start the accomplishing part of my day.
It doesn’t make sense. And yet it does.
2) Journal for 10 minutes about fear
I’ve kept a diary since I was 10 but my journal writing really fell off the wagon as I got busier.
Also, I only tended to write when I was morosely trying to figure out some feeling I was better off just accepting and surrendering to. (Obviously, there are plenty of incredibly significant feelings to figure out on paper; I had just gotten into the habit of dissecting various emotions to the point of misery.)
Then someone I knew suggested that I write for 10 minutes every morning about a problem I wanted to work out or issue I was grappling with.
I did that for a while but then found an even better topic: writing about why I wasn’t doing certain things I wanted to.
Through that writing, I usually uncover the fact that I’m in fear (FEAR, after all, standing for False Evidence Appearing Real). Sometimes I’m scared of what people are going to think of me if I do the thing I’m avoiding, sometimes I’m scared of taking a risk and sometimes I’m scared of things I can’t identify.
It doesn’t really matter what it is.
Putting it on paper makes me see it in black and white.
And seeing it in black and white makes conquering the fear — and doing whatever I’d been avoiding — surmountable.
It’s a great thing to do after a brisk neighborhood walk, am I right?
3) Do those little things you’ve been avoiding
I’m not, by nature, a procrastinator.
At least, that’s what I tell myself.
But one day I realized: while I don’t procrastinate on the big things, I often avoid the little things.
Say, an email I have to return or a phone call I have to make.
Something that will take five minutes but is just slightly out of my comfort zone.
These things can stay on my to-do list or inside my email box for months.
One day, my therapist pointed out something that had never occurred to me: I like anxiety.
She pointed out that anxiety keeps us out of the moment. And those of us who spent years imbibing every chemical we could in order to avoid reality know how scary being in the moment can be. After all, that’s when we’re left with ourselves.
If I’m experiencing some form of anxiety, however, I’m distracted from the moment. I am, in a way, high. Sure, it’s not a fun high but none of my highs were fun when I got to the end of my addiction. A high is a high is a high and a distraction is a distraction is a distraction.
But crossing whatever thing I’m avoiding item off my list suddenly eliminates that “Oh my God, I have too much to do” feeling.
Because it wasn’t that I had too much to do.
It was that I had a few small things that were taking up all my mental space.
4) Have an accountability partner
When I was seven years old, I saw, in the then-current Guinness Book of World Records that the youngest book author was six.
I was despondent.
I had wanted that honor.
And yet I didn’t publish my first book until I was 32.
And so what happened in those ensuing 26 years?
A lot of talk. A lot of aborted attempts. A lot of shitty writing that went nowhere.
Then my friend Mel suggested something: since we both always talked about wanting to write books but neither of us actually wrote our books, why didn’t we each write 500 words a week and send them to one another every Sunday?
The idea wasn’t that we’d read or edit each other’s work but just send it — just know that there was someone we’d committed to who would in turn motivate us to follow through on something we hadn’t before.
I agreed, thinking (because I live in LA, where if something isn’t confirmed at least six times, it’s surely not happening) that there was no way she was serious.
To my utter shock, the following Sunday I received her 500 words.
Panicked, I dashed off 500 words of my own and emailed them to her, just so I didn’t look like a flake.
Well, at least that’s done, I thought.
Then the following Sunday, she did it again. Yep, another 500 words of her book.
Again, I panicked and, wanting to save face, added another 500 words to the 500 words I’d already sent her. I sent them to her.
It went on like this for a few more weeks — until Mel got a new job and didn’t have time to write anymore.
But by then I had a couple thousand words. Of a book! And I was in the habit of working on it. So I kept going. That book became Party Girl — my first book, the one I sold to my dream publisher, the one I’m proudest of today.
Those first 500 words that appear in the book today are exactly the ones I dashed off simply because I’d told my friend I would.
The moral: Accountability works.
Moral #2: even when you live in LA, people will (sometimes) do what they say they will.
5) Create systems
When I first started a podcast, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work it took — the recording, the editing, the uploading, the promotion.
And that didn’t even take into consideration how difficult it was to book guests!
I released my podcast every two weeks, wondering every time how on earth I was ever going to have time to do that again, especially when I had stories I wanted to be writing, videos I wanted to be posting, storytelling shows I was producing and a million other activities and responsibilities.
One day it occurred to me: scoop all those projects up together.
I started, as I mentioned in my post last week, doing my interviews over Facebook Live. I then began stripping the audio from those interviews and making those into podcasts. After that, I realized I could make the stories people told at my live storytelling show into other episodes. Finally, I could create blog posts out of those podcast episodes.
Suddenly, I had enough material to release two podcast episodes a week — four times what I was releasing before. I also had material for Facebook, for my site, for LinkedIn and for Huffington Post. I began uploading those videos to YouTube and voila — I had another way I could repurpose the same interview. I then began re-posting those videos as Facebook posts a few weeks later.
Because I had a system — do a half-hour interview on Facebook, download, strip audio, record an intro, send interview and audio to a sound editor to splice together and boosts the levels (for $5), write the post and then schedule it re post on Facebook in a few weeks — it took almost no time.
It still takes almost no time.
I’m no mathematician but systems, I’ve learned, allow us to accomplish twice or three times what we could before — in a fraction of the time.
So I ask you: what can you systemize?
Maybe you can figure it out after your brisk morning walk and journaling — and then let your accountability partner know about it.