How to be more efficient: Achieve more in less time
Understanding how to be efficient is one of the critical skills to being successful in life. In this article, we’ll unravel 15 strategies you can already apply to work more efficiently.
Working efficiently means using the least amount of input to produce the highest output.
But before starting, let’s clarify the significant difference between efficiency and efficacy. The essence is the following:
- Efficiency is accomplishing more with less time and resources;
- Efficacy is working on the right things that create more impact.
Why working more efficiently is paramount?
Efficiency has numerous benefits both for people and businesses. People who work efficiently are more productive and spend less energy on time-consuming admin tasks. Working efficiently also helps people to work smarter, not harder, and have sufficient time for their private life. Organized and efficient people are usually more relaxed, less stressed, and will make fewer mistakes.
Inevitably, when people at work are happy and productive, businesses will see benefits such as:
- Increased production;
- Employees working harder;
- Less waste of resources;
- Deliverables are resealed quickly;
- Happy clients;
- Fewer sick leaves.
15 easy ways to increase efficiency
- Plan our day ahead
- Set deadlines
- Track your time to be more efficient
- Group similar tasks together
- Abandon perfectionism
- Learn to say “No.”
- Improve your workspace
- Eliminate inefficient communication
- Learn keyboard shortcuts
- Divide and conquer technique
- Share knowledge at work
- Leverage the social facilitation phenomenon
- Be aware of the Ringelmann effect
- Find your ultradian rhythm
- Use the single-touch rule
1. Plan your day ahead
Imagine you’re about to start your work day, but your agenda is blank while your todo-list is bursting. You go nuts thinking about what to do first and lose precious time in the morning to schedule daily tasks.
What efficient people do, is plan ahead and put structure in their schedules. Before logging off from work, take some time to prepare for the next day.
Read also: The best free digital planners.
2. Set deadlines
The work expands to colonize all the available time; the longer the time, the more pressing and demanding the work seems.Cyril N. Parkinson
The more time you have, the more you will use. That’s the rule of Parkinson’s law. If you don’t set a deadline for the task you’ve planned, you’ll probably take it easy, procrastinate, and take as long as you like.
Instead, if you set a deadline for the task, also a fictitious one, you’ll be eager to meet the deadline and avoid time wasters.
This efficiency strategy may not work for folks with an ADHD brain, as self-set deadlines are not perceived as urgent as external urgency. There is a better way to use deadlines to improve efficiency. And by asking a buddy to check whether we have accomplished the task or not by a predefined date.
3. Track your time to be more efficient
Time-tracking is an ace in the hole if you want to be more efficient. Measuring how long each activity needs to be done creates a precious log of data and insights.
Use those insights to spot inefficiencies and time wasters and reflect honestly about how you use your most precious resource: time.
Also, when tracking time, you’re more mindful of how you spend your time. There are plenty of success stories about time tracking.
This is how time-tracking helps you to be more efficient:
- Tracking accurately billing hours without guess-work;
- Estimating projects correctly, avoiding back-and-forth e-mails;
- Improving team productivity as time tracking reveals bottlenecks;
- Helping overcome procrastination puts some healthy pressure.
Time tracking is a challenging habit to incorporate into our routine. We know it. But there are great time tracking tools to help you, get to know them in our blog.
New to time tracking?
4. Group similar tasks together
This technique consists of batching together similar task and getting them done all at once. The classic example is e-mailing. Log in once a day in your inbox and start answering e-mails, without hopping from this task to another.
This method improves productivity by helping you avoid that frenetic hopping from task to task. This efficiency method helps you to stay in the zone and conquer your task list quickly.
To group similar tasks together, you should first dump in a list all your to-dos. Then, break them into small tasks. Batch similar small tasks together.
Similar tasks usually require the same resources and people, take place in the same environment and require the same thinking process.
Other examples of task batching are:
- Answering Slack and chat messages;
- Editing images and videos;
- Editing article drafts;
- Having phone calls;
- Doing QA;
- Researching test ideas;
- Looking for candidates on LinkedIn;
- Meetings (plan meetings one after the other).
A helpful tip is to accomplish low-value work for low-energy parts of your day.
5. Abandon perfectionism
According to Psychology Today, perfectionism is a real curse for efficiency. Reviewing your work for the tenth time or putting in extra effort by delaying a deadline harms efficiency badly.
As efficiency requires achieving goals with the minimum of resources, there’s no such thing as perfect work. Perfectionism becomes unhealthy when it obstructs on-time deliveries when we feel overwhelmed and anxious.
Some helpful tips to overcome perfectionism and be more efficient are:
- Practice the “That’s good enough” mantra. When working, assess if the task you’ve accomplished is good enough to work and be understood by others;
- Stop comparing yourself with others;
- Allocate a limited amount of time to the task;
- Keep the main task’s goal in mind;
- Discuss expectations with your team and manager;
- Reflect on whether the improvements will make a true real impact on the end goal.
