Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Complete Any Task in the Most Time Efficient Manner

How to Complete Any Task in the Most Time Efficient Manner

It’s not just you: We’re all busier than we used to be. Doing any task in a time efficient manner just feels impossible these days.

Whether you’re a working mom, a college student, or a small business owner, managing your time can be challenging. Between classes, meetings, doctor appointments, and kids’ after-school events, how does anyone find time for exercise or, heaven forbid, fun?

We all get 24 hours in a day. So how do some people seem to breeze through their tasks while the rest of us flounder? They’ve learned how to be both time efficient and effective.

What Does It Mean to Be Time Efficient?

Merriam-Webster defines “efficient” as, “Capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or material).”[1] But what does it mean to actually be efficient in how you spend your days?

Being time efficient means negotiating each day’s circumstances while ensuring you have enough time for non-negotiables like sleep and self-care. Efficiency doesn’t always mean sitting down at a desk in the morning, whittling down a to-do list, and leaving the office by 5 p.m. Efficiency means doing your best, despite internal and external factors, leaving ample time to take care of yourself.

I start my work days by writing down my deliverables. Inevitably, though, I get roped into an unexpected meeting or investor call. Yes, I could stay up all night doing the work to hit my deadlines — but if I did, I’d be too tired the next day to get anything done. That’s being effective, not efficient.

To be efficient, I might divide the work with a colleague, or complete half the assignment and request an extension.

When you’re juggling work, parenthood, and a social life, you have to continuously optimize your days and hold yourself accountable. But, of course, you still have to be effective as well.

Advertising

Effective vs. Efficient

Put simply, being effective is about accomplishing a specific result; being efficient means accomplishing that result without wasting time or effort. In theory, you have to be time efficient in order to be effective, but that’s not always the case.

Look at it this way: You have a task to complete that should take you an hour. But between distractions like the internet and office chatter, that task winds up taking you four hours. You accomplished your end goal, so you were effective, but you weren’t efficient as it took much longer than it should have.

If you have a job that keeps a roof over your head and food on your table, it means you’re effective enough at work to get a monthly paycheck. However, your paycheck probably doesn’t reflect how much time you spend on social media each pay period.

The exception is entrepreneurs and freelancers. To make more money, people who own a business need to be both effective and efficient.

6 Ways to Be Time Efficient

Effectiveness is a byproduct of efficiency. Although it’s safe to say that most entrepreneurs are efficient, it’s a skill that takes practice.

Even if you aren’t trying to run a profitable business, you can still benefit by operating the way successful business leaders do.

1. Set Measurable Goals

Although every entrepreneur has his or her own method, productivity experts suggest setting SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-dependent goals promote both efficiency and effectiveness — not only can they be realistically achieved, but progress toward them can be quantitatively checked[2].

You can learn more about SMART goals with the following video:

Advertising

Say you want to bring in $100,000 per quarter. You might set weekly milestones of $8,000, making the goal more manageable and giving you a cushion in case you fall short one week.

Setting goals helps you be time efficient because it focuses your energy on what you want. That, in turn, improves your ability to achieve those goals.

2. Communicate on Your Terms

Whether it’s meal-planning or product development, most projects take a team. However, that doesn’t mean you have to refresh your email every five minutes for updates. Working professionals waste an average of 21 minutes per day simply over-checking their inboxes[3]. Over four work weeks, that’s nearly 7 hours a month you could claw back.

Entrepreneurs, in particular, need to be careful with email. Investor messages might merit a quick response, for example. Does it actually matter how quickly you read that employee-welcome email you were copied on, though?

If an employee needs something immediately, ask that they call you or stop by your office. Set a time and dedicate one or two hours per week to combing through your full inbox to ensure you don’t miss something crucial.

3. Default to Trust

Even if you aren’t working with a team, you still depend on others. When my wife and I added a laundry room upstairs in our home, I had to trust the contractors to do their jobs. I had to trust my wife to answer all those “Where do you want it?” questions that inevitably came up.

If I hadn’t defaulted to trust, I would’ve slowed the project down and perhaps even scrapped it completely.

