The Keys to Working Efficiently
It’s easy to work hard, but the real trick to progress and excelling in your career is to learn how to work smart. Or as I prefer to call it, working efficiently. Something which is perhaps becoming even more important given the number of people now working from home and finding the need to balancing their time even more with family responsibilities while still being effective with the hours they have available for work.
I don’t claim to be an expert in the area of efficiency, but I have had many people ask me how I am able to balance my time between all my writing, board game designing, along with my full-time tech job and still find times for my running and family time. So, I thought I’d share a few pointers that have helped me over the years to become more efficient with all my daily tasks. There are certainly many more things which can be done and some of these might not work for you as they do for me, but hopefully, many of these ideas will help you find efficiency in your daily work.
Form Habits - Structure your day
This is something which is difficult for many to do because your days will likely change based on many multitudes of events and not every job can easily split up into tasks. And the truth is there are very few jobs that can easily just be separated into fixed times and address. Even as a developer, problem-solving, and creativity don’t fit traditional hours and you don’t know how long certain tasks can take unless the solutions are very clear to you upfront.
What I do think you can do though is set aside certain hours of the day for various activities. You don’t need to be rigid with these but having some form of structure certainly helps. For me, I have certain times in my day when I try and fit in meetings, certain times for assisting and helping others, time for admin and then time for my different development or creative tasks. Some days, I will inevitably have more meetings than others, but I find keeping a basic structure helps me to form habits in my day.
I have time for my most important technical work early in the morning when I am at my freshest but my mind has also learnt to adapt to this schedule and so I find activating it for these tasks a lot easier. Same applies to my time for meetings (and in my role, I can have a lot of them). I am not a very social person and introverted, but I have trained myself to adjust to meetings, especially at certain times in the day and it is amazing how your mind can adapt when habits are formed. No matter your job or role, you can build habits out of your workday.
Get Exercise and Personal Time
I take my exercise and personal time very seriously. I wake up early and ensure I get a good workout in every day. This will look different for eh person, but some form of physical activity helps to destress your mind and build certain chemicals in your brain that will make you more focused at work. You might think it is difficult to often fit in a decent workout in your busy schedule, but I can’t advise it strongly enough. It may be tough to initially get going but give it a few weeks and you will start to notice the difference in your daily focus.
I am just as serious about my personal time. I even block out lunch on my work calendar, so no one can contact me during this time. I do this because I know I need to eat, and I need to take some time away from my computer to be more effective. I do the same with finishing u at work and ensure I give time to myself and family because not only does it make me happier, but it also makes me think more clearly. Trying to simply solve a problem by just working harder often doesn’t help and all it does is make you stress more and eventually burn out. Look after yourself.
Learn what is important – Question why you do things
This is a tough one to start with, but something which will help you incredibly in your career if you get it right. Not all tasks are important, and more importantly, not all tasks should be done now and some possibly even at all. Often, we can stress ourselves out because we have a whole host of items to do, but the reality many of these tasks are probably not even all that necessary. If something urgently affects a customer, any colleague or employee or the revenue of the company, then it needs to be dealt with urgently and should get your immediate challenge. The problem is that sometimes we think something is important because our manager or colleague is urgently asking for it, but often, it actually doesn’t really affect these things as seriously as they would have you believe. Urgent work does arise and sometimes it does require overtime effort, but if this is happening often, something else is wrong.
This is easier said than done though and the trick is learning to find the balance, which unfortunately does take time Thing you think are important now you may realise over time are not that important. Same applies with development work, writing, meetings or even dealing with specific production issues. When you start out in your career you feel everything is important, but over time you learn what is really critical and what isn’t. Now I know which emails to answer straight away and which can be focused on later. Which issues are actually critical, and which aren’t and then focus my energy where it is really needed?
This doesn’t mean that I don’t get certain things done because they are seemingly less urgent. But it does allow me to use my time where it is most effective and over time, some other tasks will eventually get done or you will realise that they weren’t all that urgent anyway and fall away.
Through everything one thing I will never fail to neglect is communication. If a person asks a question, I will make an effort to replying as soon as possible, even if it's just to acknowledge they were heard and if there is a task associated with it, I schedule a time to get back to them. Communicating well doesn’t make you work faster than others, but what it does do is let everyone else around you know exactly where you stand on your work, you appear more efficient because you aren’t delaying anything and that helps them to work around you and indirectly help be more effective in the process. One thing I have always stressed in my career is to communicate with others well. People only know you by what you communicate to them, so make sure to do this extremely well and often.
Use your meetings wisely
Many people will tell you to cut-out on unnecessary meetings and rather use the time to do other things. While this s nice in principle, it's often not very practical. As above, communication is an important part of working and often the best way for things to be discussed is in meetings. The biggest problem is not that meetings could be a waste of time but that we tend to not use them well. One thing that has helped me is to prepare for my meetings. I go into every meeting understanding its purpose, having done as much research as possible and that makes me able to contribute to my maximum effectiveness in the meeting. Yes, there are some ad-hoc meetings that you can’t prepare for but if you can prepare for many meetings as possible it helps you to take value out of them and you use that time well.
Be open to learning and evaluating your day
Our days may feel like they are the same in and out, but this is often just because we don’t take enough time out to reflect on how it went and what we can do better the next day. This again may look different for each person, but it’s important at the end of the day that you reflect on things and ask yourself where things could’ve gone better. Not every day will have clear answers, but you will find some days can bring great insight in what you can improve on before others ask it of you and the more you get into a habit of doing this, the easier and faster that learning becomes.
Lastly, we need to be patient with ourselves. We can put ourselves under stress because we treat things too urgently or we want to progress too quickly. Efficiency is not about doing more with your day than everyone around you or growing in your career faster than others, it's about being effective with your time. Patience is important because when we’re chasing success and career goals too aggressively, we tend to over-work ourselves rather than develop an efficiency thinking mindset. When you understand that your career is a long-term thing and take the time out to get better with even just some of your small tasks on a daily basis without pressuring yourself and keeping your mental space right you will put yourself in a good space to become more efficient with your time.
And that time aspect is important because this is the one leveller that we all have, You can earn more or less money than the people around you but we all have the same amount of time and if we can maximise that while still ensure time for those things that matter then that is what is most important and true success.