Maximizing your work efficiency is one of the most effective ways to achieve professional success, happiness, and work-life balance. Doing it requires you spend your working hours laser-focused on high-impact activities so that you’re able to spend your time on the things that matter most.
This article will dive into six action-packed strategies to help you become more efficient:
- Adopt a productivity management system
- Boost your ability to focus
- Communicate more efficiently
- Limit the amount of time you spend in your inbox
- Become a master delegator
In each section, you’ll learn the benefits of the strategy and how to implement it.
1) Adopt a Productivity Management System
One of the biggest challenges people face when they try to boost their productivity is not knowing where to start. Productivity management systems solve that problem by giving you a clear framework of the actions you need to take each day to be successful.
The key to successfully adopting a productivity management system is choosing the one that works best for your work style and personality. Here’s an overview of a couple of the top productivity management systems and who they work best for.
Agile results is a goal-oriented system that has you commit to achieving monthly, weekly and daily goals. These goals ensure you stay focused on high-value activities and, the weekly reflections this system calls for enable you to pivot your goals based on your progress and new information you gain.
Who it’s great for:
- Leaders, creatives and other professionals whose work can be difficult to into specific, timed increments
- People who are highly goal-oriented
- People who don’t like following a strict schedule
To learn how to adopt the agile results technique, check out our article:
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity by eliminating distractions. It has you work in twenty-five minute uninterrupted periods known as pomodoros. After every four pomodoros, you take a break to refresh your mind before you resume work.
Over time, you’ll learn how much work you can complete in twenty-five minutes and be able to plan your day based on how many pomodoros all of your tasks take.
Who it’s great for:
- People who struggle with distractions
- People who want to become increasingly effective at estimating how much time their work takes
- People who work on relatively consistent projects
You can learn more about the pomodoro technique here.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
GTD is a five step system that helps people take all of their miscellaneous responsibilities and convert them into clear action steps. It begins with capturing everything you want to complete - from ambitious projects to small chores - then instructs you to organize and prioritize those tasks into to-do lists.
Who it’s great for:
- People who are often overwhelmed by their many different responsibilities
- People who love to-do lists
- People who enjoy having a clear picture of all of the tasks they must do
You can learn more about GTD here.
2) Boost Your Ability to Focus
Research shows that setting goals is one of the most effective ways to improve your work efficiency since they show you what you need to focus on each day to be successful.
To achieve positive results, your goals must:
- Be specific and offer you a clear picture of what you’re striving to achieve
- Challenge you to learn new skills and try new approaches
- Offer intrinsic and/or extrinsic rewards
Setting quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals that meet those criteria will maximize your productivity by ensuring your short-term activities are aligned with your long-term objectives.
Despite working toward clear goals, you’ll inevitably have days where it’s difficult to focus. To be more efficient, follow these tips when you’re feeling distracted:
- Complete your most important task as early in the day as possible. This prevents lower value tasks from consuming all of your time and attention and ensures you accomplish something meaningful every day.
- Limit the amount of trivial decisions you make. Your willpower is limited so, you shouldn’t waste it on trivial decisions like what to wear, what to eat for lunch or how you should respond to an unimportant email.
- Turn off notifications. Email, slack, and other notifications are a huge distraction. Turning them off while your working is an easy way to boost your efficiency.
- Schedule time for daydreaming. Daydreaming at work is difficult to avoid but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Psychologists have found that when professionals allocate time to daydream - such as during brief periods of time between meetings, while they’re working on basic admin work, etc. - they’re able to work more efficiently. Daydreaming helps your brain refresh and contemplating work in an unstructured way often enables you to come to conclusions that you often wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
As you take actions to improve your ability to focus, you’ll become increasingly efficient at work.
3) Communicate More Efficiently
A study published in the Journal of Communication found that professionals spend an average of 50%-80% of their time at work communicating. This includes all time spent interacting with others - responding to emails, chatting, attending meetings etc.
With so much of your time spent communicating, you need to take actions to ensure that time is used productively.
