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PRODUCTIVITY

7 Steps to Turbocharge Your Efficiency

We all want more time. But how do you get it? The answer is to become a master of efficiency.
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Let’s face it, one of the most valuable commodities in any busy person’s life is time. No matter how much we may wish for it, making more of it is simply outside the reaches of modern science. The myth of the 25-hour day, for the foreseeable future, will remain just that, a myth.

So how do you stretch more time out of your finite resource of the same? Efficiency. In short, we may not be able to create more time, but we can turbo-charge the limited time we have. Here’s how:

1.       Set Daily Goals.  One of the best ways to ramp up your efficiency is to set daily goals. Each morning, before your work day begins, make a list of the top things that you want or need to accomplish during the work day. Rank them in order of importance. Depending upon how long each task will take you, your list may contain two items or ten.  Once constructed, use the list as your guide to keep you focused throughout the day to work towards completing those goals. Keep the list readily accessible and in plain sight on your workspace so that it will act as a constant reminder for those tasks that you want to complete in a given day. As you complete each of your predetermined objectives, check them off. If you do not complete a given goal, move it forward into the next day. This simple task of setting and monitoring daily goals is amazingly effective at increasing your productivity.

2.       Delegate. If you are in a position to delegate make sure to do so. Too often we are saddled with a belief that we are the only person that can do a specific task or do it well enough. Throughout my career I have been particularly afflicted with this mistaken belief. There was a time in my career that I would type all of my own letters even though I had a secretary whose job it was to handle this task for me. I would think, it is going to take me longer to explain to her what needs to go into the letter than it would if I just go ahead and write it myself, which I then proceeded to do.

Learning to delegate is an acquired art form, one everyone should try to master. Believing that a task cannot be delegated is truly more about control issues and less about whether or not it truly can be assigned to someone else. Why spend two hours on a task yourself if instead through crafting 10 minutes of detailed instructions, you can delegate the project to another? Accordingly, if you have someone to whom you can delegate, learn how to delegate and learn how to do it well.

3.       Let the Phone Ring. Let E-mails go Unanswered. You’re in the middle of solving an issue relating to one of your goals for the day. The phone rings. You answer. On the other end of the phone is someone who needs to speak with you about something that is important but not related to the task at hand. The conversation only lasts three minutes and then ends. However, when you go to pick up where you left off you need to quickly review where you were, get your brain back on track and then finally pick up and keep moving on the same.

Do not assume that picking up that quick call only cost you three minutes of being off task. It cost you your focus, the three minutes, and ultimately the review time of thinking about where you left off and the time it takes to re-engage your brain on the specific project you were working on before you were interrupted. All in all that three minute call, depending upon the complexity of the issues being dealt with, may cost you six, seven, even 10 minutes!

If your job allows, keep focused. Turn the phone (off?) ringer volume down so as not to disturb you or simply do not answer the same if the caller on the caller id is not calling about an urgent matter. You would be amazed at how simply allowing callers to leave a voice mail and then responding later in the day, in bulk, to all of your messages can truly amplify your efficiency.

However, it doesn’t have to end there. The same policy should be employed in regard to e-mails. How many e-mails do you really get that need to be viewed or read almost instantaneously? So don’t. Let them sit. They’ll still be there when you complete the task at hand. Like your calls just designate a time during the day, or two if you prefer, to answer all of your e-mails. Once again, by not allowing these constant interruptions, the efficiency with which you can accomplish the goals on your list will be increased exponentially.

4.       Close the Door. The phone and e-mails are not the only distractions in modern office life. Your co-workers can really drag down your efficiency as well. Back when I worked in a large law firm in Washington, D.C. I would routinely need to go see one of the head partners in his big corner office. Almost without exception every time I walked into his office he would sigh, roll his eyes, and growl “Yes, what is it?” For the first year or so I worked there I simply chalked it up to the fact that he was personality-challenged and sadistically enjoyed degrading others, in other words, a lawyer. But one day I was standing down the hall from his office and it hit me as to why he was consistently grumpy. I was not the only associate that was constantly demanding attention from the big cheese. While I stood there speaking with other lawyers in the hallway I witnessed a veritable conga line of associate attorneys strolling through his office to ask him questions here, decisions there. No wonder he was so upset every time I would come into his office. Although I did not realize it, someone else had been in there two minutes before and again five minutes before that. If the man had seven minutes in a row to think to himself and get his own work done he would consider it a good day.

