When it comes to efficiency in the workplace, I'm not here to say you should become some sort of worker robot drone. (Paper pushing and glazed-over eyes? No thank you.) But there are ways to be more efficient at work that can make you just as productive as one.
That's because being efficient doesn't have to mean a boring, hyper-focused workday. It simply means re-focusing your schedule, spending the day the right way, and actually getting stuff done. In fact, if the world would let you, I'm sure you could get all your work done in a few days and then pack up for some sort of awesome four-day weekend. Studies have even shown that this would be an ideal scenario, as working too much (as in, over 50 hours a week) is incredibly counterproductive.
As Bob Sullivan said on CNBC.com, "Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours — so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University."
Sadly, I don't think your boss will let you leave early. One can dream, but until that day comes, here are some ways to be more efficient at work. At the very least, you can get stuff done on time (or even early!) and then kick back in the break room.
1. Prioritize Your To-Do List
Start each morning by prioritizing your to-do list. This will probably mean moving those dreaded difficult tasks to the top (you know, the things that actually have to get done), and moving all the fluff things to the bottom. Emails can wait. Sharpening all your pencils can wait. But finishing your project? Not so much.
2. Stick To Your Routine No Matter What
I know, it might sound boring, but try to make everyday kind of the same. Doing so will get you into a groove, which will really help you get more done. As Hallie Crawford said on Money.USNews.com, "We are creatures of habit, and so are our brains. When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don't have to 'think' about the task — or prepare for it — as much, and can work on autopilot."
3. Resist The Urge To Multi-Task
We all think we can multi-task, but it's actually next to near impossible. That's because, instead of multi-tasking, we are simply doing multiple things one at a time. As Thai Nguyen noted for the Huffington Post, "... we jump-around rather than juggle. The problem is ending up with too many open projects, and spreading yourself too thin." So start focusing on one project or task, and finish it before moving onto something else.
4. Take Advantage Of Your Procrastination
Ever notice how a looming deadline can suddenly bless you with the ability to work? This procrastination tactic is called the Parkinson Law, named after naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who said, "If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do." According to Nguyen, “The law provides great leverage for efficiency: imposing shorter deadlines for a task, or scheduling an earlier meeting." Just make sure you find that sweet spot, Nguyen suggested, since rushed work can be a recipe for disaster.
5. Cross Things Off Your To-Do List
As soon as you finish a task, triumphantly cross it off your to-do list. According to an article on Fortune, "This not only will give you a sense of accomplishment as you tick off completed tasks throughout the day, but it can also help to assess patterns in productivity." I mean, do you really get anything done in the morning? This method will help you figure that out.
6. Keep Track Of Time
Another way to track your efficiency is to log the time you spend on each project. As Crawford said, "Log your time for two weeks, writing down how much you spend on each task and activity at work. Track everything from emails to lunch to conversations with workmates to work projects and breaks. This will allow you to see where the majority of your time is being spent and then make any necessary adjustments."
7. Make Sure You Take Breaks
Efficiency doesn't mean staring unblinkingly into your computer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. A well-deserved break or two isn't a waste of time, but an incredibly necessary part of any good work day. As Nguyen noted, "... our brain’s natural rhythms of attention means we can focus for up to 90 minutes, then need roughly 20 minutes rest. Strategic breaks equals efficient work." So yes, you can and should take multiple trips the break room.
8. Hide Your Phone
If my phone is in sight while I'm working, I can't help but check it every time a text rolls in. (It's a problem, I know.) Obviously this is incredibly distracting, and not exactly the makings of an efficient work day. That's why all us phone addicts should hide the thing out of sight when trying to get things done. Out of sight, (kind of) out of mind.
9. Disable Your Alerts
To help make your phone even less tempting, disable the alerts ASAP. That way you can leave it on your desk, in plain sight, without being as distracted. For those who need their phone for work, this might be the best option.
10. Take Good Care Of Yourself
Nodding off at your desk, or daydreaming about Chipotle, are not the best uses of your time. That's why it's so important to take good care of yourself if you want to be an efficient, working machine. Take a note from Fortune.com, and start eating, sleeping, and waking at the same time each day. That way your body will know what's up, and when it's time to get to work.
11. Actually Enjoy Your Days Off
Thoroughly enjoying your weekend is a total must. Not only is it highly necessary after a long week of focusing hard, logging your time, and sticking to your routine. But it's actually pretty darn helpful when it comes to being efficient again come Monday. As Crawford said, "...respect your day off. If you take the weekends off, don't work unless it's absolutely necessary. Enjoy your time with friends and family doing activities that have nothing to do with work. This will allow you to return to work feeling refreshed, happy and ready to take on a new workweek."
It's really not any more difficult than that. Focus on how you spend your time, and make sure you spend it wisely, and you'll be checking things off your to-do list like crazy.
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