Anyone with a busy, demanding job will know the feeling that, sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
If you’re tired, feeling a bit ill or are just in the wrong place mentally, you can end up spending the entire day staring at a computer screen, unable to get anything started; let alone finished. This is not a good recipe for productivity.
What you need is to just get some work done quickly, although that’s easier said than done. Whether it’s managing payroll, completing customer orders or filing tax returns, there are many regular business processes that are governed by strict time constraints. On those occasions, when you simply have to get things done as quickly as possible, try using some of these methods to boost your efficiency.
1. Plan in advance
If you start your day without a clear plan, you run the risk of spending your first couple of hours thinking about what you need to do, estimating how long it will take and setting yourself targets for the end of the day.
Planning in advance is one of the best ways to get maximum value from your time. It helps you to arrive at work ready to get started straight away.
One of the key considerations when making your plans is to be realistic. Don’t set time constraints or goals you know you won’t achieve.
2. Structure your time
A key part of the planning process is creating a structure for how you will spend your time over the course of a given day or week.
One of the simplest ways to build this structure is by breaking up the overall period into distinct chunks, which can be allocated to particular tasks. You might want to dedicate the first half of your day to making phone calls, responding to emails and having meetings, for example, and the second half to other work that requires quiet concentration.
3. Use a pomodoro timer
The pomodoro technique is a simple method of working that can have surprisingly effective results. Essentially, it involves working for a solid 25 minutes on a task - with the aim of not getting distracted or moving between projects - and then taking a five-minute break. Repeat this through the day, extending your break to 20-30 minutes after every fourth period of work.
The logic behind this is that it provides you with a better method of managing your time at work, with an eye on preventing burnout. It is efficient and will lead to you completing a lot, but at the same time the regular breaks mean you won’t end up feeling drained and unable to work after a few hours.
4. Save your to-do list for bigger tasks
Matt Girvan, president and co-founder of My Gung Ho, said in an interview with Mic that his to-do list is saved for only the largest pieces of work he has on.
“Have a task that takes less than five minutes? Do not add it to your to-do list. Do it now.” - Matt Girvan, president and co-founder My Gung Ho
Adding smaller tasks to your to-do list and ticking them off might feel good, but it’s not actually productive. It encourages you to leave smaller tasks to later, which means you won’t be completing them while your mind is still on them. Plus it means you’ll be spending a good chunk of your day managing your tasks rather than making progress on them.
5. Fight procrastination
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. It is a particularly dangerous pitfall for employees in the 21st century, considering how many potential distractions there are in the modern workplace.
If you find yourself procrastinating and losing valuable time over the course of the day, identify the unwelcome interruptions that are causing the biggest problems. For many people, technology will be the biggest culprit.
Whether it’s social media, messages from friends or the latest mobile apps, take a zero-tolerance approach to diversions that have nothing to do with your work. If you can turn your phone off, do it, and don’t add any social bookmarks or personal messaging apps to your work computer.
6. Use the ‘11am technique’
The 11am technique is a simple method that, according to business mentor and coach Siimon Reynolds, can deliver big results.
It involves starting the day with the mindset that you can work only until 11am, which helps to sharpen your focus on the most worthwhile, important jobs that need to be finished as quickly as possible.
Reynolds advises creating a small to-do list of key priorities and getting started on them immediately.
“The 11am technique works brilliantly because it forces you to take action quickly on what really counts.”
7. Focus on one job at a time
Many people list multitasking as a key skill on their CV, and there’s no questioning the value you can gain from doing a number of different jobs at once.
However, this is actually not the best way to do your job. In fact, research has shown that focusing on multiple tasks makes you less able to work efficiently.
One study found that multitasking reduced productivity by 40%, while another suggested that it also drops your intelligence by 17%. Both of these are a bad sign for your ability to get your work done. You’ll be better served if you focus on a single project at a time, and aim to avoid distractions and interruptions.
When you have a number of key tasks on your to-do list, it’s worth asking what’s more important: doing several jobs to an average standard or doing one job to a high standard. If it’s the latter, the best course of action is to focus on one objective at a time and make sure you do your best work.
Concentrating solely on one task can help you get the most out of your time, as it makes it easier to lock into the right mindset and rhythm to get the job done with speed and efficiency.
8. Theme your days
If you have a fairly varied job, you might find it’s a good idea to theme your days so you’re focusing on one specific area of your role at a time. This will keep your mind in the same place all day, making you more efficient at your job as time goes on.
This technique is something that Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey uses to make sure he’s able to be as efficient as possible. Not only does giving each day a theme provide him with direction, so he always knows what to do when he starts work in the morning, it also means he knows exactly what to return to if he ever gets distracted.