The idea of increasing productivity and efficiency often brings up images of someone with a stopwatch timing every activity with a watchful eye. Henry Ford first used the talent of an efficiency expert to build cars faster and more economically. What resulted was the assembly line where the same motion is repeated over and over to eliminate any wasted motion. You don’t have to work on an assembly line to take advantage of the time-saving tips they offered, however. By taking a little time to plan and prepare, you can find extra hours in your day to complete the work you want to do and still have fun. These useful and effective exercises will only be beneficial if you are productive and efficient with your time. Victor Hugo says, “He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.”
Listed below are ways to use your time in the most productive way possible:
- Plan your work. Plan your work and work your plan. Set aside 10 to 15 planning minutes at the start of each day or at the end of your day to create a to-do list for your upcoming activities and you will know what your important tasks are before you start the day. This advance planning can save more than an hour a day.Action step: Take a moment right now and decide which time of the day is best for you to set aside for this planning period. Whether it’s 6:00 a.m. or midnight, commit to a time period now.
- Use time efficiently. Be productive with your time. Remember, we all have exactly the same number of hours each day as were given to Helen Keller, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Da Vinci and Einstein. Action step: You can use time waiting for appointments or waiting in line to catch up on material you need to read and use today’s tools to greatly increase productivity. Look at the activities that fill your day and determine ways they could either be done more efficiently or eliminated. By shaving minutes off of several tasks throughout the day, you can free up a larger block of time later. Think of two ways you could save time in your daily schedule.
- Use your most productive hours for your most important tasks. Some of us are early risers, and others are night owls. If you need time to wake and truly get started in the day, don’t attempt to force an early morning deadline into your schedule. Ask yourself, “What do I need to get done today in order to feel complete?” and “When am I most productive?” Focus more on what is important and less on how fast you are going. Spend 20 percent of your day on the most important tasks and you will accomplish 80 percent of your results. Action step: Choose a daily goal you want to achieve and decide what time of the day you have the most energy or creativity to get the job done. Commit that time to your goal. List one sample goal here to get you started:
- Prioritize your most important activities. Write down the important tasks and set them in order of priority. Focus on only the three most important projects. What are the most important tasks?
- If I can only accomplish one item today, which will it be?
- Is this activity the best use of my time, knowledge, creativity, and experience?
Concentrate on the most important activity until it’s finished. After completing this task, recheck your priorities and tackle the next most important one. This process leads to a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Schedule appointments with yourself to work on the projects that are most important to you.
Action step: Think of those tasks you want to accomplish and write the top three here in order of importance:
- Start now. However big your long-term project may seem, it’s important to begin. Hesitancy, fear, and self-doubt fade with action. For example, if you want to write a book, write one word on a piece of paper. Expand this one word into a sentence, then a paragraph, and before long you will complete the entire chapter. What steps can you take now? Don’t wait; do it! Action step: List a first step you can take for the number one task you listed above. Commit to taking action on that first step today.
- Say no to small projects. Learn to say no to activities that may seem urgent but distract you from accomplishing your important, long-range projects. If you spend the majority of your energy putting out fires, you’ll never find the time for the important activities in your life. Action step: When someone asks you to do something that doesn’t specifically need YOUR particular touch, memorize this phrase and say it with a smile: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to take care of that in the way it deserves. Thank you for thinking of me”.
- Take baby steps. Many long-term projects are never started because the whole endeavor seems so daunting. We take on the entire project all at once and overwhelm ourselves. Take small steps that you know you can accomplish. The more realistic your expectations the better. When you gain momentum, you can let the energy and excitement of the project take over, and you’ll be fully engaged.Action step: Look at the number one task you chose and the first step you listed above. Break that step into its smallest components and work on the first one of those.
- Organize life on a weekly basis. On Sunday evening, plan your long-term projects for the week. During the week, spend time each day focusing on prioritized projects, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Integrate aspects of the long-term goals into your daily to-do list, and you will accomplish your most important projects.Action step: Choose a quiet place and plot out your activities in a daily planner for the week ahead.
- Carve out time for non-urgent activities. Schedule time during your day when you work only on non-urgent activities (For example, phone, e-mail, paying bills).Action step: Try to set aside a 30-minute period when you don’t have a project deadline filling your mind. The best time may be after a break or meal when you can come to this task fresh.
- Using an as-you-go task system. As activities and information come into your day, complete them on an as-you-go basis, instead of putting them on your to-do list to complete later. Action step: Your goal should be to “handle it once” and then be done with it. This increases your productivity and also enhances your sense of accomplishment when you see all the tasks you have completed.
- Treat each day as unique. As you schedule each day, take into consideration the most appropriate activity for that day. Fridays might be your creative, planning days, while Mondays can be for organizing.Action step: Look at the activities that fill your days and try to group them by what you do. For example, by organizing all of your errands on one day and your creative pursuits on another day, you can increase productivity and efficiency on all fronts. List the activities that take up the major part of your day and see if you can group several similar tasks into a specific day or time period.
- Manage your voice mail and email messages twice daily. Allow for two discrete sessions per day to check and respond to voice mail messages and email messages. During these sessions you will be doing only this activity and nothing else. Sort your phone calls and emails into low and high priority. During the rest of the day you will limit use of your phone and email in order to focus only on the project at hand.Action step: Decide the time frame that works best for you. Possibly first thing in the morning and right after lunch, or just before lunch and just before the end of the workday. Write down the times of day you think will work best for you.
- Take breaks. When your energy level drops or you are becoming too reactive to others, take time to rejuvenate yourself by taking a break.Action step: A break may involve physically moving away from the work area and getting some fresh air, listening to some relaxing music, or talking with a friend. Find something that helps you recharge. List some activities that rejuvenate you.
- Have an end of day review. Review your to-do list to examine what you accomplished, what you could have done more efficiently, and what you need to get done tomorrow.Action step: Look at your daily planner and actually check off those items you’ve completed. This will give you a great sense of accomplishment and help you determine those tasks that require more time than originally anticipated.
Copyright ©2005-2016 Joel Garfinkle, All Rights Reserved.
Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., and the author of 7 books, including Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. He has worked with many of the world's leading companies, including Google, Deloitte, Amazon, Ritz-Carlton, Gap, Cisco, Oracle, and many more. Visit Joel online at Garfinkle Executive Coaching. Subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work Newsletter and receive the FREE e-book, 40 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!
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