6. Learn to say “No.”
Highly efficient people master the art of saying “No.” According to Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book on productivity “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, the hardest thing to do, is to say no to good things.
It is tricky to set aside good stuff to make space for what truly matters. We must learn when and how to say no to ourselves and others.
Focusing on low-value work gives an illusion of efficiency, but in reality, what we’re doing is wasting precious time and creativity on low-impact tasks.
To work efficiently, we have to make choices, leave out what’s not really necessary and focus on what is the highest priority and impact. In this regard, learning to say no helps be more efficient and effective.
7. Improve your workspace
Imagine you’re about to start working. You sit at your desk, and you don’t find your glasses. You stand up, find them, sit again, and realize your mouse has no batteries. And you need help finding your notebook for work because it is hidden under a pile of books, papers, and used mugs.
Think about how much time and energy we waste looking for stuff, tidying up, and cleaning. An obstacle to work efficiency is precisely this: using our fresh, renewed energies and attention to accomplish trivial tasks we could have done when our attentiveness was lower.
Create for yourself and comfortable work environment. Ensure an ergonomic chair and mouse, sufficient monitors, and a good light.
Organizing our workspace is a crucial component to working faster and more efficiently. Creating a calming and clean workspace is relatively easy. Set in your calendar a daily reminder to do five minutes of decluttering. Some of the things to do are:
- Bring back to the kitchen and dishes, mugs, and glasses we’ve used;
- Throw away useless paper and trash;
- Archive papers and files;
- Organize our desktop;
- Check that our important work stuff is present on the desk. For example, keyboard, mouse, notebooks, and physical time trackers if you have one;
- Wipe your desk;
- Put your chair back in place.
8. Eliminate inefficient communication
Holding efficient meetings is a precious skill that can be learned. In this article, we’ve listed 10 tips on how to lead meetings efficiently. An efficient meeting starts before people meet. Preparation is a key component of efficiency. Always share the meeting’s purpose, goals, and agenda upfront. Involve the right people, only some in your company.
If you’re often thinking, “I’ve survived another meeting that could have been an e-mail,” this guide from hrb is for you.
Other hurdles to efficiency are time-wasters like e-mails and chat messages. Weird enough, the system to be more efficient with writing communication is to share information more accurately, with enough content.
It may take more time to write the first message, but once sent, if it’s clear, you will be exempt from the frenetic back and forth.
Also, avoid putting in cc everyone. Ask yourself, “Is this message really important for this person?”. Also, ask your managers and co-workers not to you refrain from putting cc in e-mails that are irrelevant to you.
Another nightmare for efficiency is the ping-pong of messages to find a commonly available time. Many tools help to solve this issue, for example, Calendly and the built-in function in Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar to see others’ calendar availabilities.
9. Learn keyboard shortcuts
According to productivity expert Andrew Cohen, keyboard shortcuts can save up to 8 days of work worth each year.
Keyboard shortcuts are straightforward commands that maintain your fingers on your keyboard instead of being interrupted to use your mouse. You might already know some of the most common ones, such as CTRL + C to copy and CTRL + V to paste.
Shortcuts will help you breeze through your daily work and save time and frustration. Following are some valuable resources to learn shortcuts, whether using Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS, or Linux.
- Great LifeHack article about Microsoft Windows keyboard shortcuts;
- Tool to have your Mac shortcuts at a fingertip;
- Essential Linux shortcuts.
10. Divide and conquer technique
We borrowed this term from data science. Indeed, as Wikipedia states, the divide and conquer design paradigm ensures that complex tasks are divided into smaller and simple ones.
Breaking tasks into smaller ones ensures that we progress toward our goals efficiently, with minimum time and energy consumption.
Also, feeling pressure to accomplish a big project all at once may seem daunting, and missing a sense of accomplishment daily may mislead us. By splitting a significant objective into smaller ones, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment every day and feel energized and motivated to keep going.
A sense of progress in our daily work is crucial to our well-being. The more frequently workers experience progress, the more productive they are.
Learn how to set SMART goals, which the acronym stands for
11. Share knowledge at work
This study shows that employee efficiency increases when leaders promote knowledge sharing.
When leaders share their expertise among the team, workers have the predisposition to be more efficient than without knowledge sharing.
By sharing knowledge, you reduce employees’ time to learn, communicate and ask for information. When in a team, there’s an open culture of knowledge sharing; research shows that people are more creative and innovative.
Knowledge sharing can be done in several ways, for example:
- Attend workshops and seminars;
- Create a shared Wiki environment accessible to everyone;
- Recognize and reward knowledge sharing;
- Encourage people to ask questions.
12. Leverage the social facilitation phenomenon
Did you know that being in the presence of others improves individual task performance? This is called the social facilitation phenomenon, and it assumes two forms.