 Why do I mention all of this? If you have the capability,  sometimes you just need to close the door. If you work in an open workspace, hang a sign. Open-door policies are great, but they can often lead to an erosion of efficiency that is disturbing. Don’t be afraid to shut the door and politely let people know this is my efficient time. If they need to speak with you they can come back later or, better yet, set up daily pre-scheduled times in which they will have your undivided attention. By moving away from constant interruptions you will be able to stay on task and, consequently, move more efficiently through the goals you set every day.

5.       Facebook, Twitter, and Instant Messaging. The secret time killers. Let’s say you spend 10 minutes on Facebook a day. For the majority of us that is being conservative. Let’s further say you use Twitter. Chalk up another 10 minutes. By the way, did you IM any of your friends today while at work? Come on, you know you did. Maybe the wife or the hubby had a funny story to share with you or Madonna just announced her latest concert dates and everyone had to BUZZ each other over it. Another ten minutes. So how much did we spend? Ten minutes? Twenty? Thirty? Wrong. It was more like 130 hours. Over three 40-hour work weeks.

Huh? You might be asking yourself. What you talkin’ about Willis?

It’s simple. If you spend 30 minutes a day on social media and instant messaging that adds up to two and a half hours per week. There are 52 weeks in a year. Fifty-two times two and a half is 130 hours. One hundred and thirty hours equates to over three 40-hour work weeks you are spending on social media and chatting online per year. It’s like a whole other vacation.

Is this overly dramatic? Maybe a little. But recognize what spending time on these sites does to your productivity. Thirty minutes a day, on average, equates to a loss of up to three plus weeks of work per year. So if you are just spending 10 minutes a day doing the same, that’s like one entire lost week of work. Wow.

I’m not saying don’t do it. I am just saying recognize how the numbers add up. Once you see how they do, if you want to ramp up your efficiency limit the social chats to only designated times during the day when you are already taking a break. Trust me, that wicked awesome zinger you’ve been waiting to post on Facebook can wait.

6.       Intellischedule. For those of you with spell-checker (yes, I have heard you are out there) this word will not come up anywhere. Why? I coined it. What does it mean? In brief, know thy self, know thy efficiency.

Long ago, I figured out that I am most productive for matters which involve a more detailed thought process in the morning. Matters such as complex legal briefs, legal research, reviewing complex contracts, etc. Afternoons, I prefer to just pound through matters that take a little less thought process but may be far more numerous to deal with such as quick e-mail questions and returning phone calls.

The point is, know when you are most productive in consideration of what you have to do in a given day. Then schedule your goals during those times given your particular strengths or weaknesses throughout the day. Intellischedule.

7.       Focus. Do Not Multi-Task. Lastly, we hear a lot about people who can multitask.  Who can do three things at once. But there is a growing consensus that multi-tasking actually destroys efficiency. In short, while you are multi-tasking your focus is split between two or more tasks. This erodes the efficiency with which you can accomplish either task. Don’t believe me?

Try this simple test. Find a few things in your schedule you have to do every day. Perhaps it is to get your phone messages at the beginning of the day and check your e-mails to see what needs an immediate response and what can wait. Take note of how long each task normally takes independently. Now do this. Check one e-mail and stop. Check one voice mail and stop. Go back and check the next e-mail and stop. Go back and check the next voice mail and stop and so on and so forth. Which took more time? The time it took to accomplish the two independent tasks by themselves or the time it took to multitask through both of them together. I’d be willing to bet focusing on one at a time was faster.

But this is just an example. By focusing on one thing at a time you will typically be able to accomplish that goal more quickly than if you are multitasking two or three things at once. Focus on an individual goal, accomplish it, and move on to the next goal on your daily list.

Last updated: Feb 10, 2012

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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