According to author Richard Koch's bestseller 'The 80/20 Principle', 80% of results come from 20% of work - which means spending hours wading through long emails and dense reports is, essentially, a colossal waste of time. Instead, get the general gist through speed-reading and go back for more information later.
Start by recording how long it takes you to read 200 words on a page. The key with speed reading is to cut the amount of time it takes to process information, so train yourself to trust your brain to take in information enough so you don't have to vocalise it internally and you don't have to go back over the same sentence again. Set the pace by running your finger slowly down the centre of the page and following it with your eyes, concentrating on blocks of words and gleaning as much information as possible as you go. Practice often and time yourself regularly.
When Tim Ferriss' book 'The Four-Hour Workweek' came out in 2008, people scoffed. Ferriss, though, is no fraud: among his catalogue of achievements he speaks six languages, is a guest lecturer at Princeton University and (perhaps most impressively) became the first American ever to hold a world record in tango. The key to Ferriss' achievements? Using technology to his advantage.
For Ferriss, email is 'the largest single interruption in modern life'. Emails create distractions and bring up complications - so stop. Ferriss suggests only checking emails twice a day. Set up an auto-responder which explains you will only be checking your emails at 11am and 6pm, delegate responsibility for essential replies, and include a phone number so people can get in touch with you if something is urgent. Then sit back, take a deep breath - and get on with something else.
If your inbox is clogged with meeting proposals to 'explore possibilities' or 'touch base', delete them. If it's not crucial to your key objectives, it's not smart use of your time, so ban meetings for meetings' sake. Make a start by only agreeing an appointment once both parties have settled on an agenda, purpose and potential outcome. Then block them together so you have one or two days a week during which you have meetings, and the rest to get on with real work. If you are on a tight schedule, you'll be able to make excuses if one runs over - forcing whoever you are with to get to the point.
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