We're all looking for ways to get more done faster. The thing is, the best way isn't always the most obvious or intuitive. I learned a central piece of this puzzle in a situation in which, literally, my entire goal, my entire job, was to find a way to go faster.
I was a competitive runner in college--cross-country in the fall, and the 800 meters and mile relay in the spring. We were a small school--NCAA Division III--but competitive in our space. And one spring, my mile relay team qualified for nationals. The excitement was great, the pressure even greater, and on that day, I ran the best race of my life. The rest of the team ran well, as always, but I was the only one who PR'd ("personal record"--I ran my personal best to date). After the race, I remember my coach handing me the stopwatch showing my split--the time for my portion of the race. I also remember blinking and not believing my eyes--it was a big PR--one I'd dreamed of for years. Each team had been issued an identical baton, made particularly for nationals. In acknowledgment of my personal victory, my three teammates presented me with the team baton to keep.
Shorten Your Stride
My PR that day was greatly the result of a piece of advice my coach had given me: "Shorten your stride." I have long legs, and my natural tendency as a runner is to use them (go figure). With naturally long strides, the advice felt counterintuitive. Yet it was sound. Slightly shortening my strides, and taking more of those shorter strides, actually made me go faster, and reach the finish line more quickly. I didn't believe him at first, but on trying it out, found he was right. I have the stopwatch and baton to prove it.
Break it Down
In the years since then, I have observed a natural tendency when it comes to working on any kind of project: To push. Keep going. Get it done. Drive oneself. Kind of like taking those long strides. I have seen this in myself and in others. I have also observed that I tend to accomplish more, and more quickly, when I shorten my stride: break it down into chunks, do a chunk at a time, take a break between chunks, clear my head.
To Get More Done Faster, Be Strategic
This all goes against the instinct that says that when you have a big task, you must take a big, long run at it. Be aware of this instinct, and be strategic. Whatever the task at hand, break it down. Do a piece at a time. Watch the accomplishments of those pieces stack up, fueled by breaks and refreshment, and ultimately, see yourself accomplish more and get to the finish line faster.