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Five Free Tips for Increasing Efficiency

snowmagedden 2011

Hopefully I don’t have to convince you again that you should squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the hours in your work day.

Assuming you are on board with that idea, here are 5 practices and tips that will help you get more out of every minute:

1. Have a plan

I know this seems obvious, but how many people do you know that actually set, adjust, and track daily goals? How do you know if you had a successful day if you had no goals for the day?

Tip – Be a specific as possible. Instead of saying “What do I want to accomplish today?” say “If I can only accomplish 3 things today, which 3 would make this a successful day?”

Tip – You can be as granular as you like. If you want to plan the days according to halves (i.e. morning and afternoon), hours, or even minutes, feel free to do so.

Tip – Push yourself. Try to fit your tasks into tighter windows than you think you can manage. You may just surprise yourself.

Tip – Track your progress. How did you do today? How can you do better tomorrow? Do you need to adjust anything or change direction on any goals?

 

2. Stop reading the news (so often).

Two things about this amaze me. 1) People read the news for an astounding amount of their day. 2) 99% of the news has absolutely NO EFFECT on my day-to-day work goals and activities.

For 1), think about how much time you spend during the day listening to news on the car radio, reading the paper, checking the AJC, browsing your RSS feed, watching the news screen on the elevator, etc. I read somewhere that the average white collar worker spends more than 2 hours per day reading or watching the news. What if you just spent 5 minutes browsing headlines in an RSS feed every morning? Couldn’t you use an extra hour and 55 minutes of time in your day? I could.

For 2), I have pretty much stopped reading the news on a regular basis and haven’t found myself to be egregiously out of the loop on anything. Even when I do read the news, it’s not like I radically alter my goals or activities for the day based on the day’s top stories. I don’t change the way I analyze shopping centers in Little 5 because some young people are Occupying Milwaukee. 99% of the news has absolutely no bearing on my commercial real estate endeavors, so spending a bunch of time on the news is a waste of time and the opportunity cost of not doing more productive work is critically high.

Tip – Set up an RSS feed with the most basic and direct headlines that matter to your work and life every day. Spend 5 minutes every morning browsing those headlines and then shut off the news for the day. Anything absolutely critical that happens today will be in your RSS feed tomorrow. Then, use the extra 115 minutes I just gave you to do something creative, answer phone calls, write emails, read a book, or spend time with your family.

 

3. Batch

Batching is just aggregating similar activities into a concentrated period of time. I recommend batching email and phone calls. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I personally am guilty of following that little “BLLLING” that Outlook sounds when I get a new email. It’s like someone is at the door and I have to get up at once to see who it is!!! 99 times out of 100, it is not a life or death email. If it were, the author wouldn’t take the time to write it out, send it to you, and then hope you got it in time to save something from the fires of Hades. They would call you. People don’t email emergencies. They call them in. So why do you need to check your email every 5 minutes?

The answer is you don’t! Check email first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and just before 5 pm. I promise that it will save you an astonishing amount of time.

The same idea applies to phone calls. Batch your phone calls at two strategic times throughout the day. Maybe 9 am and 4 pm. Make and return all your calls at the two times you think are most likely to have your calls answered.

Tip – I try and answer emails at 7am, 11 am, and 4 pm. I haven’t really had any emergencies or problems come from this method. I call around 9 am and 4 pm. I find that most people are in the office at these two times and have a minute to talk.

 

4. Focus

Stop multitasking. Focus on one project at a time and I promise you that the quality of your work will be at its highest. Talking on the phone while modeling a deal is a good way to skip a major line item or input something incorrectly. Stop answering the phone. Stop checking email. Stop talking to your neighbor. Focus on precisely executing your task as quickly as possible. This will give you more accurate work in less time.

Tip – Tune out everything on the planet except for the task at hand. You will be much less prone to mistakes and will be able to complete the same task you had been completing in (possibly) half the time.

 

5. Delegate

Spending your day trying to push through tasks that you aren’t very good at or just plain hate is a great way to become frustrated and unproductive. A mentor of mine said “If you hate it, automate it or delegate it.” If you aren’t the bee’s knees at modeling, then have a gifted analyst do your modeling for you. If you are terrible at cold calling, pay someone to set up introductions and make cold calls on your behalf. There are plenty of specialists in the world who will gladly perform menial tasks for you at a great price so that you can spend your time focusing on your highest-and-best use.

Tip – Hire a virtual assistant. There is an army of MBAs in Bangalore who are waiting to do your research, analytics, and data entry for you. Let them. It will be a great investment in the long run.

So, those are my 5 tips for increased efficiency and effectiveness in your work day. Do you have any to add or subtract? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Recommended Reading: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

Many of these concepts come directly from Ferris’ new classic on productivity and lifestyle design. This is a great read and I recommend it to anyone, anywhere, in any business.

– Duke

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