Americans are among the most productive people on the planet. From moleskin notebooks to apps, we are constantly in search of new ways to organize our work and optimize our time.
Here are some easy ways to make work more efficient and get the most out of every minute.
1. To-do list
I’ve heard many people over the years boast about how they don’t need to write things down. While you may have a good memory, the more work you take on, the more likely you are to forget an important deadline. Create and use a to-do list. Find a simple format that works for you. There are hundreds of convenient apps that are easy to use. Review and update your to-dos once a day.
And while you’re writing it down, be sure to assign it a level of importance. Give it a 1 if there’s a hard deadline, a 2 if there’s some flexibility, then assign it a deadline. Give it a 3 if it’s something that can wait. As time allows, move level 3 items up and assign deadlines.
3. Build a daily schedule
Just like your to-do list, a daily schedule keeps you on task and on time. Use your schedule to take advantage of your best time of day. For example, block out the early morning hours if that’s when you’re most creative and productive. Allow a fixed amount of time to return calls and catch up on email. Include breaks to get up, walk around, and clear your head.
4. Meet your deadlines
Sure, things come up. That’s what your daily review is for. But if you don’t hit deadlines, your whole system falls apart. There really is nothing like crossing something off your to-do list. The more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it.
5. Don’t procrastinate
Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing to do. Checking Facebook and scrolling through your Twitter feed doesn’t help. Willpower, focus, along with a daily routine can make getting started a habit. Procrastination is a very natural thing. Acknowledge it and move on. When you manage your time properly, you’ll find your less likely to put things off.
6. Block distractions
Don’t let email, social media, or the stock market interrupt your work. Close email, messaging programs, and web browsers so you can focus. Put up a “do not disturb” sign so your colleagues won’t feel they can just drop by. If you have to check email, schedule five minutes per hour to check it. Always remember interruptions and distractions are your worst enemies.
7. Learn to say no
This doesn’t mean be uncooperative; it means knowing your limits. Don’t jeopardize the quality of your work by taking on more. Spreading yourself too thin will compromise the routine and organization you’ve put in place. Also, avoid unnecessary meetings whenever possible.
Take advantage of existing resources to get less important work done. If you have access to reliable resources, you should be delegating. Managing resources properly will give you time to focus on top priorities. Schedule brief daily meetings to monitor progress, and answer any questions that arise. By scheduling upfront meetings you’ll avoid interruptions and minimize the stress of worrying whether work is getting done or not.
9. Don’t multi-task
The jury is no longer out on this folks. Saying you’re great at multi-tasking is like saying you’re a better driver after a few drinks. It’s just not true. Organize your time to focus on a single item and you’ll not only get it done, but you’ll also see an improvement in the quality of your work.
10. Give yourself a break
Concentrated effort on one thing at a time will give you the results you’re looking for, while a five-minute break each hour will help you recharge.
11. Stay fit
Don’t let distractions deplete your energy. Stay healthy by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise. Exercise helps to relieve stress and generates the energy you need to deliver quality work.
The Bottom Line
Just as “Work Hard, Play Hard” came to symbolize the around-the-clock effort needed to get a start-up off the ground, “Work Smarter, Not Harder” has become the battle cry for those seeking improved productivity and efficiency at work.
Organization and focus are the key ingredients. Keep it simple. Create a routine that works for you and stick to it. Some prefer using apps to manage their work. Others prefer a legal pad or notebook. Whatever works for you is what’s best. Ultimately, being efficient and productive requires self-discipline — it’s as simple as that.