Speed me up!
June 28, 2013 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed recently that my "natural speed" for various mundane physical tasks eg hanging out washing, folding clothes, putting stuff away, and even getting out the car, grabbing my stuff and shutting the door, is slower than average. How can I get faster at these things without feeling like I'm rushing (and slightly stressed)?

I'm not talking about procrastination. I mean that I perform the physical actions of, for instance picking up item, walking to drawer, opening drawer, putting item inside etc more slowly than most. Not so slowly that you can imagine the cogs turning in my head to process every action, but noticeably slower than those around me.

If I'm pressed for time, I can do things pretty quickly, so it's not a physical incapability. It slightly stresses me out though, because I have to consciously tell myself to pick up the pace. As soon as I stop thinking about it, I slow down. It's like I have 2 speeds - leisurely walk which is my default mode, and sprint which I can only sustain with conscious effort.

How can I train myself so that I will naturally do things just a little bit faster? The question is not about shortcuts or faster ways of doing things, but about lifting the default speed at which my muscles move. I hope that makes sense!

For the sake of the question, please assume that my self-assessment is correct, and I'm not comparing myself to super speed freaks. Also, I know that the time savings will be more like minutes rather than hours, but I would like to do it anyway, as this is something that is bothering me.
posted by pianissimo to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I have this problem too, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm often thinking about other things while doing tasks. Mindfulness in completing the task has been the single best thing to address this.
posted by bfranklin at 8:21 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could try listening to fast paced music. I listen to a lot of crap techno just because its quick and fades into the background. Something about hearing a fast beat keeps me moving quickly.
posted by ibfrog at 8:24 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I had a friend who used to make a game of doing the dishes in record time - he'd time himself doing dishes (roughly, using the kitchen clock) and be gleeful about his speed. I didn't entirely Get it, because I like doing dishes and wouldn't want to rush them, and it seems like a very imprecise game that relies more on the quantity of dishes than his speed. But you might enjoy making a game of being speedy.

Alternatively, have you thought of rewarding yourself with using the "saved" time for something fun?
posted by ldthomps at 8:36 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a hyper speedy (and therefore stressy) person myself, I say don't ever change.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:43 AM on June 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

I use a combination of the music technique mentioned above (although often just humming or singing something upbeat to myself) and little time limits for each task. So you'll quite often find me humming the same two line refrain from a Lady Gaga song while trying to pair all of the socks in three minutes.

A little reward once everything's done can help too. If I set my self 2 hours to clean the house and do it in an hour and forty that's twenty minutes of metafilter time for me.
posted by Dorothia at 9:01 AM on June 28, 2013

This may sound idiotic, but for each routine, take a moment to plan before you move and visualize each step you will take in order. Then set things up so that is the easy default approach.

For example, when I leave in the am, I first put on my raincoat, then slide my lunch container and thermos into my messenger bag, then put on my distance glasses, then put the bag on my shoulder and my purse cross body, then take my car keys, then say goodbye to Bear and dog, then head outside to the car. (When I get there, there is a whole new set of standard steps to put my stuff in and get going.) This is now quite quick because I do the same steps each am in this order.
posted by bearwife at 9:04 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I came in to suggest listening to music too.

But I also would say, I do things pretty quickly and I'm not sure everything gets done faster as a result. I think it's more likely I'm a frenzied ball of stress doing 5 things at once - quickly but maybe not as well - and then I have to re-do 3 of them anyway.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:04 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drink some coffee first?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:07 AM on June 28, 2013

I have to consciously tell myself to pick up the pace.

Keep doing this for a few weeks and see if your default speed starts to increase. You may not have to think about it anymore after a while.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2013

This is not very helpful, but I just wanted to say that it's awesome that you're aware of this. I am one of those people who do all the boring every day tasks super fast, and it drives me slightly crazy to have to wait for slower people (on the other hand, they do things much more thoroughly and carefully, so my carelessness probably drives others crazy). But anyway, the fact that you're already thinking about this will probably speed you up. The more you think about it, the more you'll remember to speed up every time you do something, the more natural it will seem to just move faster in general.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 9:23 AM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I add some loud music and dance through my chores. Seriously, I look like something out of a bad 80s movie, but I move a lot faster.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:28 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Be quick, but don't hurry." -- John Wooden
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:29 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Super-efficient speedy person here: How is your diet? Lean protein, fruits/veggies? I'm more sluggish if I've been eating donuts and bagels.

