You aren’t born efficient. You’re actually born quite the opposite.
Think about how long it takes a little kid to pick up their toys. If you don’t have kids or don’t spend time around little kids let me tell you it’s one of the most time-consuming tasks. Watching little kids pick up toys makes my skin crawl. I dread it with every fiber of my being. One toy at a time, no specific order, they play a little bit with each toy before they put it away but somehow after hours of the clean-up song – they might get the job done. Just to start all over again.
Being efficient is a skill that you must work to improve every damn day or your entire life.
Being efficient is so important. It’s one of the most sought after traits employers are looking for. Here’s why… It makes you a more valuable employee. If your employer is trying to decide who to keep and who to let go and both people are paid the exact same amount – the volume of their output is a major factor in the decision.
If there are multiple people up for the same promotion and they all meet all the same criteria, but one person gets double the work done they have a much higher chance of getting that coveted position.
Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks that I have learned for living an efficient life at work and at home:
- Do the hardest, most terrible task that you are not looking forward to doing first thing in the morning. I know. It sucks. It majorly super sucks! This sounds so easy but it’s so much harder to do than you would anticipate. Fight through it. It will make the rest of your day remarkable. Think about how nice it would be to spend the rest of your day cranking out the easy tasks, think about how accomplished you would feel, think about the momentum you would have if you didn’t have to stop mid-day and start working on a big, tough, scary project. Before you go to bed at the end of the night write down the task that you are dreading the most for the next day – just one – that way when you wake up you can knock it out and don’t get caught up in to-do lists.
- Get organized. I’m not talking about Marie Kondo organized – just orderly. Everyone has a different system. I like to print everything out (sorry environment – it’s nothing personal) so I can physically see that things are getting accomplished and can grab what I need without having to dig through digital files or email. Having an organizational system will ensure that you don’t waste time plus it makes it look like you have your life together.
- Find a system that works for you and stick to it. Do it once. Do it right. Save it in the correct location, sort it, review it, respond immediately. Put things where they belong right away so that you don’t spend hours searching later. If you touch it, handle it.
- Create systems where they don’t exist. If you notice you are doing the same thing every day and the process could be simplified if you just had time to sit down and create a process or system to speed things up – then you guessed it – spend the extra time on the upfront to save you time down the road. It will seem overwhelming and daunting but it’s worth it. If you elevate these types of things to employers some of them are willing to put together a team to tackle them if it’s worth it for the business in the long run.
- Create templates. Are you writing the same email each week or sending out the same report with different words? Spend some time with the document to clean it up, make it look impressive, ensure it’s comprehensive and create a template that you can just plug in the information each time you are working on it so that you have a consistent format and don’t have to set up the document each time you jump in. If your co-workers are doing the same tasks – share the template with them. Sharing is caring folks!
- Find out your personal daily work-flow. Align your tasks with how you work best. Block off these chunks of time on your calendar. Be strict about your plans. If you put something on your calendar it doesn’t move.
- When are you the most creative? When you feel energized in the morning? Plan to ideate and brainstorm during this time.
- When are you the most likely to take a bunch of breaks? When you are hungry? When you’re tired of sitting at your desk? Plan your exercise during this time. Get up, get moving then get back to it.
- When do you need to re-energize? When do you hit that wall where you can’t possibly work anymore? This is the perfect time for a meeting over coffee.
- When are you the most talkative? When do you have time to chat it up without being interrupted? In the car on your way home? On your way into the office? Make those calls, honey!
- When do you just want to be left alone? Plan to tackle projects that require deep thinking and lock the door. Put up a sign that says something like “please don’t bother me unless it’s an absolute emergency” or better yet if you can work from home or a coffee shop and turn off your internet and notifications.
- When do you like writing? When do the words just roll off your tongue? Curl up with some snacks and get it all out.
- When do you like to do monotonous tasks? Take this time to organize your life.
- Set ICOE time. ICOE = In Case of Emergency. There is always something unplanned that comes up. Having this flex time in your day will ensure you don’t feel stressed out when the emergencies roll in. It also makes it harder for you to move the other stuff on your calendar if you have a designated time to handle ad hoc requests and spur of the moment needs. There are very few cases where something is actually needed “urgently”. Also, if you didn’t know “ASAP” does not mean right now, it means As Soon As Possible.
