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Published on January 30, 2019

How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

There’s a lot of research on the subject of productivity, but in my experience, most of it is bogus. 

So how to work efficiently?

Being productive really boils down to two key things:

  1. Prioritization
  2. Finding your flow

Each of these are distinct skills, yet they inevitably impact each other since honing your ability to prioritize improves your capacity for finding and staying in flow. So to maximize your efficiency, you have to work consciously to develop both.

Here’s what you need to do that.

1. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritize Better

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool to help you prioritize tasks in terms of urgency and importance. As co-founder of Dairy Free Games, I found it immensely valuable; there always seemed to be a thousand fires burning, but using this tool helped me decide which ones to put out myself, and when.

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    Here’s how the matrix breaks down:

    • Urgent and Important: Tasks that you yourself have to do right now, or conversations and decisions that you must quarterback quickly.
    • Not Urgent and Important: Projects requiring of planning and strategy, but that can be delayed for a bit. You’ll still need to set a deadline for these and carve out time on your calendar to work specifically on them, but you might not need to tackle them today.
    • Urgent and Not Important: Tasks which must be completed, but which you should delegate to someone else. Think: files, documents, or processes that need updating—jobs that need to get done fast, but that don’t require you or your best engineer.
    • Not Important and Not Urgent: Ideas which are best eliminated from your to-do list altogether. Or, at the least, tasks that should be postponed until all other important items have been checked off. These might be “nice-to-haves”––they’re not urgent or mission critical.

    The most crucial piece here is deciding which action items must be completed by you, and which could be delegated. For many, you have the sense that everything that’s urgent is also important, and everything that’s important MUST be completed by you. But over time––through utilizing this matrix––you come to realize that urgent and important are in fact different qualifiers.

    The most effective leaders are those who can differentiate between the two and plan their days around the tasks which they really must complete themselves.

    2. Get into a State of Flow

    Flow, meanwhile is something you have to consciously, personally optimize for.

    Flow is a concept first defined by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. It is characterized, among other things, by complete psychological immersion in the activity or project at hand. It’s what most creatives––whether they be artists, engineers, writers, or designers––strive for when they sit down to get to work. Or, at least, it’s what they emerge out of after they’ve made something great.

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    If you’re a creator of some kind, you’ve likely experienced it, whether you were conscious of it or not. It feels, in a way, like a hyper-effective autopilot where words or algorithms seem to leap directly from your brain through your fingers and onto a page, and you’re only barely in control of the process.

    But here’s the thing:

    Forcing yourself into a mental state where it’s possible to get into flow is challenging––in fact, it’s something you need to actively and consciously optimize for.

    Luckily, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of getting into a state of flow.

      Here are some ways to do that:

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      Set aside time to “go deep.”

      Flow requires intense, uninterrupted focus. That itself requires an investment on your part to minimize distractions––especially from tasks that are not important but potentially urgent (category 3 of that Eisenhower Matrix).

      Set a clear objective.

      It’s impossible to get into flow without having one specific goal to focus intently on––otherwise, you’ll find yourself inherently distracted. You can’t get into flow by trying to work on three things at once.

      At best, your focus will remain at a kind of surface level for all three.

      Autonomy in how to handle the task.

      Integral to flow is freedom of choice. This is important when delegating important tasks to teammates, as well.

      If the project is something that the person will need to enter into flow to complete, you’ll need to make sure they themselves are invested in it and actively choosing how to complete it.

      The task should not be over-challenging or over-simplistic.

      As I mentioned, it’s difficult to get into flow when the project at hand bores you or, on the other hand, confuses you. It needs to be challenging enough to be interesting––there’s a sweet spot. This is particularly important to remember, again, when delegating.  

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      Access to feedback.

      The faster you can get feedback, whether that’s from your management, co-workers, or customers, the better. In fact, immediate feedback is the reasons that video games are so immersive and flow-inducing.

      In a game, almost every action you take has clear positive or negative feedback.

      The Bottom Line

      Prioritization and flow are inextricably intertwined.

      The easiest way to be pulled out of flow, after all, is being bombarded by tasks that aren’t important. That includes emails that seem to demand quick responses, Slack messages from teammates, creeping pressure from action items you didn’t correctly define as “Urgent,” “Not Urgent,” and so on.

      You must, in optimizing for flow, protect yourself from these kinds of risks.

      But, again, that skill comes from practice and from prioritizing effectively––setting aside time for focused, deep work, for example, or delegating potentially distracting yet important items to other team members.

      That’s why, ultimately, you need to develop and nurture both of these skills in tandem—both for the benefit of your team and for yourself.

      More Resources to Boost Productivity at Work

      Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

      More by this author

      Dennis Zdonov

      Entrepreneur, opportunist, applying game design to all walks of life

      How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

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      Last Updated on August 20, 2019

      26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

      26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

      If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

      Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

      1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

      When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

      2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

      In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

      3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

      This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

      My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

      It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

      4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

      If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

      5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

      When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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      6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

      Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

      7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

      If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

      8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

      It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

      9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

      When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

      10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

      If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

      Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

      11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

      Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

      12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

      Fake it till you make it. Period.

      13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

      When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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      And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

      If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

      Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

      After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

      14. Build a network.

      Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

      Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

      15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

      Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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        16. Stand up straight.

        No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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        17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

        These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

        18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

        You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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          19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

          You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

          20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

          If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

          21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

          For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

          Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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            22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

            As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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            23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

            Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

            24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

            If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

            Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

            25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

            I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

            Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

            The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

            26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

            When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

            For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

            Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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