Most of us, if asked, would probably say we want to be more efficient. But, great as efficiency is, it’s difficult to quantify. Just how much does one need to change or add to one’s current lifestyle to achieve a sufficient level of efficiency?
As with most goals, I prefer to work towards efficiency in little ways that add up over time. To that end, I’ve put together a little list of ideas of habits and skills that I have found useful in moving towards better efficiency. These things may take a little extra upfront time to learn and implement, but they save time and energy in the long run.
So let’s take a look at a few simple habits and skills that will help you be more efficient, one step at a time.
Using Keyboard Shortcuts
Sure, using a keyboard shortcut only saves a few seconds at a time, but all those seconds add up faster than you’d think.
And don’t think you have to learn all the keyboard shortcuts at once, either. Start with the programs and functions you use most often. Learn a few of those shortcuts, and then stack on a few more after you’ve fully memorized them.
Closing Out at the End of the Day
Take a few minutes at the end of your day to wrap up whatever you’ve been working on and set yourself up for the next morning.
A few ways to do this might include:
- Checking over your task list for the day and week and making any needed adjustments.
- Tidying up your workspace.
- Answering the day’s final emails or other messages — and being firm with yourself about those being the last. (Exceptions may be made for emergencies, but be clear with yourself about what constitutes an emergency.)
- Journaling about the day’s activities and progress, and what didn’t go so well.
However you choose to spend this time, the goal is to make a clean break that tells your mind it’s time to shut the day down.
How does this help you be more efficient if you’re adding extra tasks at the end of the day? It prepares you to begin tomorrow with a clean slate and an action plan, enabling you to get started faster and easier.
(Your Own Version of) Time Blocking
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating each time I talk about organizational systems: what works for one person won’t work for another; the important thing is finding the right system for you. That said, I do generally recommend finding a way to plan out your day before you get started. Maybe that means scheduling it out to the minute. Maybe it means making a list of tasks and letting yourself check them off in whatever order you feel like as you go. Or maybe it’s some combination of the two.
Just make sure that your planning system helps you in these ways:
- It prevents you from overbooking yourself. Try not to give yourself too much to do in a given day. This is why many people find it helpful to block out more than enough time for each task. If something takes longer than expected, they’re less likely to have to shuffle everything else around all over again.
- It’s easy to reference throughout the day. Making the list and then putting it out of sight probably won’t help you stay on task. Refer back to the list each time you complete a task, so you always know what you’ve done and you’re doing next.
- It allows for flexibility. Unexpected things are bound to happen sometimes. If your schedule is too inflexible, you’re likely to end up frustrated when something goes wrong. You might even up tossing the whole thing out.
Whatever time blocking or planning system you use, make sure you also take time to regularly evaluate whether it really is helping you be more efficient. If it stops doing so, you might need to do an overhaul and try something different.
Prioritizing Done over Perfect
We hear this all the time, and yet it’s so much easier said than acted on. But choosing to finish and let the task be imperfect is critical if you want to be more efficient. Doing so saves time in two ways:
- It helps prevent procrastination, because it works against the mental block of being afraid to start and do something wrong.
- It helps keep you from spending way too much time finetuning all the little details.
Time blocking can help with this, too. By giving yourself a time limit to complete certain tasks, you can help yourself accept a less-than-perfect but finished product.
Also, keep in mind that imperfect doesn’t have to mean low quality. It simply means accepting that there is always room for improvement in the future.
Before you start a task, make an outline. This best applies to writing, but it can apply to other types of tasks as well. Make yourself a plan of action, so you don’t get halfway through and realize you missed an important step near the beginning.
Like time blocking and to-do lists, outlining gives you a roadmap to follow and helps keep you on-task. There’s no stress to make it look or sound good, because it’s typically for your eyes only. And chances are, as making outlines becomes habit, you’ll find yourself able to be more efficient even in the outline-making process itself.
Taking Strategic Breaks
Working on and on without resting may feel more productive in the moment. But it leads to quicker burnout, and can even keep you stuck on a given task.
Instead, learn how to take effective, strategic breaks that refresh you both physically and mentally. This will equip you to approach problems and difficult tasks with fresh perspective and be more efficient in completing them.
The Key To Be More Efficient: Automate
Which tasks do you complete on a regular basis? How can you automate them?
Automating can mean setting up literal, digital automations that do the work for you. But it can also mean establishing habits that prevent you from having to make choices or think about how to do the task.
The more you can automate, the less thinking you’ll have to do, and the less time and energy you’ll expend on those regular tasks. Although developing and implementing these automations will take extra time and energy at first, in the long run, they’ll help you be more efficient and focused in your day-to-day tasks. Then you can use the extra time and energy on other things.
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