- The co-action effect means that we work more efficiently when others do the same or similar actions. For example, some people work better at the office rather than at home because they’re in the presence of co-workers doing the same job.
- The audience effect instead refers to the case in which a group of people is watching what you’re doing. Hence, you perform at your best. Think about a pianist or artist performing in front of an audience.
To leverage this interesting psychological phenomenon and increase work efficiency, you could:
- Work at the office some days a week;
- Work in a café or co-working space;
- Invite a colleague or friend to work at your place;
- Organize deep work Zoom sessions with your colleagues and keep your camera on.
Those tips also help to overcome some challenges of remote work.
13. Be aware of the Ringelmann effect
According to the Ringelmann effect, efficiency decreases when group size increases. This phenomenon is also known as social loafing. It illustrates the inverse relationship that lives between the dimension of a group and the magnitude of the contribution that each individual is giving to accomplish a task.
The larger the group is, the more significant the loss of individual responsibility and motivation.
If you want to work efficiently with your employees and teammates, have a small group of maximum 4 people to work on a project together.
14. Find your ultradian rhythm
Working accordingly to your ultradian rhythm helps us to keep energy levels and concentration high during the day; hence it helps maintain high levels of efficiency.
Chronobiology specialists describe the ultradian rhythm as a recurrent imprint hardwired into our DNA, and dictate how our body functions in time.
The purpose of ultradian rhythms is to manage the cycles of energy production, output, and recovery that occur in all humans (as well as animals, plants, yeast, and fungi).
Pilar Gerasimo, founding editor of Experience Life magazine.
Performing while respecting our ultradian rhythm means working in chunks of 90 minutes and taking a 20 minutes break.
This system can be a valid alternative to the well-known Pomodoro technique and can be integrated with other time management strategies.
15. Use the single-touch rule
Kevin Kruse discovered this rule after interviewing 200 of the most successful people on the planet. But let’s take a step back to picture a familiar scenario.
Are you one of those who check their e-mail on their smartphone all day, even outside of working hours? Or you could start an activity and interrupt it after a few minutes to drag it along for days.
That’s disrupting efficiency. Every time we start a task without having the will or the ability to bring it to an end, we waste time.
Let’s pick the e-mail example. Maybe you read a message on your smartphone while you are at the traffic light, but you can wait to answer. In the meantime, your mind wanders a multitude of possible answers.
You arrive at the office and start typing a reply, but you are interrupted by a colleague. You come back from lunch, reopen the same e-mail for the tenth time, and you have to reread it and think about it for another half hour to finally give an answer.
How much time would you have saved if you had “touched” that e-mail only once, perhaps at a time when you were sure you could carve out 15 minutes for a well-thought-out response?
Highly efficient people use the “single touch” rule: Each activity must be carried out the least number of times (possibly once) and at the most suitable time.
Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes—whatever it is—they’ll deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress since it won’t be in the back of their mind, and it is more efficient since they won’t have to reread or re-evaluate the item in the future.
The final conclusion about how to be more efficient
We concluded our list of 15 strategies and techniques to be more efficient. In summary, we saw the following:
- How to plan our day ahead
- Why setting deadlines boosts efficiency
- How to track your time to be more efficient
- Why and how grouping similar tasks together help efficiency
- The importance of abandoning perfectionism
- How important is it to say “No.”
- Tips to improve your work environment
- The benefits of eliminating inefficient communication
- Why is it important to learn keyboard shortcuts
- How to use the divide and conquer technique
- Why managers have to share knowledge at work
- Why efficiency improves when you work with other people around you
- The positive effect of working in small groups
- Why respecting your ultradian rhythm improves efficiency
- Most productive people on Earth use single-touch rule
How to have more efficient meetings?
First of all, decide whether a meeting is necessary or not. Then, start with the end in mind and clarify the meeting’s purpose and goal with stakeholders. What do you want to achieve with it? Who are the people that should be involved and the ones who are optional? This guide helps you to lead meetings efficiently.
How to be more efficient with e-mails
To write e-mails more efficiently, batch them into a single moment in a day. When registering, be clear about the purpose of the e-mail, make a wise choice of people to put in cc, and when you’re mentioning someone, color code their name so it will be easier for people to scan through the e-mail and read the part that is most interesting for them.
Efficiency vs efficacy
Our blog about explains in detail the key differences between efficiency and efficacy. While efficiency focuses on reaching goals with the minimum resources, efficacy implies working on things with more impact.
– Efficiency is about completing a high volume of work quickly and correctly.
– Efficacy is about achieving desired results.
How to be more effective?
Focus on the outcome: When you’re focused on efficacy, it’s essential to keep the result in mind.
What are you trying to achieve? How can you best achieve it? By keeping the outcome in mind, you can ensure that your efforts are focused and effective.
Measure your progress. If you want a team to be more effective, set milestones and establish benchmarks that allow everyone to understand what’s required to produce high-quality work.
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