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.
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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).” 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.
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.
You can learn more about SMART goals with the following video:
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. 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.
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. 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. Not only will you get more done, but you’ll be less stressed to boot.
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.
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.
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.
Featured photo credit: Alex Presa via unsplash.com
|Merriam-Webster dictionary: Efficient
|Calendar: How to Set Business Goals You’ll Actually Reach
|Harvard Business Review: How to Spend Way Less Time on Email Every Day
|Inc: For the Most Productive Workday, Science Says Make Sure to Do This
|Todoist: The Pomodoro Technique