The year has been one for the books. It’s completely changed our way of life, from how we have to do social distancing and mask-wearing to how we work. Twelve months ago, the brick-and-mortar model was going strong. Then, the coronavirus hit, and businesses were forced to shift to the work-from-home model. As we look ahead to the new year, it doesn’t look as if we’re going back to the old ways any time soon, so efficiency at work has taken on a whole new meaning.
It seems like just yesterday that millions of people would wake up every morning, jump in their car, and head off to the office to put in eight hours to pay the bills. Those eight hours would consist of a variety of meetings with potential clients, talking to colleagues, writing and responding to emails, negotiating deals, and organizing events.
What was once commonplace has been replaced with sitting in front of a screen at the dining room table or in our make-shift office at home.
In the bestselling book, The One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard M.D. explains that we shouldn’t manage every employee the same way because different people are at different stages in their development. The more experienced employees thrive with less supervision while newer employees need constant hand-holding and encouragement as they are unfamiliar with their new surroundings.
Under the work-from-home model, the more experienced employees have thrived as they were able to use their commute time more effectively. Instead of having to attend a bunch of unnecessary meetings, people are now asked to only attend those that are necessary.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the less experienced workers and companies have struggled to address how best to train them so they can acquire all the necessary skills needed for their work.
Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years and having run three businesses and worked in partnerships, I’ve learned that there’s only so much an employer can teach their employees. The rest is up to us and as we live in such precarious times, we should all go to work on ourselves and figure out how we can increase our efficiency at work, even if that means being at home.
While certain skills might be career-specific, the following 14 ways can increase our efficiency at work regardless of what industry you are in.
1. Set Achievable Goals
Setting goals is a good thing. It is an effective way to improve our efficiency at work as goals shape our actions and decisions. But not all goals are created equal.
Working with entrepreneurs, I have found that many like to set goals that are merely dreams in disguise. Napoleon Hill best explained the difference between the two when he said, “Goals are dreams with a deadline.”
The key to setting goals is to remember the acronym S.T.A.G., which stands for short-term achievable goals—the keyword being achievable. Unattainable goals, on the other hand, lead to disappointment. A goal also needs to be clear so that everyone involved understands precisely how to go about achieving it.
2. Less Is More
So many of us are obsessed with getting everything done, it’s almost as if we feel compelled to make sure everything is off our plate. Recently, I watched an episode of MasterChef: The Professionals. In it, one chef with 20 years of experience created some incredible plates of food. Just one problem—there was too much stuff on the plate. As a result, the whole dish didn’t come together and it cost him a place in the semi-finals.
The lesson is this—sometimes, we have to know when to stop. By doing less, we’re able to focus more on those things that need our attention and consequently, the quality of those things radically improves.
3. Have a Break, Have a Walk
Our lives have become more and more sedentary, and that’s not a good thing. Many people sit in front of computer screens, glued to their chairs for hours at a time. It’s not healthy.
So, have a break and short walks from time to time. It’s amazing how much a short walk every 90 minutes or so can improve our efficiency at work. It refreshes our eyes, our mind, and our body all at once.
4. Email Is Our Enemy
Brendon Buchard shared something in a podcast I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Our inbox is nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s agendas.” That was a game-changer for me. He went on to explain that if we did nothing else other than not check our email for the first two hours after we wake up, we would improve our productivity by 30%. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
5. Create Your Space
Only have what you need on your desk. Remove all things that are not important. Things tend to pile up over time, which can distract us or create a feeling of being overwhelmed. Keep your desk space clean, and you’ll notice an improvement in your productivity quite quickly.
6. Food Is Fuel
Food is fuel, and you want to run your body on high-quality fuel. I used to get a cold at least once a year and each time, it knocked me out for two to three days. I lived on a steady diet of meat and carbs back in the day. Thankfully, my wife fixed me right up.
It did take time for my body to adjust, but at age 46, I feel healthier than ever. I haven’t caught a cold since I was in my mid-thirties. That’s about a month saved in downtime not to mention my increased performance levels and not having to pump myself full of NyQuil or Tylenol.
Not a chef? No worries, YouTube has you covered. Don’t want to cook? Look for young chefs that are attending culinary schools that need practice.
7. Personal Development
“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better” are wise words that Jim Rohn used to mention in all his lectures and a quote. It’s something that everyone should take into consideration when thinking of ways to increase efficiency at work. The more experience and knowledge we acquire, the easier tasks become, which is why we should always work on improving our own ability.
While most people think the key to building a successful business is all about clever marketing and cool products, what is often overlooked is the impact stress can have on us. I know more than a few millionaires who have more than enough money for the rest of their lives, but it came at a price—their health.
Stress played a big part in that, which is why it’s more important than ever to reset our minds once a day, shut off the noise, and recalibrate our thoughts.
9. Busywork Sucks
Most people aren’t lazy. The problem is they don’t want to do what they should. Instead, they fill much of their day doing activities that give them a sense of accomplishment while never making any real progress on the things they should.
10. Time Tracking
One of the big mistakes people make is they think they are good at managing their time, yet have never taken the time to really analyze just how they are using their time.
With clients, one of the first things I have them do is do a time audit. I want to know just how much time they spend and where. It’s often eye-opening for clients when they do this. No matter how good we think we are at using our time, we can always be better.
11. The Commute
As we have shifted to the work-from-home model, this is less and less of an issue. However, we still spend a lot of time in our cars (or trains depending on where you live) whether we are on a trip, heading to work, meeting a client, or simply heading to the supermarket.
Sometimes, it’s just 10 minutes, but other times it’s an hour. It all adds up. We spend an inordinate amount of time in vehicles which we aren’t using effectively. Commute time is learning time. Forget Taylor Swift and put on Tony Robbins. Turn off Metallica and instead try learning a language or listen to a podcast.
12. 90-Minute Cram Sessions
Darren hardy is one of the premier productivity experts in the world. He has interviewed hundreds of the most successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers as the publisher of Success magazine. One secret I learned from him is what I like to call the “sweet spot” of productivity—90 minutes. We need to learn to focus our energy on 90-minute “jam sessions”—as he likes to refer to them—as they give us the greatest return on our energy.
13. Efficiency’s Magic Number Is One
A single-minded focus on a task will transform your productivity like no other. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize just how unaccustomed we are to this and think that multi-tasking is the key to getting things done. Wrong! It’s precisely the opposite. Multitasking prevents us from reaching concentrated focus and our efficiency at work suffers from it.
14. Notifications Are a Dime a Dozen
Please, if you aren’t a surgeon who needs to be on call because it’s a life and death situation, turn off your notifications. We get distracted, on average, every 4 minutes. Those distractions are absolutely productivity killers as they take us away from our train of thought.
The Bottom Line
Increasing your efficiency at work isn’t rock science. In fact, it’s downright simple. It’s the simplicity that trips people up. Too often people look for new shiny toys when the answers are right in front of them. These concepts transformed my life and those of many entrepreneurs the world over and you’d be foolish not to at least give them a fair shake.
Remember, like all concepts, applying them once and expecting big results just won’t happen. But over time, simple concepts done repeatedly can achieve incredible results.
More Tips to Boost Efficiency at Work
- How to Be More Efficient at Work, at Home, and in Life
- How to Increase Work Productivity: 9 Ground Rules
- How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive