Monday, 5 May 2014

Want to get more done in each hour? How to work smarter not longer

In a recent post I talked about how I managed to increase my productivity at work 300% by getting rid of time wasters and distractions that take away from the core tasks at hand.  I didn't tell the full story in that post though.  I was getting 4 times as much done...but I wasn't using all those hours that I freed up during the day for work.

In fact I managed to get four times as much work done in almost every single work day (excluding days which are just out of your control...we all have them) while freeing up two of those hours to work on personal projects (including this blog and spending more time on personal investments).

You can achieve huge productivity gains by knowing when you are effective

Most of us do not work in jobs where we can work when we are at our peak efficiency and then watch TV or relax or do something else that we would like to do when we are not.  This is especially true if you work in a typical office job which has a set expectation of the hours you will work.

All of us know when we are the most effective...although you may not have stopped to think about it

So much of being able to get these productivity gains is knowing when you are effective.  One of the easiest ways to think about this is to think about when you get a lot done during the day.  For me I get the most done before lunchtime and then in the last hour before I leave work.  Everyone is different but I don't know a lot of people who really hit their straps right after they have eaten lunch.

When are you at your most efficient?  Does it take a while for your brain to 'wake up' at work or do you just get right into it?  Working this out can help you become much more efficient.

Save your most important tasks for the times you are most efficient

In my last post on becoming more efficient I talked about identifying what you actually needed to do each day and what was not as important or just filler.  If you combine this with
your personal peak effectiveness you will be surprised how much you can get done.

Just because you have always done a task at a certain time does not mean you need to continue doing it at that time

Most of us are incredibly efficient when we first get to work.  We are fresh from a night of sleep and our brains are ready to go.  But what do we do?  We chat to people in the office, we read emails, listen to voice mail, go through mail, read the news and then only start our work after this 'warm up' period.

If you know that this is your most efficient moment, you are less likely to waste it.  Nail the big task you have to do for the day right at the start.  The email can wait until you start to lose your concentration a bit around mid morning or perhaps right before lunch.  If you have to chat to people in the office or have a meeting with someone, why not do it right after lunch when you're not going to be pumping out material anyway?

Order your day for peak efficiency

All of us do some sort of personal tasks when we are in the office.  Whether it be running to the post office or paying  a bill or doing some online shopping.  Most of us do not take up the whole day doing this though..we also do work as well.

If you know your concentration patterns and the period when you are your most efficient then use this to your advantage.  At the start of each day write down on a piece of paper what times you are going to get everything done.  I actually found that when I started doing this, tasks that used to take me 2 - 3 hours to complete were suddenly getting done in under an hour...and I thought I was pretty efficient before that.

Have a plan for your increased level of free time

Some people have very defined goals and tasks in their jobs and other people have a broad mandate to achieve certain outcomes.  I'm in the latter category but you can apply the following to both groups of people.

When you are more efficient you can decide how to spend your time

I started this process when I was struggling to keep up with my work load and I was starting to work longer and longer hours.  After becoming more efficient at work and cutting out all the useless things I was doing I found that I had actually freed up 3 - 4 hours in each day.  I actively decided to take on more work (i.e. become a more valued employee / position myself for better bonuses and promotions) but also to keep some time free to do my own activities during the day.

I should point out that I am not taking advantage of my employer.  I am getting everything that I am required to do, done and I've taken on more work.  If you decide to use all the time you have freed up to do increase your work output then go for it...but make sure you are getting rewarded for it.

One thing I would suggest though, is that if you are going to use some of this excess free time for your own personal activities then you do this during your 'inefficient' moments.

Have you found ways to become more efficient at what you do?  Do you find yourself working longer hours and can't work out why?  

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