Have you ever thought that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything?
On the negative side, it’s not very likely that we’ll have more than 24 hours anytime soon.
On the positive side, you don’t need more than 24 hours — there are numerous ways to get the most out of the time you already have.
In this article, we’ll go over ways to maximize efficiency and get the best use out of our time.
Table of contents
- Myths about work efficiency
- Ways to maximize efficiency
- Track your time
- Eat the frog
- Remember that done is better than perfect
- Be proactive
- Have a plan B if things go wrong
- Minimize distractions
- Delegate less important tasks
- Communicate effectively
- Learn to say “No”
- Use the “2-Minute Rule” for procrastination
- Ask for help
- If a meeting can be an email, make it an email
- Additional ways to maximize efficiency you maybe haven’t thought of
Myths about work efficiency
Before we dive into the secret of (time) efficiency, we have to bust some popular myths.
Being efficient means working as hard as possible
Does it ever happen you spend the whole day completing less important tasks from your to-do list, without tackling the high-priority ones? Or, you spend all your time writing to-do lists, researching, and thinking about every possible outcome… without doing any actual work?
If you rarely have time for family and friends, if you’re always doing something but not getting closer to your goals, and if you feel guilty when you’re not working — you’re definitely busy, but are you productive?
Busyness doesn’t necessarily equal productivity. Completing tasks is a better indicator of productivity than the amount of time spent working.
Working from home is less efficient
Sometimes there’s a misconception that working from home essentially means watching Netflix in your pajamas and playing with your pets while your work laptop is open next to you.
Recent studies beg to differ — working from home seems to be more productive than working from the office. A study by Stanford University done over 9 months that included 16,000 workers found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. The increase in performance has contributed to a more convenient work environment, as well as fewer breaks and sick days.
According to a survey by ConnectSolutions, 77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity — 30% do more work in less time and 24% do more work for the same amount of time.
To be successful, you have to copy the habits of highly successful people
Every successful person’s morning routine seems to include waking up extremely early, having a strict workout routine, taking a shower with cold water, meditation, reading, keeping a gratitude journal, having an extremely healthy breakfast… The list goes on. And, all that before 9 AM.
While I’m happy such a routine works out for them and they enjoy it, there are a few problems with copying their habits:
- They are not for everyone, nor do they fit everyone’s lifestyle. You should tailor your daily habits to you, your goals, and your way of life. We’re all different, so the fact that something works for other people doesn’t give you any guarantee that it will work for you.
- This may be controversial, but unless 1) you are a morning person and that’s when your productivity is at its peak or 2) you have important things to do early in the morning — there’s no real reason to wake up at 5 AM.
- Don’t let other people’s habits and daily routines make you feel bad about your productivity or guilty because you’re not making every minute count. This leads us to our next myth…
You have to be productive every second of the day
Getting rest is as productive as working. Forcing yourself to work all the time will lead to burnout, exhaustion, and lower performance since you will be too tired to focus properly.
Experts recommend a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night, as well as taking regular breaks when you’re working so your mind can stay fresh and concentrated. Working intervals can be anywhere from 25 minutes (with 5-minute breaks, as is the case in the Pomodoro technique) to 90 minutes (with 20 minutes of break time).
Downloading every productivity app there is will help you
As much as we’re fans of productivity apps, downloading and attempting to use every single one of them usually does more harm than good. To prevent getting overwhelmed, start with downloading just the ones you feel will help you the most and test them out to see if they work for you.
If they do — great.
And, if they don’t, you can always download an alternative or try something else.
💡 If you’d like app recommendations, we made a list of 35 best apps for time management in 2021, as well as Top productivity resources on the Internet (that also includes websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, and blogs).
Ways to maximize efficiency
Now that we’ve busted some myths, here are some of the most effective ways to maximize efficiency — from getting the best use out of your time to beating procrastination.
Track your time
Being efficient means getting the most out of your time and spending it wisely.
