When you’re juggling a lot at work, time flies by quickly, and before you know it, a full day can come and go. Time is your most valuable commodity, and to make the most of it, you need a game plan. To help you work smarter, we’ve put together 11 tried-and-true tips to maximize your efficiency.
1. Create a realistic to-do list for the next day.
To be efficient, plan ahead. By creating a to-do list at the end of each day, you can start the next day ready to go without wasting time feeling overwhelmed or aimless. Don’t let your to-do list get too long though. If possible, limit it to your five most important tasks. If it helps to prioritize, consider the 80/20 rule. Identify the twenty percent of your work that’s most important, break it down into actionable tasks, and prioritize that work for the next day. If you keep your to-do list short, not only will you have better focus, but you’ll feel more accomplished at the end of each day, which is positive reinforcement.
2. Implement the two-minute rule.
This one’s for you, procrastinators. We kid, but in the interest of cutting down your to-do list and saving it for high priority items, practice the two-minute rule. What is that? If there’s anything that comes up between tasks during the day that takes two minutes or less to complete, just do it. It’s easy to put these tasks off, but if you tackle them right away, they won’t be hanging over your head. That way, you can focus on bigger priorities.
3. Take advantage of peak productivity periods.
By now, you probably know when you’re most productive. While a lot of advice suggests taking the first hours of the day to work on your most challenging projects, the truth is, we’re not one-size-fits-all when it comes to productivity patterns. If you know you’re sharper in the afternoon, answer emails first thing so you can save the heavy lifting, or more complex projects, for the afternoon. Know when you’re at your best and plan your schedule accordingly.
4. Break projects into manageable sections.
When you’re faced with a big project, it can leave you spinning your wheels, unsure of where to start. To make it more manageable, take a step back and figure out how to break it into bite-sized pieces. By doing this, you’ll have a clearer sense of focus as you start chipping away at each action item. Even better, you’ll feel motivated by your progress, which will help you reach your end goals faster.
5. Keep a distraction list.
While we’d love to say that you should eliminate all distractions, we know that’s not realistic. Distractions are going to come up in one form or another, whether you realize you forgot to return a call, or a coworker requests a favor. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re trying to be productive, but to stay on task, keep a list of those one-off distractions as they come up. That way, you can set them aside and come back to them when you have time. This allows you to complete the task at hand but ensures you don’t forget about the important to-do’s that need your attention (just not right now).
6. Resist the urge to multitask.
It’s a common misconception that multitasking makes you more efficient. Contrary to popular belief, research shows that multitasking actually kills your productivity. Not only does it create mental blocks when you switch back and forth between tasks, but it negatively impacts your problem-solving ability. Since multitasking requires a lot of working memory, also known as brain storage, it can detract from your ability to think creatively. To stay on point (and be kind to your brain!), focus your full attention on one task at a time.
7. Check email at specific intervals.
As we all know, answering emails can be a slippery slope. If you don’t step away from your inbox, it can sabotage your productivity. For many of us, going long periods without checking email isn’t realistic. A lot of work is time-sensitive, and communication is key. That said, if you don’t set aside specific periods of your day for answering and sending emails, it can easily eat away the day. To prevent this, pick a maximum of five times throughout the day to check email. That way, you can ensure timely responses, but email won’t erode your productivity plans.
8. Figure out what to delegate.
Many of us avoid delegating work for the same reason: We think it creates more work for us. If we have to explain the work and make sure it’s done correctly, we might as well do it ourselves, right? Wrong. This isn’t delegating; it’s micromanaging. To properly delegate projects, assign them to the right people. If you’re feeling overloaded, review your to-do list and see if there’s anything you can offload. For example, if you have a team member with a lighter workload, assign them to a straightforward task (e.g., something you know they’ve done before). This will free up your focus for more involved projects.
9. Take breaks.
This one may sound counterintuitive, but here’s the deal: nobody can focus for eight hours straight. No matter how efficient you are, it’s not possible to keep distraction-free focus for an entire workday. Plus, research shows that even five-minute breaks can make you more productive. Allow yourself opportunities to recharge during the day, but be deliberate about it. To make sure you take legitimate breaks, schedule a few of them throughout the day. That way, you won’t let any little distraction become your break time.
10. Know when to say no.
It’s easy to forget that you don’t have to say yes to everything that comes your way. In fact, it can make you less effective if you do. Chances are, you’ll have opportunities come up that you don’t have the bandwidth for, and you may be tempted to overcommit yourself. Don’t get caught in that trap. Be vocal if you can’t take on a new project and if necessary, set up a meeting with your team to establish priorities, and balance the workload from there. By doing this, you can say no, but still be a team player.
11. Turn to technology.
Last but not least, when you're trying to keep up the pace, remember that technology can help. Think about where you spend the majority of your time. Are there tools you can use to streamline your efforts and automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks? How can technology help you free up time for more strategic, business-driving work? But, be careful not to introduce too many disjointed technologies. At the end of the day, if you can get your technologies, partners and tools talking to each other you'll save yourself time and energy. That's why we take a full-suite approach to HCM. To find out how Orbit Solutions and our connected modules — Orbit Human Resources, Orbit Scheduler, Orbit Time & Labor, and Orbit Payroll — can help, contact us today!