The Secret of Getting Jobs Done Quickly

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This is Part 2 of our mini serious aimed at improving organisation skills. Click here for Part 1. In Part 2 we now discuss a trait I call ‘Thoroughness’.

I struggled to finish anything I started

One of my biggest problems in life has been that I have not finished things I have started. I have always been such a perfectionist that I have made tasks too complicated and ended up making them impossible to finish. Time and again I have started huge projects and spent years working on them, only to give them up because I couldn’t finish them. I struggled so much at university and school that I am surprised I managed to get through. I nearly gave up my degree so many times. In the end, I only finished it because I was so afraid of my Dad being ashamed of me if I did not finish. But on many occasions I became near mad trying to get essays finished. I also felt like I wanted to die when trying to sit through 4-hour exams. In fact, I struggled so much sitting through exams that I walked out of them one year and had to re-do them the following year. I spent some time researching people who are perfectionists and extremely thorough when doing tasks. This is what I found.

People who score high on Thoroughness:

  1. Typically take a long time to do things because they like to do them thoroughly
  2. Get really engrossed in things and find it hard to stop doing them
  3. Take longer than the average person to get ready in the mornings
  4. Clean their teeth very thoroughly
  5. Are captivated by things that other people aren’t so interested in
  6. Tend to do tasks the same way every time they do them

People who score low on Thoroughness:

  1. Like to ‘cut corners’
  2. Find the quickest way to do a task
  3. Prioritise carefully when deciding what task to do first
Find Out How Slow You Are: Try our Slowness quiz and find out how slow you are compared to others CLICK HERE

Are you a perfectionist?

People who score high on ‘thoroughness’ are perfectionists. The trouble is that thorough people tend to be very slow at completing tasks. This has a huge impact on their ability to be organised. It’s a simple equation really:
  • Firstly, I'd like you to imagine that it takes Jane 1 hour to complete 4 tasks
  • Next, I'd like you to imagine that it takes Sophia 1 hour to complete 1 task.
  • Now imagine that both Jane and Sopohia spend an hour organising their affairs.
At the end of this hour of organising, Jane will have completed four times as many tasks as Sophia. In this instance you can easily see why thorough people struggle to organise their affairs.

Some people take 3 hours to get ready to leave the house!

At the extreme end of the spectrum, there is in fact a rare disorder called ‘Primary Obsessional Slowness' (POS). Individuals with Primary Obsessional Slowness are so hampered by their slowness that some take around 3 hours to get washed and dressed and ready to leave the house in the mornings!! Intriguingly, therapists did find a way to improve POS. In the Cognitive treatment for POS, staff working with patients:
  1. Firstly break tasks into small chunks,
  2. Then they ask patients to set a timer. The timer sets off an alarm each time the patient is supposed to finish each section (or 'chunk') of the task. eg. Whilst cleaning her teeth, a patient might be allowed 30 seconds to brush each tooth. The alarm successfully helps to push patients to move on to the next stage of the task.

We can apply POS treatment to help us do tasks more quickly

I think those of us who are extremely thorough and slow when it comes to completing tasks can learn something from this treatment. If you are slow at completing tasks then try the following. Break a task into a number of 'chunks' e.g. if you are trying to write an email, you might break this into 3 chunks:
  1. write a brief outline of what you are planning to say in the email
  2. Write the email
  3. Re-read the email to check for errors
Then you could decide time limits for the 3 'chunks' e.g.
  1. 1 minute
  2. 4 minutes
  3. 1 minute
In this example, the whole process should take 6 minutes in total. You could try using an alarm clock to help you when you have tasks. I just found this one on-line. You could try using this when you are working on your computer: Click here for an ONLINE TIMER. You can edit the time and alarm tone by clicking 'edit' (located directly under the timer). You can reset the clock by hitting 'reset' (to the far right of the timer). This method also has the advantage that it may also help you not to procrastinate whilst doing the task. (CLICK HERE for my article on Procrastination.)

We can learn from people who are very quick at completing tasks

Low scorers on 'thoroughness' look for the fastest way to complete a task. They always look for ways to cut corners or do tasks quicker. They do not get absorbed in any of the details. High scorers on the other hand, typically cannot help getting immersed in every detail of a task. Those of us who are overly ‘thorough’ have much to learn from low scorers. However, it is good to remember that in the right context, thorough individuals often become experts in their specialised field. This is because thorough people are able to spend vast amounts of time immersing themselves in their subject of interest. Low scorers typically do not have the same level of patience for dedicating vast amounts of time to developing one area of specialised expertise. Such dedication often comes at the expense of doing other things. Low scorers are typically not willing to make this sacrifice. Question:I'd like to hear your experiences with slowness: Are you particularly thorough or slow when you do things? Or do you get annoyed when other people take a long time to get ready to go out or do other things? COMMENT BELOW. Quiz: Try our Slowness quiz and find out how slow you are compared to others. CLICK HERE

PART 3 - Why Do I Get So Traumatised by Simple Tasks?

Do you sometimes find even simple tasks traumatic? In Part 3 we will discuss how to decrease our anxiety when doing tasks. CLICK HERE to read Part 3. Photo: Doug Waldron


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