More than ever, we need to get a lot done. We’re facing higher output expectations, but most of us don’t have endless resources or huge budgets; we also don’t have a workforce willing to work 60 hours a week.

None of these are necessarily bad or wrong, but are they perhaps incompatible? Can we really get more done with less and without burning our staff?

I had occasion recently to reflect on this imbalance. I’ve tried to clarify my own thinking rather than ‘cheat’ by ripping pages out of Covey’s 7 Habits (which was the Christmas reading for our whole team), although my last point is clearly a blatant ‘steal’.

Here’s where I landed.

How we can all get more sh*t done

Something to note: This was written as guidance for members of our team, but I suspect it might be useful for your own. For context, is largely three things: a digital marketing agency, a sales and marketing planning consultancy, and creators of a neat piece of software used by corporates and consultants for their own planning. My thoughts here relate mainly to the first, and were triggered relating to team members in the digital agency.

The reason that’s relevant to this article is that we are paid for outcomes, but record work by time spent. So, getting an outcome within a sane amount of time is key to our day-to-day work for clients.

Alright, enough context, now my thoughts:

Getting shit done (GSD) means:

Doing the right things. No-one will thank you for doing the work that doesn’t matter. Nor will you thank yourself. But prioritisation isn’t enough. We also need to seek clarity. If you are asked to do something, maybe spend a minute or two clarifying what is asked and its urgency. And if you think the ‘ask’ is wrong (wrong person, wrong approach, wrong priority), spend another minute debating that too. Spending a day fixing a problem that was misunderstood or mis-prioritised is frustrating for both parties in that conversation. And once you are clear, write it down. Most of us overestimate our ability to remember. Once the task is clear, spend a minute writing that clarity down. Perhaps send a copy to the other person (customer or colleague) if you agreed a change from the first request.

Closing tasks out. If the thing is in your hands or your head, do the work now. If you simply must move on to something else, then why did you pick it up? Triaging is OK. Spending 15 minutes in the morning to work out which of your emails need to have dedicated time allocated to them, and doing so before putting them aside is time well spent. Another 15 minutes on quickly replying to or delegating the rest is OK. Spending 30 minutes meandering between easy tasks and hard or unfinished ones, is not.

Doing it now. Very related to my last point, with so many tasks coming and going through our days, we pay a considerable ‘tax’ to reach the same clarity about the work at hand that we had when we last considered that task. Touching a task once rather than twice is self-evidently a good idea. So, send that follow up memo right after the meeting, not the next day. Update your plan right after the plan review meeting, not a week later when you next need to make progress.

Communicating. We’re often faced with work that we assigned to ourselves or others did for us that simply can’t get done. Getting that task done a day or a week later than it was needed can easily trigger double handling (clearly he’s not done it, so I’ll do it myself), knock-on effects for related work, and time wasted for the person waiting on the work. Simple communication can go a long way. “I’ve got this”, “I can get it done, but not until Wednesday. Is that OK?”, and “I’m running super late on this due to other priorities. Do you still want to leave it with me, or do we need to ask someone else to cover it?” are all good communications. Saying nothing in the hope that you’ll be OK is not good communication.

Turning up, working fast, turning off. Whether working from home or from an office, this is the same. Most of us found ourselves unable to separate work from home in 2020, but we need to do so for our health. The need to keep the focus on work while at work is no less real. This is not about operating as a sweatshop. In fact, at we measure time recorded per team member to confront those spending more than 40 hours at work and to help them to improve efficiency and compartmentalise their lives better, or to have grown-up conversations about workloads with their manager. But neither is it about idling through the day. I asked my favourite waiter on Saturday how his week had been, and he answered – as many would – that it was a good week. “We were busy, and the week went quickly”. Office life is much the same for most of us. Turn up (ready to work), work fast, then turn off.

Sharpening the saw. If we’re not spending a portion of our time – maybe 5% or 10% – on getting better, finding new tools, improving processes, we’re going to have to work wickedly hard or accept poor output.

By the way, if you want to talk to us about digital marketing, we’re pretty darned efficient at achieving outcomes. (We GSD).