Cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) is a platform biotechnology that has enabled the on-demand synthesis of proteins for a variety of applications. Numerous advances have improved the productivity of the CFPS platform to result in high-yielding reactions; however, many applications remain limited due to long reaction times. To overcome this limitation, we first established the benchmarks reaction times for CFPS across in-house E. coli extracts and commercial kits. We then set out to fine-tune our in-house extract systems to improve reaction times. Through the optimization of reaction composition and titration of low-cost additives, we have identified formulations that reduce reaction times by 30–50% to obtain high protein titers for biomanufacturing applications, and reduce times by more than 50% to reach the sfGFP detection limit for applications in education and diagnostics. Under optimum conditions, we report the visible observation of sfGFP signal in less than 10 min. Altogether, these advances enhance the utility of CFPS as a rapid, user-defined platform.