But first, you need to ask yourself — What do you spend time on?
If you don’t know, you should start tracking your time. This practice will help you analyze the way you spend your time, and provide answers to questions such as:
- Is there something you should spend more or less time doing?
- What changes can you make in your schedule to make it suit your needs better?
- What areas of your time management need improvement?
Moreover, time tracking facilitates accurately estimating the time you need to finish a certain project. It also provides data that will help review your performance.
Eat the frog
You don’t have to become a fan of French cuisine — the Eat the frog method entails doing the task you dread the most at the very beginning of your workday.
The “frog” can be an extremely difficult task, an extremely important task, or an extremely difficult and important task. Only when you’re done with the “frog”, shift to the next task of less importance.
💡If you need help with deciding what tasks are the most important, check out How to (re-)prioritize your tasks.
Remember that done is better than perfect
You should always try to do your best. But, when you become overly critical and set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others, it can become a problem.
Try to remember that done is better than perfect and finish the task even though it’s not 100% perfect. This mindset will:
- Help you get results;
- Avoid overworking and burnout;
- Make you more productive;
- Help you save time;
- Be easier on your mental health.
Efficient people are proactive people. They focus on what they control and make their own path by making decisions, instead of letting the current circumstances choose their path. How to be more proactive?
- Plan ahead;
- Provide timely updates to your team members and managers;
- Be active in team discussions;
- Seek feedback;
- Don’t dwell on mistakes, but learn from them.
Have a plan B if things go wrong
Speaking about being proactive and planning ahead, take into consideration that there’s a possibility that your plan may fail. As much as it’s well thought out, there’s always something unexpected that may occur. To minimize the surprise factor, go over the things that may go wrong and make a plan B, just in case.
Think about what distracts you the most.
Is it your phone? Turn off notifications and/or place the phone in another room.
Is it talking to your coworkers? Give them a heads-up that you’re working on an important task and that you’ll chat on a break.
Is it a nosy workplace? Invest in noise-canceling headphones.
Preparation is the key to success — the better you know your workflow, what can disrupt it, and what the necessary steps to avoid the interruptions are, the more efficient you will be.
Delegate less important tasks
Ask yourself — what tasks align with your exact skill set and must be done by you specifically? Those are your most important tasks — make them a priority on your to-do list. Try to delegate the ones with the lowest priority level so you can have enough time and energy to tackle your main tasks.
Effective communication in the workplace is clear, concise, respectful, as well as open and frequent. Everyone should have their turn to talk and voice their input during team discussions, while others listen actively. Always keep in mind the point of the discussion and the problem you’re trying to resolve. Good communication minimizes mistakes and misunderstandings and makes everything go smoother.
This is especially true if your team works remotely or has adopted a hybrid work model. In that case, it’s equally important to find the right communication tools, from emails to team chat apps. My team uses Pumble as our team chat and collaboration app of choice — it’s great for teams looking for a budget solution as it’s free for unlimited users and it offers access to unlimited chat history.
Learn to say “No”
Time is precious — you only get 1440 minutes each day to accomplish everything, including your work and your private life. Be picky with how you spend it.
Others, however, probably don’t hold the same sentiment when it comes to your time, so you have to learn to say “No”. Be assertive, but polite; give people a reason for your refusal, but don’t explain too much and go into too much detail.
Use the “2-Minute Rule” for procrastination
This tip is my favorite; if anything helps me be productive, this is it.
The first step is the hardest one — that’s why it should never take more than 2 minutes to do. Make it as easy as possible to start.
“Write” becomes “open a new document”, “exercise” becomes “put on your workout clothes”, “go through your emails” becomes “open the email app.”
That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
When you manage to start, it suddenly becomes much easier to continue doing what you need to do and eventually finish it.
Ask for help
If you get stuck, there’s no shame in asking for help. I understand that it can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re a new hire, but the fastest way to learn is to ask. Besides, it’s better to ask and do it correctly than to make mistakes that could easily be avoided.
