Productivity Secrets from the NBA: How To Do Everything Better and Quicker — And Make A Lot More Money in the Process

Did you ever notice how many professional basketball games are decided in the last 10 minutes? Plenty. It’s a curious thing. Ten guys jump around like madmen for 50 minutes, the score seesawing a few points this way and a few points that way. Then — halfway through the last quarter — everyone’s attitude changes. And for the rest of the game, every point seems to be crucially important and is hotly contested until — at the buzzer — victory is determined. There is a similar situation in business.

Schedule a three-hour meeting to solve a problem, and what happens? For two and a half hours, people bat ideas back and forth, tell stories, go off on tangents, make jokes, and generally have a lackadaisical time. Then, about 20 minutes before the meeting is due to end, someone notices the time and everyone hunkers down and settles the issue. BB says that all that fooling around beforehand is not wasted. It’s the way creative people brainstorm — kind of circling in on the prey.
Maybe so — but if so, that’s just our habit. It doesn’t have to be that way. I believe you can get the same work done in less time simply by scheduling less time to do it. Let me give you an example. I used to spend an average of three hours doing group critiques of direct-mail copy. Many of those meetings went into overtime. Nowadays, I use an accelerated program that very seldom takes longer than 30 minutes. And the results are much, much better on just about every imaginable level.
Just today, I ran a marketing meeting that was scheduled for 90 minutes. Because of a conflict, I shortened the meeting to 30 minutes. The profit-center manager who was running the meeting was visibly upset when I insisted that we could do the work in one-third the time. She felt that my decision was somehow a reflection on the lack of importance I thought the project merited. Because of her feelings, I made sure that the meeting was all business. From the moment we sat down, everyone was more or less forced to stay focused on the subject. It was a strain to do it that way, but only for about three minutes.
After that, we got into that groove — the NBA final-10-minutes groove — where everything happens. We finished the meeting with five minutes to spare. Everyone was very happy with the results. You can do almost everything you are currently doing faster. And the more experience you have doing it, the faster it should be. As Mark H. McCormack points out in “Never Wrestle With a Pig,” the book I mentioned Friday in Message #723, if after 10 or 20 years of experience, it’s still taking you the same amount of time to do what you do … you haven’t been a very good student of your profession. Set yourself a goal of lopping off at least 25% of the time allotted for every routine task that you now perform.
To do that, you need to be aware of the time you spend — and that means using the ETR daily task list or some similar method of keeping track of your daily activities. If, for example, you spend 20 minutes a day reading the newspaper, cut the time down to 15 minutes. Spend an extra 10 minutes today figuring how you can do that by, perhaps, scanning the headlines and subheads first to orient and prioritize your reading, reading only the lead paragraphs of some articles, etc. (See Message #262, “How to Read an Extra 52 Helpful Books This Year.”)
If you have daily half-hour meetings with your staff, ask for suggestions from them as to how you can cut them down to 20 minutes. Eating lunch? Taking your morning shower? I know — you don’t want me to go there. But keep this in mind: By taking time to figure out how to do work faster, what you are really doing is figuring out how to do it better. And better is what you’ll get.
Better and some extra time that you can devote to painting or writing or dancing the salsa. There is another aspect to this idea that relates to the projects you take on. The next time your boss or customer asks you to do something by a certain time, tell him that you’ll have it done sooner. Make that promise and then do it. You will amaze will carry refunds.)