- I’m about to tell you something that is going to rock your entire world. Wait for it… You don’t need to check your email every five minutes. Wait, wait, wait… It gets better. You don’t need to check your email every hour. Hold onto your seat folks, you don’t need to check your email every day. Unless your company has a written rule that dictates how often that you must check your email then it’s up to you. You make the rules. Every time you stop working to check your email then you must get back in the zone. It’s a time suck. If you need to get work done, put up a friendly out of office that let your co-workers know that you will get back to them and if there is a true emergency, they can reach out to you with a quick call and then turn off your email. Shut it down. This rule also applies to social media, instant messengers and your phone. Want to get bat shit crazy? Turn off your wi-fi. I said it. Turn off your wi-fi. This will eliminate any temptation to “pop-in” and check on things. Airplane mode will become your best friend. If your company gives you the option to work remotely, try to select one day and work from a place where you know you will have zero interruptions.
- Go into every meeting with a set agenda and ensure that the attendees are the people that need to be at the meeting (not people that are just looking for something to do so they don’t have to do their real work). Don’t invite the whole company. Outline exactly what needs to be discussed and how much time you need to talk about each topic. Send out the agenda at least 24 hours ahead of the meeting to ensure everyone has time to review along with any and all materials that will be discussed. I have noticed that in a lot of the meetings that I sit in the entire group spends the first half of the meeting just reviewing the materials. Make it the expectation that everyone will have reviewed the materials provided prior to the call. This allows you to focus on exactly what needs to be discussed. When you are finished, wrap up the meeting and leave. If other people want to hang around and chit chat that’s fine but never get sucked into the end of meeting wormhole time suck.
- I recommend having three email accounts. Never interchange them. The reason I am admit about this is because it allows you to bulk delete and never spend time sorting the spam emails while allowing you to focus on the emails that you need to address. Here is how I handle each of my accounts.
- Spam Account: Coupons, sweepstakes entries, advertisements, loyalty cards, social media notification, etc.
- Bulk delete – yes, please!
- Example: MandySpam@gmail.com
- Personal Account: Invitations, personal correspondence, bills and photos and memes from aunt Suzie
- Check it out, add it to my calendar and move on.
- Example: MandyFamily@gmail.com
- Work/Professional Account: Only items pertaining to my career
- Never delete anything. This allows me to go back and address issues when associates tell me that I “never told them that” or that they “never said that”. I am a firm believer in having everything in writing and it has saved me so much time along with helping me maintain a good reputation. People are much more willing to admit they made an error if you have something in writing. Believe me.
- Respond promptly and then save for future reference if needed
- Example: MinutewithMandy@gmail.com
- Take Breaks. I heard a statistic once that the most productive people take a five-minute break every sixty minutes. I am a firm believer now. I try to make sure that I get up from whatever I am doing every hour and go to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee or water and a small healthy snack and then get back to it (if you haven’t realized it yet I really like snacks). It helps me to refresh my train of thought and not get bogged down by unnecessary details. I will say that if you are going to take this approach you must be very good at avoiding distractions. Almost every time I get up and walk no more than a foot away from my desk there is someone that wants to chat for “just a minute”. I must let them know that I will get back with them later to maintain my focus. At first, this felt uncomfortable but the more I did it the better I got at it.
- Another one of my favorite tricks is to find the place that you are the most productive. For some people, it’s at a coffee shop but for me, it’s at my desk in the office. I have everything I need printed out at arms reach and multiple people that have answers to all my questions sit within ten feet of me so instead of typing up a lengthy email I can just turn around and ask all my questions thus breaking my own interuption rule.
- Find a proofing pal. Someone who is somewhat close to what you do so they understand the context of your emails or work. My personal motto is to avoid sharing out big projects until you have them completed but you should try to find one person that you trust to share out with mid-project for big projects. This allows you to get a fresh set of eyes on your work and talk through any questions, comments or concerns. I would avoid having this person be your boss but to each their own. I have had some of the biggest revelations when I shared my work with someone who sat next to me and they did the good old “well, did you ever think about including…” or “I might be missing it but shouldn’t you cover off on…”. Use them as a test dummy before big presentations and always be willing to do the same for them. Being prepared will make you look and feel like you’ve got it all together.
- If you are like me and have a long commute (anything longer than 20 minutes) then I suggest figuring out what calls you need to make for the day and taking them from the car. Unless there is a reason you need to take detailed notes. I am definitely not suggesting taking any notes while driving. If I have questions that I need to get answered or want to reach out and ask someone for advice I use my time in the car to get this done. Sometimes I use my drive time to get some of my personal calls done like paying bills and making appointments. Every minute of your time is precious, and you should treat it as such. There is no reason you should spend all that time listening to mindless radio chatter.
- Spam Account: Coupons, sweepstakes entries, advertisements, loyalty cards, social media notification, etc.