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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Complete Any Task in the Most Time Efficient Manner

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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    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

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    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.

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    Published on October 22, 2021

    The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

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    The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

    Today, there are countless productivity techniques that claim to help you work at peak efficiency. Among them, few are more widely known and widely used than the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management system that suggests that you break down your work tasks into 25-minute chunks and take breaks in between them.

    The idea revolves around the notion that most people begin to lose focus after 25 minutes of continuous work and will need a reset to remain productive. But there’s a problem with that idea: no two tasks are the same. And for that matter, neither are any two people! That means a one-size-fits-all productivity system can’t possibly be the best fit for everyone.

    But there’s an alternative that provides more flexibility and allows you to customize it for your specific use cases. It’s called the Flowtime Technique, and here’s everything you need to know to use it and start getting more done.

    What Is the Flowtime Technique?

    The Flowtime Technique, while not as well-known as the Pomodoro Technique, has been around for some time. In many ways, it’s a direct descendent of Pomodoro. It’s the brainchild of Zoe Read-Bivens, and she thought it up as a means of dealing with some of the shortcomings she experienced while using the Pomodoro technique.[1]

    She found that sticking to 25-minute work segments often interrupted her flow—the feeling of being immersed in a particular task—and ended up harming her productivity rather than enhancing it. To fix the problem, she sought to create a system that retained the beneficial aspects of the Pomodoro Technique while allowing her to get into a positive flow and stay there.

    The Basics of the Flowtime Technique

    To start using the Flowtime Technique, the first thing you’ll need to do is create a timesheet to help you manage your daily activities. You can do this with a spreadsheet or by hand, whichever you find most convenient. At the heading of your timesheet, include the following column headings:

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    • Task Name
    • Start Time
    • End Time
    • Interruptions
    • Work Time
    • Break Time

    Your timesheet will be the primary way you track your daily tasks and establish a flow that works best for you. Once you have it set up, here’s how to use it:

    1. Choose a Task

    To get started, choose a task you wish to get done. It should be specific, and something you can reasonably complete in the amount of time you have. In other words, don’t choose a task like “paint my house.” Choose something like “paint the front door of my house.” If you select a task that’s too broad, you’ll have difficulty sticking with the work. So, try and break down what you’re doing into the smallest manageable pieces.

    2. Begin Working on Your Task

    The next step is to start working on your task. Begin by listing the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate field of your timesheet. Then, list the time you’re starting work. Once you’ve gotten started on your task, the only rule you must observe is that there is no multitasking allowed. This will help you to focus on what you need to get done and minimize any self-imposed distractions.

    3. Work Until You Need a Break

    You may then keep working on your listed task for as long as you like. If you feel yourself getting fatigued after 15 minutes, take a break. If you get into a productive groove, lose track of the time, and end up working for an hour straight, that’s fine, too.

    The idea is to get to know your own patterns and work in segments that fit you best. If you don’t focus well on certain tasks, work on them for shorter durations. If you get absorbed in other types of tasks, maximize your output by working for as long as you feel capable of staying focused.

    You’ll likely find that the longest period you’ll be able to sustain is around 90 minutes or so. This corresponds to your Ultradian Rhythm, which are the alternating periods of alertness and rest that our brains experience throughout the day.[2]

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    There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate how taking regular breaks improves productivity. It’s one of the reasons that mandatory breaks are a part of the Pomodoro Technique. But there’s evidence that the less-structured Flowtime approach to breaks works just as well. One technology company that recently directed its employees to take breaks every hour as they saw fit saw productivity levels rise by 23%—with no mandate required.[3]

    4. Take an Appropriate-Length Break

    When you decide you need to take a break, go ahead and do so. Just make sure to write down your stop time on your timesheet in the right place. You can take a break that’s as long or short as you like, but don’t abuse the privilege. Otherwise, it won’t be long until your breaks eat up the majority of your time.