What about coordination? Sensory acuity? I'm fairly coordinated and use all of my senses when I do everything-- I don't have to look into my purse to see which set of keys I'm feeling, so while my hand is sorting my keys, my eyes are navigating the most efficient and safe path to the car. One hand handles the keys and finer motor tasks while the other lifts, swings, carries and other gross motor tasks.

Washing dishes is choreographed, repetitive motions, and automatic. I hate beeping noises, so I wash dishes while cooking-- boiling water or heating something up in the microwave-- so there is a deadline to be done with dishes in time to stop the beeping noise from coming.

You could try working a retail/food industry job where you are understaffed, overly-busy, and simply absolutely positively must get everything done before your shift is over. I got really quick and efficient at opening and closing, because there was the deadline of "customers are coming!" and "I get to go home and sleep now!" at the end, respectively.
posted by Schielisque at 9:31 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know what you mean, I use to worry about this kind of thing when I was younger. I don’t now. I don’t think there is a way to change without stressing yourself out and the gains will be minimal, if at all. That was my experience anyway. I often work with people who the more they get frantic and try to pick up the pace the longer it actually takes to get things done.

There’s a reason that people are always advising "slow down".
posted by bongo_x at 9:32 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a really interesting question! I agree with the answers already given of: pushing yourself for a few weeks and seeing if that sort of creates new muscle memory for you and gets you into the habit; mindfulness; and establishing routine processes and ways of moving.

You might also want to try a physical discipline, (I'm thinking martial arts but there are probably others out there), that focus on efficiency of movement and developing muscle memory. Martial arts specifically will teach you to move faster while relaxing more, and to be fully aware of what you're doing without actually thinking about it.
posted by natteringnabob at 9:59 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I try to watch how others move more quickly. I like the concept of economy of motion. For example, at the gym the other day, I was waiting in line to use the changing room and mentally planned how I would change as quickly as I could - take off shorts, put on slip, take off shirt, take off sports bra, put on regular bra, put on dress.

Are you a perfectionist? I've been criticized doing menial jobs like food prep for taking a long time because I wanted to be sure that the pizza sauce covered the whole pizza and that the cheese was evenly distributed. In that case, it really helped to watch colleagues, especially my managers, since they were supposedly doing it The Right Way. Then again, while I was setting up an event for my current job, I noticed that my director was laying out the supplies Just So and it made me feel like I was in the right gig :-)

There's a hard line for me in between trying to economize my motion and doing too many things at once. I like the suggestion about never going into another room empty-handed because that's simple enough but if I were to say, call my dad also, there's no way that I could accomplish anything.

That all said, cut yourself some slack. Decide what tasks you want to do faster and which ones you would prefer to take your time with. My husband folds laundry more quickly than I do but I do my best to fold my clothes to minimize wrinkles. I also eat slowly but I think that in some ways, that's a good thing - it means that I'm enjoying my food and maybe I'll eat less. Pick your battles.
posted by kat518 at 10:10 AM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Choose one task, just one, and set a timer.

If after 21 days you still can't complete the task in the time you allowed, you haven't allowed enough time. Increase the time and see if you can meet that.
posted by tel3path at 10:21 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Speaking as another leisurely walker: Is this actually causing problems for you? You don't actually describe any problems in your question, just differences. People who do everything very quickly, in my experience, are the ones who are perpetually stressed, anxious, and easily distracted. People who do things slowly and purposefully, again in my experience, are the ones who do it right the first time.

