Feature Article: Becoming more efficient
Time management isn’t about finding more hours in the day—it’s about making the most of those you have. The best thing that you can do to manage your time is to stop hunting for spare minutes and start thinking about how to become more efficient. When facing a task that just doesn’t seem to fit into your tightly packed schedule, there are a few questions that you can ask yourself:
How can I complete this task in less time? Sometimes we are so busy looking for an extra thirty minutes to complete a task that we don’t realize that it could be done in ten. Make sure you aren’t over-researching, over-analyzing, or just plain over-thinking what you’re trying to do.
Some fish will grow to fit the size of their tank. Tasks will do the same thing. If you’re convinced that putting the groceries away always takes forty-five minutes, then it always will. If step one of writing that report is always an hour and a half of banging your head against the blank computer screen, that becomes the norm.
Don’t fall into the trap. Evaluate your tasks and challenge yourself to get them done more quickly. If you had to have that report written by the end of the day instead of the end of the week, you would find a way to get it done. Tight deadlines don’t leave much time for the banging your head on the computer routine. When a crisis pops up, you rise to the challenge. Take that same “never say die” attitude to your more routine tasks and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
What will help me do this faster? If your task is something that can stand to be sped up a bit, figure out how to make it happen. What’s the number one technique for speeding things up? Focus. Give yourself ten minutes to focus on the task at hand. Once you commit your full focus and energy to getting it done, you’ll be amazed at how much more quickly things start to move. By eliminating distractions and taking a break from the multitasking, you’ll put an end to those unproductive minutes that can fly by when you’re trying to do too many things at once.
Also, don’t forget about technology. We take it for granted in our day-to-day lives, but for all the hassles it can bring us, there are some real time-savers as well. Don’t be afraid to invest a few minutes in learning to use Microsoft templates. Or, if your internet connection is dragging you down, consider upgrading to a speedier connection. Have you been meaning to start paying bills online? Make yourself a cup of tea and get those accounts set up once and for all. There is lots of time to be saved by investing in faster ways of doing things.
Can we create a process to simplify this task? If you are struggling with the same or similar tasks over and over, it’s time to get a system in place. Whether you’re faced with a routine business letter or a routine pile of laundry, think “process.” Could you make a template for the letter you are now rewriting for the umpteenth time? Could your family be more diligent about getting their dirty clothes to the laundry area in an orderly fashion? Sometimes something as simple as a clearly laid out checklist is all that you’ll need. If nothing else, this will keep you moving in the right direction – no thinking, no reprioritizing. Just start at the top of your list and cross things off until you get to the bottom. How do runners finish marathons? One stride at a time. That’s how you get through your checklist, too. Just take it one item at a time, until you’re all the way through.
Does this task require such a high level of perfection? You might pride yourself on your perfectionism, but everything has a time and a place. That year-end report? Fine. The routine status report that no one really reads? Relax. Your time is too valuable to stress over the small stuff. Sometimes, your task needs to be as close to perfect as humanly possible. On the other hand, there will be plenty of times when you just need to get the job done. Some tasks demand excellence. Others might only need to be acceptable. Know when to give your inner perfectionist a well-deserved rest.
Besides, perfectionism is a dangerous path—tread carefully! Perfect isn’t going to happen. While some people take great pride in their “perfectionist” persona, they also carry around a lot of baggage as a result. So many things will just never be good enough. And this leads to some counterproductive trends and a lot of negative energy. A perfectionist’s projects are often in a frustrating limbo. The quality of the work is though the roof, but the project will inevitably sit untouched and incomplete for weeks on end. If this sounds like you, the sooner you break the cycle, the better.
Can we skinny it down a bit? Projects snowball and to-do items multiply. You have no idea how it happened, but you’re sure that the task at hand has gotten much more complicated than when you first started out. Maybe a casual office brainstorm turned into a corporate strategy think tank. Or perhaps tidying up the flowerbed became a major landscaping project. Take a deep breath and get back on track. Go back to you original intentions. Once that work is done, you can take another look at the big picture.
Can we get creative on how we meet the need? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to getting things done. Use your imagination, even when it comes to tackling the most ordinary tasks.
If you’re fed up with fighting your way through morning traffic, consider heading to work an hour earlier. Not only will you beat the rush, but you can use the extra time to get a jumpstart on work while the office is quiet or just enjoy a cup of coffee at your desk while you catch up on some reading. Just make sure to leave an hour earlier, too.
If you’re sick of being the family taxi, try carpooling to get the kids where they need to be. Hate cutting the grass? Hire it out to a trustworthy teenager. For a few dollars you can cut your stress and free up some time.
Whatever the task, before you fall into the same old pattern, consider some alternatives. There might be a better way of doing things. At least give it a shot.
What needs to happen to meet this deadline? While you fixate on that looming deadline, it is only getting closer. Big project coming up with a deadline three weeks away? Break it down. Think about what needs to happen to get it done. Be specific. Instead of obsessing over it, develop your timeline in advance and things will fall into place. Then figure out what it’s going to take to see it through. This will also help you juggle your impending project with your other responsibilities.
No deadline? Create your own. Maybe you want to be finished compiling your research by the end of this week. And maybe the end of next week is a good deadline for your first draft. Then that third week will be free for some constructive collaboration and give you time to tweak your final product.
By focusing on your more manageable, self-imposed deadlines, the project will naturally break down into manageable chunks. Just make sure to treat your timetable with the same respect and commitment that you would devote to the unwavering deadline handed down by your boss.
Make it a productive day! ™
(C) Copyright 2007 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.
This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: “© 2007 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.” (The link to Laura’s website must be active.)