Here are some ways to communicate more efficiently:
- Opt out of meetings that you don’t play a role in. Atlassian found that the average professional attends sixty-two meetings a month and about half of those are a waste of time. By opting out of unimportant meetings, you can immediately gain a dozen or more hours of extra time. Those hours will go a long way in boosting your work efficiency.
- Prevent miscommunications. A Siemens Enterprise Communication study found the average employee at mid-sized companies wastes seventeen hours per week dealing with miscommunication. This includes conversations spent clarifying messages and setbacks caused by them. To prevent poor communication from slowing you down, include all necessary information in all of your messages, ask clarifying questions, and verify that you have a mutual understanding before moving forward with tasks.
- Mute chat notifications. Though chat is often seen as a more efficient alternative to email, the constant pinging can be incredibly distracting. Muting your notifications and checking in every half hour to an hour ensures you receive messages in a timely manner and are better able to focus on your work.
If certain communication channels or people consume lots of your time, think of additional ways to limit the impact that those channels/individuals have on your work efficiency. For example, you might remove yourself from distracting group chats or give a direct report access to resources so that they’re less dependent on you.
4) Limit the Amount of Time You Spend in Your Inbox
Your inbox is one of the biggest inhibitors of your productivity. An Adobe survey found that the average professional spends five hours per day in their inbox. While a portion of that time is spent engaging in critical conversations, much of it is wasted reading and responding to non-urgent emails.
Here are some email hacks to reduce the amount of time you spend in your inbox:
- Check email in batches instead of checking notifications throughout the day. This enables you to work more efficiently since your attention isn’t constantly being pulled to your inbox.
- Unsubscribe from all newsletters you haven’t read in over a week. This reduces the clutter in your inbox, making it easier to find important messages.
- Write lengthier emails that include all necessary details the other person needs. Though they take longer to write, these emails are more efficient since they limit back and forth questions and miscommunications.
- Don’t reply to emails that don’t require a response specifically from you. If the message requires a response, forward it to an appropriate colleague. If not, delete/archive it.
To learn more about how to efficiently manage your email, download our inbox management guide:
5) Strengthen Your Problem-Solving Capabilities
The faster you can solve problems, the more efficient you’ll be.
Often people’s first response to a problem is coming up with solutions since that seems like the fastest way forward. However, according to MIT, the more effective approach is to identify the root cause of the problem first. When you know the cause, you can take actions to prevent it from occurring again instead of just mitigating negative outcomes.
Here are some questions you can ask to identify the root causes of problems:
- What actions did I (or my team) take that lead to the undesirable outcome?
- Are there any smaller mistakes that lead to the outcome?
- Did I do anything differently with this project as opposed to other similar projects?
- Are there any external factors that affected the outcome?
- Are there any internal factors that affected it?
Once you’ve identified the probable root cause of the challenges you’re facing, you’ll be able to find the most efficient solutions to move forward with your work.
6) Become a Master Delegator
Leaders often avoid delegating because they think the most efficient way for work to get done is for them to do it themselves. In reality, the most productive leaders are the ones who delegate the most.
As a general rule, you should delegate all tasks that:
- Don’t require your authority, access to resources, or relationships
- And have a clear objective so that the person you’re delegating to knows exactly what they’re expected to achieve
Delegating tasks that meet those criteria improves your work efficiency by giving you more time to focus on higher value tasks. To yield positive results, you need to empower the people you delegate to to be successful. Here’s how:
- Choose the right person. For best results, delegate to someone who has bandwidth, works efficiently and has skills and/or interests in what you’re delegating.
- Give clear instructions. Your subordinates can’t read your mind so it's critical to give them clear expectations and describe what you expect of them in terms of results and deadlines.
- Maintain open lines of communication. Often, people won’t have questions about a project until they start working on it. Let the person you delegate to know when you’re available to answer questions so that confusion doesn’t slow them down.
- Check in periodically. You don’t want to find out near the project’s deadline that the person you delegated to misunderstood your instructions. Periodically checking their work enables you to catch issues before they become major problems. Keep in mind that the purpose of delegation is to save you time, so you should only get involved if they’re doing the work incorrectly.
To learn more about how to become an effective delegator, download our guide:
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.