Learn to trust others the same way you would your romantic partner. Be clear about your intentions. Make sure your actions match your words, and assume others’ do as well.

Advertising

Be sincere in how you communicate. Most importantly, accept that others are unique individuals. Not everyone works or communicates in the same way, and that’s okay.

4. Take Regular Breaks

The more time you spend on a project, the faster you accomplish it, right? Not necessarily.

Research suggests that the most productive, time efficient workers actually take the most breaks. A study by the Draugiem Group showed that the ideal work rhythm is actually 52 minutes followed by a 17-minute break[4]. Although the study didn’t look at other types of work, it’s a fair bet that breaks promote efficiency across the board.

Set a timer to remind you to take a break each hour. If shorter intervals are more appropriate for your task, try the Pomodoro Technique. Work for 25 minutes, then do something else for the following five[5]. Not only will you get more done, but you’ll be less stressed to boot.

Use the Pomodoro Technique to be more time efficient.
    5. Use Your Resources

    Not long ago, I had to cut down some trees in my yard to protect my house. I could have pulled out the bow saw and spent the next hour slowly slicing my way through the trunk, but I didn’t, because I had a chainsaw sitting in the garage. Once I fired it up, the tree work took about ten minutes, leaving me with extra time for other tasks.

    Take the same approach at work. If you need to transfer information between multiple browser windows on your computer, you could constantly click back and forth between multiple tabs. Or you could hook up the spare monitor sitting in storage, which would help you work quicker and make fewer errors.

    6. Know When to Say No

    Small projects have a bad habit of ballooning into bigger ones. If all you set out to do is mow your yard, stick to that. Don’t tell yourself (or let anyone else tell you) that you also have to trim the bushes and pull weeds.

    Get done what you want and move on. That’s being effective as well as time efficient.

    Advertising

    What if it’s a work project? You may not be able to say “no” directly to your boss, but you can suggest alternatives. If you’re worried a task is a waste of time, throw out a different idea.

    If you truly don’t have time on your calendar, ask him or her to help you prioritize your project list. Get it right, and your boss may thank you for saving company time.

    Having a full understanding of time management is key to knowing when to say “no” and when something could make sense for a time investment.

    Learn more about the art of saying no with this article.

    Bottom Line

    Planning is key. Whether you’re an entrepreneur like me or a stay-at-home parent, you’ve got a job to do. The work itself may differ, but the value of being time efficient and effective does not. If you want to succeed — and have time for yourself to spare — think before you grind the day away.

    Working wisely is better than working hard. Learning to trust others is more important than the outcome looking exactly like what you had in mind. Efficiency and effectiveness may differ, but both boil down to two things: having a plan and pivoting as needed.

    More About Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Alex Presa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    John Hall

    John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

    10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness How to Focus on Yourself and Accomplish Your Goals in Life How To Use the Time Management Matrix To Do What Matters The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work How to Quit Social Media for a Happier and More Focused Life

    Trending in Focus

    1 10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind 2 How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive 3 10 Simple Hacks To Get Rid Of Absent-Mindedness 4 How to Stop Being Absent Minded and Start to Be More Attentive 5 What Is A Flow State And How To Achieve It For Productivity

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on April 8, 2021

    10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

    10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

    Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

    “Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

    And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

    Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

    Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

    So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

    1. Find Your Totem

    Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

    Advertising

    You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

    In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

    2. Promise a Reward

    Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

    For example:

    • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
    • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
    • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

    Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

    3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

    I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

    Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

    Advertising

    It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

    But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

    4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

    Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

    There are two basic ways to go about it:

    1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
    2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

    5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

    Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

    The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

    6. Recite a Focus Mantra

    I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

    Advertising

    I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

    Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

    Some examples:

    • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
    • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
    • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

    As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

    7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

    One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

    If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

    8. Find an Easy Win

    Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

    Advertising

    9. Create a “Wins” List

    Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

    Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

    10. Add Stakes to the Mix

    If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

    Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

    For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

    All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

    Who Else Wants More Success?

    Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

    But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

    More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

    Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

    Read Next