It’s the constant problem we all face in the workplace, and in life. How can we get it all done when our to-do lists never get shorter and time seems to move faster and faster? How can we make our workday more efficient and organized so we’re delivering results without burning out? You can grab a ton of ideas online (and I suggest you check them out), some you’ve heard before, and some rather impractical. I did a bit of my own research and here are five of my favorites tips:
Break responsibilities into manageable pieces: Hands-down, the number one principle I use at work and in life. Big projects seem daunting and are so easy to put off until you have big chunks of time. But, let’s be honest, who has that? While it doesn’t feel as rewarding to do a small part of a big task as it does to complete several smaller tasks and cross them off the list, it truly is the best approach.
Let’s say you have to design a training course for new employees and the first draft is due in 2 months. Can you put together an outline today and send it off for review? While people review, complete several other tasks that are on your list. Once you receive feedback, break the outline into sections and tackle one section every couple days. You get the idea. This can also work in life as well, such as cleaning out your garage (one area at a time) or tackling your taxes.
Keep meetings tight (if you must meet): Do you find yourself doing your ‘real work’ after hours, because you spend most of your days in meetings? Most people find meetings to be the biggest source of wasted time at work. No doubt that meetings are necessary for kicking off projects, brainstorming, and setting goals. If you must meet, here are some tips:
- Establish an agenda and set timeframes for each agenda item. Go lean so attendees are forced to stay on task.
- If a conversation veers off course, agree to take it offline for a one-on-one office discussion
- Invite the smallest number of attendees possible. Less people, less distractions.
- Keep PowerPoint presentations or other meeting assets crisp and concise. Use them to stay on track, not to impress.
- Finally, decide what the desired outcome is before the meeting. When the meeting is close to ending, circle back to ensure this was accomplished.
On the flipside, maybe you don’t need to be at all the meetings on your calendar. If you aren’t:
- Running the meeting
- Adding input
- Receiving information critical to your job
- Learning something of value to you, your role, or that enables you to do your job well…
…then perhaps you can gracefully decline. Boom, an hour back in your day.
Harness the power of delayed gratification: Don’t spend your day or week dreading a project and doing everything to avoid it. Get it done first and implement some kind of reward that you can look forward to (lunch with a co-worker, a walk in the sunshine, drinks after work). If the undesirable task or project is larger, go back to my first point and break it into smaller chunks. Before you know it, it’ll be over.
Oh, and if something can be done in five minutes or less, do it immediately, whether you like it or not.
Up your communication game: Poor communication wastes time. Sending a long email with vague instructions can add up to unnecessary churn and wasted hours attempting to clarify. The best communicators take a little time to think through their communication first. They consider what they need before getting on the phone or stopping by someone’s office. Emails have a purpose, are clearly laid out (I’m a big fan of headings and bullets), and are only sent to those who truly need the information. Internal chat tools are great for quick questions, but there really isn’t a replacement for face-to-face communication. If you can, get up and talk to someone but make it quick. Save the long chat for lunch.
Fight to work from home, at least part-time: All I know is that I get FAR more done at home than I ever did when I went to the office every day. Even now, if I go into the office, I am astonished at the amount of time people waste talking about their kids, their pets, their weekend, their favorite movie, etc. While connecting is important, so is getting your work done.
And how long is your commute? What if you spent that time working?
Thanks to technology, we now have ways to communicate that closely mimic face-to-face communication. Companies open to flexible working arrangements are no doubt seeing an increase in productivity and a decrease in costs. Less distractions and more focused time getting stuff done. This is definitely worth fighting for, even if it’s one day a week.
There are so many ways to bring more efficiency into your day. Try one or two of these and see how it goes. If your favorite ways aren’t listed here, please share! While we can’t add hours to the day, working smart can feel like it’s possible.