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Published on October 23, 2019

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.

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 Dictionary 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?

To me, “efficiency” means negotiating each day’s circumstances while ensuring I have enough time for non-negotiables like sleep and self-care. This nuance is especially important for working professionals. 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 being efficient (we’ll talk more about that later). 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: What’s the Difference?

There’s a fine line between what it means to be effective and efficient. Let’s start with the dictionary definition: “Effective” means “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.”[2]

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 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, but you didn’t exactly do so efficiently.

If you think about it, we’re all “effective” in one way or another. 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. But 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 not only effective, but efficient. So how do they do it?

6 Ways to Be Both Efficient and Effective

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:

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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.[3]

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 efficient because it focuses your energies on what you want. That, in turn, improves your ability to achieve those goals. And if you’re a leader, you set the example for how your employees can get more done, too.

2. Communicate on Your Terms

Whether it’s meal-planning or product development, most projects take a team. But 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.[4] 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 in person. 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 that the contractors I’d hired 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 their own people. Not everyone works or communicates in the same way, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean they’re failing you or attempting to undermine your efforts.

4. Take Regular Breaks

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

Research suggests that the most productive 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.[5] 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 once an hour to take a break. If shorter intervals are more appropriate for your task, try the Pomodoro Method. Work for 25 minutes, then do something else for the following five. Not only will you get more done, but you’ll be less stressed to boot.

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. Why not? Because I had a chainsaw sitting in the garage. Once I fired it up, the tree work took about ten minutes.

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 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 your 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.

Bottom Line

Planning is key. Whether you’re an entrepreneur like me or a stay-at-home dad, you’ve got a job to do. The work itself may differ, but the value of being 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 definitionally, 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

[1] Merriam-Webster dictionary: Efficient
[2] Merriam-Webster dictionary: Effective
[3] Calendar: How to Set Business Goals You’ll Actually Reach
[4] Harvard Business Review: How to Spend Way Less Time on Email Every Day
[5] Inc: For the Most Productive Workday, Science Says Make Sure to Do This

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.

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

2. Use the Pareto Principle

Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

3. Make Stakes

Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

4. Record Yourself

Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

5. Join a Group

There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

6. Time Travel

Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

7. Be a Chameleon

When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

“Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

8. Focus

Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

9. Visualize

The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

10. Find a Mentor

Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

11. Sleep on It

Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

Check out his video to find out more:

13. Learn by Doing

It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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14. Complete Short Sprints

Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

15. Ditch the Distractions

Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

16. Use Nootropics

Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

17. Celebrate

For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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The Bottom Line

Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

Reference

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