    As a general rule of thumb, try taking a five-minute break for each 25-minute work period, and increase your break time proportionally for longer work periods. You should use a timer to make sure you get back to your task in the right amount of time. And when your break ends, don’t forget to record the time you’ve resumed work and list the length of the break you took.

    5. Record Distractions as They Happen

    While you’re working, there are always going to be times when you’ll get distracted. It may come in the form of a phone call, an urgent email, or even the urge to use the bathroom. When these things happen, record the occurrence in the interruption column on your timesheet. Do your best to keep distractions short, but don’t try and block them out.

    The reason is that you’re unlikely to succeed and sometimes, the things that distract you will be a higher priority than what you’re working on. So, it’s important to deal with distractions as you see fit instead of trying to simply work through them.

    6. Repeat Until Your Work Is Complete

    All you have to do next is to repeat the steps above until the tasks you’re working on are complete. As you complete each task, be sure to record your final stop time. If you wish, you can calculate your total work time (and fill it in) when you finish a task, or you can do all of the math at once at the end of the day.

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    All that matters is that you don’t leave any gaps in your time tracking. Your timesheets, once complete, will become an asset that improves your ability to create a work schedule that maximizes your daily output.

    What to Do With Your Timesheets

    Although the act of recording your work periods and break times will help you remain on-task each day, there’s another important reason you’re doing it. It’s that your timesheets will gradually begin to reveal to you how to craft an ideal daily schedule for yourself.

    So, at the end of each week, take some time to compare your timesheets. You may see that certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, you might notice that your longest work periods typically occur before lunch or that there are specific parts of your day that tend to be filled with distractions. You can use this information to plan subsequent days more effectively.

    In general, you’ll want to cluster your most important tasks at your most productive times. So, if you are reviewing detailed property records, for example, you can set aside time to do it when you know you’ll be able to focus without interruption.

    Conversely, you should schedule less critical work at the times when you’re most likely to be interrupted while working. So if you need time to respond to emails or return phone calls, you’ll know just when to do it. This will not only make you more productive but will also eliminate mistakes in your work.

    Key Similarities Between Flowtime and Pomodoro

    If you’re familiar with how the Pomodoro Technique works, you may have noticed some similarities with the Flowtime Technique. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is intentional. The Flowtime Technique is specifically designed to retain three critical features of the Pomodoro Technique, which are:

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    1. Precise Time Tracking

    One of the reasons that the Pomodoro Technique is so effective for many people is that it creates a rigid system to facilitate time tracking. By having to split your work tasks into 25-minute segments, you become acutely aware of the tasks you have in front of you and how you’re using your time. That alone helps you to avoid wasting precious work time because you have to account for every minute. The Flowtime Technique provides this benefit, too.

    2. Eliminating Multitasking

    With the Pomodoro Technique, you have to choose a task to work on and use a 25-minute timer to measure each work period. This does an excellent job of keeping you on-task because you know from the moment you set the timer what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re therefore not likely to stray onto another task.

    Even though you don’t need to use a timer with the Flowtime Technique, the very act of writing down your task accomplishes the same task. Because you know you’ll be tracking your time spent working on a particular thing, you’ll tend to stick with your task until it’s complete or time for a break.

    3. Facilitating Breaks

    One of the biggest killers of productivity is exhaustion, and there’s plenty of data to prove that taking breaks is essential to maintaining peak work performance. That’s the real secret to the Pomodoro Technique’s successful reputation—it makes breaks mandatory and unavoidable.

    The Flowtime Technique, by comparison, also insists you take breaks. It just doesn’t force them upon you until you’re ready to take one. In that way, some additional self-discipline is required to succeed using the Flowtime Technique. But if you can obey a timer, there’s no reason you can’t learn to obey the signals your body sends you when it needs a time out.

    Final Thoughts

    At the end of the day, you may find success using the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a reason it’s so popular, after all. But if you’ve been using it for some time and find yourself straining against its rigid structures, you’re not alone. So, consider giving the Flowtime Technique a try for at least a week or two. You may find it’s a much better fit for your work style and that you get even more done than you ever have before.

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