I recently wrote a page on my website for clients to read after having shown up one too many times to a person's house who had previously expressed concern for the time / cost they feared the move would take - and yet were totally unprepared when I got there.
My girlfriend suggested that this information would help many people, even those who don't hire me (I assume it is because you don't live in the area, so I forgive you).
In my 5 1/2 years of experience, I have found that a small, one-person, studio apartment move can take anywhere from 30 minutes all the way to 4 hours, all with the same amount of total stuff.
It all comes down to preparation.
Step 1: Pack Everything in Advance!!
Do not try to pack on the day of the move!
Do not pack just the "main things" - literally everything that you don't need to use the next morning should packed (at least) the night before; otherwise, expect to be making extra trips on your own to get all the little stuff.
Any furniture which will not fit through the door or down the stairs (i.e. bedframes, large tables with removable legs, etc) should be disassembled in advance.
Step 2: Pack Boxes Properly
Use strong boxes, and be generous with the tape. You don't want boxes breaking when they are picked up.
The kind of box which is solid on the bottom (file boxes) are better than the kind that has the flaps underneath (which has to be taped).
All boxes should be able to close!!
They should either have a lid, or flaps that fold down on top.
Open boxes are impossible to stack, which means they can not be placed on a dolly or stacked in the truck.
Don't be afraid to use large boxes, and load them to the top. It is much faster to move just a few large boxes rather than lots and lots of tiny boxes. Lots of small boxes means lots of tedious trips back and forth from the home to the truck.
If you are being moved by a mover, or the friends you got to help you are strong, weight is not a concern (so long as the box isn't in danger of breaking). Go ahead and fill that file box to the top with books. Again, fewer full boxes means fewer trips back and forth to carry them. A standard size file box, filled to the top with book only weighs about 40lbs. If you can pick up a 4 year old child, you can carry 40lbs. Personally, I stack 3 boxes like that together and carry them all at once, because it is faster.
Protect and label fragile items. Note the difference between brittle (glass) and crushable (papier-mâché). Brittle things need to be at the bottom of a stack, crushable at the top.
Label anything you need to be able to find post-move.
Step 3: Clearly Separate Items to Be Moved From Items to Stay Behind
Sometimes only one roommate is moving out, some furniture belongs to the landlord, some things are moving into storage, or for some other reason not everything is going to the same place.
Ideally everything to be moved to one location will be in one place all together, as close to the front door as possible.
If for some reason this isn't practical, at least label things which are going, and/or the things which are staying.
If cost/time is a major concern, you could even stage things near the street just before the person with the truck arrives.
Step 4: Recruit Friends to Help!
Whether you plan to hire a small independent mover/hauler, some day-laborers, or just do it yourself, you can probably get a friend or two to help out for free beer or pizza.
Having more hands, even if they aren't especially strong, makes everything go a whole lot faster. If I have other people present to get all the light stuff, it lets me spend my time focusing on the stuff they can't get.
Step 5: Expect to Be Present for the Entirety of Your Move!
I can't really believe I have to say this, but on more than one occasion someone has met me at the door, showed me around, and then left to do some other work of their own, without letting me know in advance they weren't planning to help out with their own move.
If for some reason you will not be able to be present the entire time (i.e. you couldn't get the day off from work), or if you will be unable to help (i.e. back problems, watching a child), you should let anyone you are working with know this in advance.