If it's actually causing demonstrable issues for you, go ahead and try some of the advice here. But if not, just be your natural self. You'll be happier that way.
posted by echo target at 11:04 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

When you do any of these things, especially a repetitive task like hanging up clothing, think of it as practicing that activity. Although you may pay attention to more details of the activity, that reflection will actually keep you on task and by mindfully observing your actions, you actually will be practicing and your efficiency will improve.

I find that if I view myself as getting better at an activity or studying it, I am more likely to do a more focused job as I view the activity as work in itself, not just something I need to get done to go do more important things.
posted by mikeh at 1:26 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Squeeze the tasks into periods where you have limited time available. I take an eternity to, say, empty the dishwasher in the evening when I would rather be lounging. But if I set out to do it while the coffee brews for 4 minutes in the morning, I can somehow get it emptied, refilled, and turned on in record time.
posted by Pomo at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

In repetitive physical jobs like assembly line work, carpentry, piece work assembly, and I think in many agricultural jobs too, quick hands and dexterity makes a big difference between the really quick, productive workers and the rest of the pack.

Lots of these jobs are a combination of walking short distances to pick up/carry/put down product, and manipulating pieces and tools using your hands and arms. Rushing back and forth by running or speed walking doesn't get the job done much faster, but expends a lot more energy and quickly tires the person out. In contrast, people who master the toolwork -- for example, the carpenter who can skillfully drive in nails with only two or three hammer blows and moves on to the next nail without breaking rhythm, an assembly line worker who can use a power screwdriver as if he was part of a pitstop crew, the painter who gets long perfect brush strokes every time, the apple picker who is just a windmill of arms, even the guy at the pizza place who can slice up a pie in three lightning quick cuts -- they still carry things and walk from station to station just as slowly as everyone else, but their quick handiwork makes them much more productive, and they can maintain that speed for an entire shift without tiring.

So my advice is to start out not by rushing from place to place, but keep thinking to yourself "quick hands", like you're a casino dealer. If you're emptying the dishwasher, focus on nimbly snatching the pieces from the rack and quickly setting them in place, but don't rush back and forth from the cupboards. Fold laundry quickly, but carry the basket at normal pace. Just be fast from your shoulders down to your hands, and try to minimize taking multiple trips. I'm not talking about being reckless and dealing out dinner plates like playing cards, just having nimble fingers and keeping your arms in motion, reaching for the next thing as you finish with the last one.

You can speed up many manual tasks this way, and have the endurance to keep going all day like that without feeling like you're running a marathon. It adds up, and it can become second nature after a while, so you feel like you get naturally faster without mentally pushing.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

PS the other great part of quick hands is that after only a few repetitions, your muscle memory will start to kick in, and your motor cortex and subconscious are all too eager to take over the mundane activity management. Soon you'll find yourself doing the motions without really having to think about it, like tying your shoes. Your conscious self just has to impose a little more speed by doing it quickly and mindfully if you're not going fast enough, and it seems like your automatic reflexes speed up in response, to avoid being micromanaged in the future.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm slow at manual tasks. Always have been. I've not found any way to speed up significantly. So I've learned to live with it.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:36 AM on June 29, 2013

I read once about a manager of a housepainting company who tried to figure out the reason why one painter was faster than the other. So she watched them and found that the ONLY difference between the two was that--when painting (i guess they were doing textures or something) they constantly went through sponges quickly-- the faster one unwrapped his new sponge while he was walking and the other one stopped, unwrapped it, then went up the ladder.

So I guess, plan ahead, maximized what you're doing at once so long as it doesn't mess you up, think ahead.
posted by Calicatt at 7:59 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the helpful advice everyone!

I'm trying the music + being mindful and trying to do things faster all the time to build muscle memory. I forget to do this sometimes and I don't know if I'm getting any faster, but when I'm "switched on" I *feel* like I'm being more efficient so that's the main thing! It only causes problems if people have to wait for me while I do stuff, which is not often, also in the back of my mind I would have more time if I was quicker. But no, not really a big deal. If I try to speed up and it doesn't work, I won't stress over it.
posted by pianissimo at 2:44 AM on July 19, 2013

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