The first option should be to check if the answer hasn’t already been shared with you or is just a Google search away. If it’s not, find the right person for your problem and ask away.
If a meeting can be an email, make it an email
According to Atlassian, the average office worker spends 31 hours a month attending unproductive meetings. The 91% of average meeting goers claimed they daydream during the meeting, 73% did other work, 39% even slept, and 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend.
Some things need to be discussed and brainstormed in a meeting; others can be just an email. If the former is the case, keep your meetings on-point and productive.
Additional ways to maximize efficiency you maybe haven’t thought of
Other than the usual ways to combat procrastination, disorganization, and other nemeses to productivity, there are also some fun and/or interesting things you can try to maximize efficiency.
Find the right playlist
If you’re one of those people who can’t function without music, finding the perfect tunes to work to is an important factor in your success. Some prefer apps with background sounds, some enjoy lo-fi or jazz radio, some have a YouTube playlist specifically for hustling. Or maybe noise-canceling headphones do the trick for you? Music can affect productivity both positively and negatively, so make sure you find the right playlist.
Don’t disregard the importance of adequate musical background!
Hold standing meetings
Try holding a standing meeting — it’s, just as the name says, a meeting where everyone stands. That may seem unusual, however, it has a number of benefits, as it:
- Takes less time;
- Keeps the team engaged, thus improving performance;
- Is more on-point;
- Puts less stress on the body — specifically, the neck, back, and shoulders that can start aching after a prolonged period of sitting.
Give yourself little rewards
Some tasks are extraordinarily boring and/or hard, but they have to be done — and, what’s even worse, they have to be done by you specifically.
After a lot of empirical research, I came to the conclusion that the best way to bring myself to do such tasks is to promise myself a small reward. I talked to people who use the opposite method: they choose a punishment for themselves if they don’t do the task, but I like the reward method more. It makes you form a positive association with your task, instead of a negative one.
And, in the wise words of Tom and Donna from Parks and Recreation, you should “treat yo self.”
Find repeatable shortcuts
If you find yourself doing something over and over again, don’t waste time always repeating the same process — automate it instead.
For example, if you get a lot of emails that require the same or very similar answer, make a template instead of typing out the same thing multiple times.
Make your workspace pleasant and inspiring
If you spend 8 or more hours in the same place, make that place enjoyable to be in. You can do it by:
- Decluttering your desk, your laptop, and your phone. Make Marie Kondo proud of you by throwing away and deleting everything that you don’t use. Keep only the things that are either important or, as she would say, “spark joy”, like a plant or a framed photo on your desk;
- Adding some personal touches to make the space more pleasant to work in;
- Choosing the right lighting that’s not too bright, but that keeps you awake and focused.
If you don’t know where to start, look up inspiration online. My personal favorites are aesthetic desk setups and stationery collections on YouTube — I watch them like I’m enchanted. Other than bringing me an unexplainable amount of joy, they also make me impulsively buy a lot of unnecessary things, so watch them with caution.
If you procrastinate, find an accountability partner
People usually do this when it comes to going to the gym or eating healthily, but hey, why don’t apply it to work too? If you struggle with procrastination, find someone who’s in the same boat as you and keep each other accountable and on track.
Be careful when choosing your accountability buddy, as this is a two-edged sword. It can backfire as you end up enabling each other to procrastinate more, together — which is the exact opposite of what we aim to accomplish.
Efficiency means achieving maximum productivity with minimal effort. In our case, that also means working smart and being intentional about your time. There are a lot of ways to achieve this, from minimizing distractions and “eating the frog” to finding the right playlist and giving yourself little rewards for accomplishing tasks. You just have to find the ways that work best for you and you’ll be on a good way to maximize your efficiency.
✉️ What is your favorite way to maximize efficiency? Have you already tried some of our tips and did they work for you? Would you add something to our list? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in one of our future articles.