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Published on December 28, 2020

How To Increase Your Efficiency At Work (14 Simple Ways)

How To Increase Your Efficiency At Work (14 Simple Ways)

The year has been one for the books. It’s completely changed our way of life, from how we have to do social distancing and mask-wearing to how we work. Twelve months ago, the brick-and-mortar model was going strong. Then, the coronavirus hit, and businesses were forced to shift to the work-from-home model. As we look ahead to the new year, it doesn’t look as if we’re going back to the old ways any time soon, so efficiency at work has taken on a whole new meaning.

It seems like just yesterday that millions of people would wake up every morning, jump in their car, and head off to the office to put in eight hours to pay the bills. Those eight hours would consist of a variety of meetings with potential clients, talking to colleagues, writing and responding to emails, negotiating deals, and organizing events.

What was once commonplace has been replaced with sitting in front of a screen at the dining room table or in our make-shift office at home.

In the bestselling book, The One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard M.D. explains that we shouldn’t manage every employee the same way because different people are at different stages in their development. The more experienced employees thrive with less supervision while newer employees need constant hand-holding and encouragement as they are unfamiliar with their new surroundings.

Under the work-from-home model, the more experienced employees have thrived as they were able to use their commute time more effectively. Instead of having to attend a bunch of unnecessary meetings, people are now asked to only attend those that are necessary.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the less experienced workers and companies have struggled to address how best to train them so they can acquire all the necessary skills needed for their work.

Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years and having run three businesses and worked in partnerships, I’ve learned that there’s only so much an employer can teach their employees. The rest is up to us and as we live in such precarious times, we should all go to work on ourselves and figure out how we can increase our efficiency at work, even if that means being at home.

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While certain skills might be career-specific, the following 14 ways can increase our efficiency at work regardless of what industry you are in.

1. Set Achievable Goals

Setting goals is a good thing. It is an effective way to improve our efficiency at work as goals shape our actions and decisions. But not all goals are created equal.

Working with entrepreneurs, I have found that many like to set goals that are merely dreams in disguise. Napoleon Hill best explained the difference between the two when he said, “Goals are dreams with a deadline.”

The key to setting goals is to remember the acronym S.T.A.G., which stands for short-term achievable goals—the keyword being achievable. Unattainable goals, on the other hand, lead to disappointment. A goal also needs to be clear so that everyone involved understands precisely how to go about achieving it.

2. Less Is More

So many of us are obsessed with getting everything done, it’s almost as if we feel compelled to make sure everything is off our plate. Recently, I watched an episode of MasterChef: The Professionals. In it, one chef with 20 years of experience created some incredible plates of food. Just one problem—there was too much stuff on the plate. As a result, the whole dish didn’t come together and it cost him a place in the semi-finals.

The lesson is this—sometimes, we have to know when to stop. By doing less, we’re able to focus more on those things that need our attention and consequently, the quality of those things radically improves.

3. Have a Break, Have a Walk

Our lives have become more and more sedentary, and that’s not a good thing. Many people sit in front of computer screens, glued to their chairs for hours at a time. It’s not healthy.

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So, have a break and short walks from time to time. It’s amazing how much a short walk every 90 minutes or so can improve our efficiency at work. It refreshes our eyes, our mind, and our body all at once.

4. Email Is Our Enemy

Brendon Buchard shared something in a podcast I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Our inbox is nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s agendas.” That was a game-changer for me. He went on to explain that if we did nothing else other than not check our email for the first two hours after we wake up, we would improve our productivity by 30%. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

5. Create Your Space

Only have what you need on your desk. Remove all things that are not important. Things tend to pile up over time, which can distract us or create a feeling of being overwhelmed. Keep your desk space clean, and you’ll notice an improvement in your productivity quite quickly.

6. Food Is Fuel

Food is fuel, and you want to run your body on high-quality fuel. I used to get a cold at least once a year and each time, it knocked me out for two to three days. I lived on a steady diet of meat and carbs back in the day. Thankfully, my wife fixed me right up.

It did take time for my body to adjust, but at age 46, I feel healthier than ever. I haven’t caught a cold since I was in my mid-thirties. That’s about a month saved in downtime not to mention my increased performance levels and not having to pump myself full of NyQuil or Tylenol.

Not a chef? No worries, YouTube has you covered. Don’t want to cook? Look for young chefs that are attending culinary schools that need practice.

7. Personal Development

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better” are wise words that Jim Rohn used to mention in all his lectures and a quote. It’s something that everyone should take into consideration when thinking of ways to increase efficiency at work. The more experience and knowledge we acquire, the easier tasks become, which is why we should always work on improving our own ability.

