4 easy ways to save time and get things done

This week I have been reading a new book by Grace Marshall called ’21 ways to manage the stuff that sucks up your time’.  There is a certain irony in this, as one of the ways I procrastinate is to read books about how to get things done. The great thing about this book though is that it is really simple and quick to read. There are 21 short chapters and each gets right to the point, giving you practical advice for how to be more productive.

"Grace Marshall"

Photo: Christopher Huthwaite

I’ve picked my four favourite techniques, so that you can become as super organised and efficient as I now am!

1. Batch your bits

Sounds a bit rude doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s about organising little tasks into clumps so you don’t get distracted. I am terrible at this. I have my email open, read one, pop over to twitter, get distracted by a link to something, look at some pictures, then fancy a cup of tea…

Is this just me? I hope not. Although I didn’t do too well in that adult ADHD test. Grace’s tip is to gather all these little jobs into chunks. It sounds simple, but if it’s that easy, why don’t we all do it? With emails in particular, Grace recommends having just one or two times every day when you read and reply to messages. You could even set up an automatic reply saying something like ‘I reply to emails between 3pm and 4pm so will get back to you then’, just so people know exactly what to expect.

2. The two-minute rule

This is a idea from David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’, (another book I’ve read as an alternative to actually getting things done), and this technique really resonated with me at the time. The idea is that if tasks come in that you know will take less than two minutes, do them right then. Don’t file them, don’t add them to a list, just get them done. Of course this doesn’t mean just flitting from one thing to another constantly – you have to work it into the bit batching idea, and only look at these sort of tasks at designated intervals.

3. Post networking post-its

Ah yes, networking. Everyone knows it’s a good thing but how many of us do it as effectively as we could do? It’s all very well to go along to an event and talk to people, but a friendly chat is never going to turn into anything other than that unless you follow it up. Unfortunately, if you’re doing it well, you’ll talk to a lot of people, and if you’re like me, when you get home and look at the cards you won’t be able to remember who anyone is or what you talked about.

Grace recommends writing a note to yourself immediately or very soon afterwards to go with each business card. This way, when you follow up, you can refer directly to your conversation. As someone who is hopeless at remembering faces, I’d also recommend making notes about the person’s appearance to help you recognise them if you meet them again!

4. Say no and stay nice

Another tricky one for me, as I always like to be accommodating if I can. With Grace’s technique though you get to say no but still appear helpful. Say someone calls you when you’re in the middle of something else. You want to help, but you’re busy. “Have you got a minute?” they ask. Well yes, technically you do have a minute, but these things always take longer don’t they?

So, instead you say something like “Yes, I’ve got two minutes now, or we can talk for longer at 4pm. Which is best for you?”

You see? Clever isn’t it? You haven’t really said no, but you turned it around so you’re saying yes on your terms.

What are your top tips for getting things done and not getting distracted?



  1. 30 November, 2012 / 12:34 pm

    As a professional procrastinator myself I like the idea of trying not to be distracted by the ping of a new email landing in the inbox, but dealing with them at set times of the day instead.

    My real problem is Skype. That little “bloop” noise instantly demands my attention, as I’m conscious there’s a person at the other end impatiently tapping their foot and awaiting my response. I do sometimes flip my online status to “Away”, but if you only remember to do this after you’ve been Skyped it kinda looks as if you’re just *pretending* not to be there!

    • 30 November, 2012 / 12:36 pm

      Ah well, I don’t have Skype at all, so that’s easy :-) Plus I’m not great at answering my phone…

  2. rinsimpson
    30 November, 2012 / 6:38 pm

    The first one is definitely something I need to get better at! I’m such a “flitter” and it means I can spend a whole day being “busy” without actually achieving all that much. It’s amazing, when something keeps me away from my desk for a couple of hours, to realise that I can do the same amount of stuff in the time that’s left over.

  3. 30 November, 2012 / 7:37 pm

    I do quite a few of these already, plus my big tip is have lists. I couldn’t cope with having hundreds of red unread mails in my inbox. As soon as they come in I read, deal with if it’s a quick one, put in pending folder, file as info or delete. Only takes 2 minutes tops, and I can rest happy knowing at the end of the day I’ve dealt (in some way) with everything. I did have a trainer once who advised turning off all email/phone notifications if you’re the type of person to get distracted by them, and then dealing with them all in one part of the day. Fine, but if you end up with urgent things that need dealing with that day, then you’ve missed the opportunity and annoyed people like me! That’s the account manager I work with.

  4. 30 November, 2012 / 8:30 pm

    I only read the first paragraph of this post as I got distracted by the ADHD test on which I scored 71, hmmm.

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