5 killer ways to work efficiently
[date-stamp]There should be more than 24 hours in a day. As an entrepreneur and full-time dad, I very often experience that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. The obvious solution to this is planning. Planning my days down to the last minute. But what is the best way to work efficiently and do as much as possible in a single day in a sustainable fashion? I have researched this extensively and would like to share my tricks with you.
1. On Sundays, plan your coming week
Sundays are great for planning. Try to come up with all the tasks that need to be done in the coming week to get an overview. Some use Excel for this (like Julie Brodtkorb, who works as a state secretary for the Norwegian Prime Minister), others use more specialized tools. The main idea is to think ahead and put everything down on a piece of paper (or in a tool), and set daily goals for what needs to be done. After trying this, reaching the goals that are set becomes the main focus, and this decreases the time spent on drinking coffee and answering absolutely all emails you have received.
A task is something productive that needs to be done, like holding a presentation for a prospective customer, or adding a new feature to the product you're working on. It is not to spend two hours on Facebook, that's not a productive task (unless you're doing marketing on Facebook of course).
Personally, coming from the software world, I organize my weeks into Scrum sprints and have a retrospective meeting with myself on Sundays to evaluate how things went in the past week. Which tasks were done and which were not, and try to come up with why the unfinished tasks were not completed.
2. The Touch-It-Once Rule
The Touch-It Once rule goes like this: If you have opened an email that requires you to answer it, then answer it right away. Do not procrastinate answering and avoid thinking about this email you have to answer, just answer it right away and be done with it. There are several effects of this; the most obvious one is that important emails that need to be answered are not just lying around in your inbox. Also, your inbox is more tidy, and when opening your inbox you only look at unanswered emails received since yesterday afternoon and not since the start of time. This may be a small thing, but it is an incredible time-saver. There's a lot of research that has been done on how much time each employee in businesses waste by reading and writing emails, some claim that we receive 304 business email per week and check our email 36 times per hour. Clearly, there is time to be saved here- how many of us are expecting an important email all the time, the whole day and every day? None that I know about. So combining the Touch-It Once rule with only checking email at specific times throughout the day (say in the morning when you arrive at work, right before lunch and again at 3PM) will be an incredible timesaver.
3. Stick to your plan, but be agile
It is important not to take it too far with planning and scheduling your day. Say you have scheduled to start creating a project plan for your new project, but then you get a call from school that your child is sick. Clearly, the project plan must wait, and you must go and pick up your child. Making sure your kids are healthy and taking care of them when they're sick is also a task, but a task that is hard to put in a schedule. It happens when it happens, and there's not much you can do about it.
But: Do not make this excuse too often, then it becomes a permanent excuse to do nothing.
4. Use the right tools
Using the right tools for your job is crucial, and will save you countless hours compared with being stuck with a bad tool or (even worse) no tool at all. If you have a bad tool, do not hesitate to replace it. It's like struggling with an old car, sooner or later it must be replaced, and it's much better to do it sooner rather than later. Cheaper too. It doesn't matter if some other application depends on it, then that other application much be either changed or replaced as well.
If you work in marketing and posts to social networks, use a tool like HootSuite or SproutSocial to post simultaneously to multiple social networks and to schedule posts. It is a complete waste of time to post manually to social networks. Same thing with finances, if QuickBooks doesn't work for you, replace it. And as a cloud software proponent, I must also mention all the cloud software that is available now. Not using tools that are readily available is a sin, as I wrote about in my last blog post, Why isn't readily available technology used?
5. Meetings, phone calls and other disturbances
Atlassian has investigated how many interruptions an employee has during an average day, and they found that it is up to 56 interruptions per day. This is everything from someone tapping you on the shoulder in order to discuss the performance of your favorite football team to your email notifier on your smartphone to checking Twitter. This number surprised me, so I did my own test one day where I counted the number of interruptions. My number was not far away from what Atlassian came up with... That was before I structured my workdays though.
Meettngs is another one altogether- I never got to meetings that do not have an agenda anymore. Some years ago, I was introduced to the "all-day meeting" at the company where I worked, and it was dreadful. Meetings should be short, to the point and then we're done. In most companies, this is not the case though. Meetings can take forever, and too many are invited to them. Have you ever been in a meeting and felt completely out of place? I have, and it is a common thing for a meeting organizer to invite too many to a meeting. Having six people in a meeting is twice as expensive as having three people in a meeting, so there's a financial aspect here as well. It is simply unproductive time. Atlassian estimates that the salary cost of unnecessary meetings in the US is $36 billion, so the financial aspect is significant.
So what to do with such disturbances? Never go to meetings without an agenda, never go to meetings where you do not have to be present. There's a saying that "if you're the smartest one in a room, then you're in the wrong room." If you find yourself in that situation, leave. It will save you a lot of time as well :-) Other disturbances that are outside your control (like people calling you) are harder to control. But making clear that you're busy normally helps to cut down the length of unexpected phone calls.
These five ways to stay efficient is something I follow myself, and they work well. If you're in a situation where a lot is going on, such techniques are indispensable in order to stay efficient and get something done. When a week following these techniques is over, look back at it and feel accomplished over everything you have done. It's a great feeling! Try it, and you'll see.
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