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8. Meditation

While most people think the key to building a successful business is all about clever marketing and cool products, what is often overlooked is the impact stress can have on us. I know more than a few millionaires who have more than enough money for the rest of their lives, but it came at a price—their health.

Stress played a big part in that, which is why it’s more important than ever to reset our minds once a day, shut off the noise, and recalibrate our thoughts.

9. Busywork Sucks

Most people aren’t lazy. The problem is they don’t want to do what they should. Instead, they fill much of their day doing activities that give them a sense of accomplishment while never making any real progress on the things they should.

10. Time Tracking

One of the big mistakes people make is they think they are good at managing their time, yet have never taken the time to really analyze just how they are using their time.

With clients, one of the first things I have them do is do a time audit. I want to know just how much time they spend and where. It’s often eye-opening for clients when they do this. No matter how good we think we are at using our time, we can always be better.

11. The Commute

As we have shifted to the work-from-home model, this is less and less of an issue. However, we still spend a lot of time in our cars (or trains depending on where you live) whether we are on a trip, heading to work, meeting a client, or simply heading to the supermarket.

Sometimes, it’s just 10 minutes, but other times it’s an hour. It all adds up. We spend an inordinate amount of time in vehicles which we aren’t using effectively. Commute time is learning time. Forget Taylor Swift and put on Tony Robbins. Turn off Metallica and instead try learning a language or listen to a podcast.

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12. 90-Minute Cram Sessions

Darren hardy is one of the premier productivity experts in the world. He has interviewed hundreds of the most successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers as the publisher of Success magazine. One secret I learned from him is what I like to call the “sweet spot” of productivity—90 minutes. We need to learn to focus our energy on 90-minute “jam sessions”—as he likes to refer to them—as they give us the greatest return on our energy.

13. Efficiency’s Magic Number Is One

A single-minded focus on a task will transform your productivity like no other. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize just how unaccustomed we are to this and think that multi-tasking is the key to getting things done. Wrong! It’s precisely the opposite. Multitasking prevents us from reaching concentrated focus and our efficiency at work suffers from it.

14. Notifications Are a Dime a Dozen

Please, if you aren’t a surgeon who needs to be on call because it’s a life and death situation, turn off your notifications. We get distracted, on average, every 4 minutes. Those distractions are absolutely productivity killers as they take us away from our train of thought.

The Bottom Line

Increasing your efficiency at work isn’t rock science. In fact, it’s downright simple. It’s the simplicity that trips people up. Too often people look for new shiny toys when the answers are right in front of them. These concepts transformed my life and those of many entrepreneurs the world over and you’d be foolish not to at least give them a fair shake.

Remember, like all concepts, applying them once and expecting big results just won’t happen. But over time, simple concepts done repeatedly can achieve incredible results.

More Tips to Boost Efficiency at Work

Featured photo credit: XPS via unsplash.com

More by this author

Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions How To Increase Your Efficiency At Work (14 Simple Ways)

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1 8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions) 2 Why You Need to Say No! More Often 3 The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life 4 How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus 5 How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here are eight reasons why you might have trouble concentrating, each with its own solution for getting back on track:

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can put together a daily schedule to help when you have trouble focusing. While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside blocks of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

Schedule time to:

  • Read and respond to work emails
  • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
  • Engage in professional development
  • Do household chores
  • Help the kids with homework
  • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again. The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

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2. Daydreams and Memories

Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than the spreadsheet you’re struggling to fill out. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

The Fix: Stay in the Present

Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

3. Headaches

Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point during their lives. While you might be able to power through a mild one, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, lack of sleep, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

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If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

4. Racing Thoughts

When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

Does that sound familiar? Racing thoughts are common, especially among busy people, but they aren’t conducive to keeping your brain on track and focused and often cause you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems.[2] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy. Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing. Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration-killers is unresolved disputes.

Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning. Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

Your anger and annoyance won’t solve these issues, but they will distract you from your job.

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The Fix: Get Some Closure

Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions. Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having trouble concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Poor sleep isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during the waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep, like diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

For most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit may be your routine. Key steps include:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
  • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
  • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
  • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

7. Lack of Exercise

For many people, exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list. When they run out of time, they skip it—at the cost of their concentration.

Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity. If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

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8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll have trouble concentrating on it. If you’re bored with life in general, you’ll find it difficult to focus on much of anything.

Boredom leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus. Depression and boredom are tightly linked.

The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance. Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client. Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

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