We’re all allotted the same 24 hours in a day, so why is it that some people manage to accomplish amazing feats with their time while others struggle to maintain even a basic level of productivity?
The answer isn’t gallons of coffee or cases of Red Bull. In fact, the secret is simple! The people who are able to accomplish more in the amount of time we all have are those who are skilled – whether naturally or through concerted practice – at making their work as effective as possible.
If you want to be more successful, one of the easiest ways to bring about this change is to become more effective in your daily work. Here’s how to do it…
Step #1 – Understand the difference between “effective” and “busy”
We’re all busy, right? Take a look at the tired and stressed faces around your office and you’ll see just how “busy” people are these days!
But just because we’re busy doesn’t mean that things are getting done effectively. By understanding how these two key terms differ, you’ll be able to better able to structure your work priorities to accomplish more in less time.
“Busy” refers to having a high number of different activities that occupy your time. You can be busy and effective, or you can be busy cleaning out your email inbox, running errands or chatting with colleagues on social networking sites. In this case, your time is being occupied, even though nothing productive is being accomplished for your business!
“Effective,” on the other hand, refers to your ability to successfully bring about a desired outcome. For example, if your stated goal is to launch a new product or service within the next few months, wasting time on any of the “busy” activities described above won’t be useful in terms of helping you reach your goal.
Now that you understand the distinction between these key concepts, it’s time to start determining how much of your time is spent on busy activities compared to effective work…
Step #2 – Conduct an analysis of your current work habits
Really, the only way to determine how much of your time is dedicated to effective, productive tasks and how much is spent on the “busy work” activities that eat up your available hours is to measure how you’re spending your time.
Use the following process to conduct this analysis based on your own work habits:
- Week 1 – For one week, simply make a note of each activity you do and how long you do it. Time-tracking tools like Yast or Klok can make this process easy, although a notepad you carry with you throughout your work day will suffice as well. Try to mimic your usual work patterns as closely as possible, and don’t attempt to change your usual behaviors in order to influence your results.
- Week 2 – For the second week, continue to track your time, but also score your activities on an effectiveness scale of 1-10, where “10” represents totally focused “flow time” that’s dedicated to your top business priorities, while “1” represents complete busy work (for example, playing solitaire on your computer) that doesn’t advance your business in any way. Again, don’t pass judgment on yourself – just make note of your objective assessments of your own effectiveness.
- Week 3 – In the third and final week, keep tracking your time and adding effectiveness scores to your work sessions, but also make a note of any limiting circumstances you encounter that you feel are contributing to your lower scores. Are you too tired to focus well? Are you missing critical information that’s necessary for you to work effectively? Are your own objectives unclear? Don’t worry about solutions yet – just make yourself aware of the factors that are limiting your progress.
Step #3 – Look for opportunities to work more effectively
Ideally, as the result of your work habit analysis, you should have uncovered at least a few potential areas for improvement. As an example, if you notice that you waste the hour after lunch watching funny videos on YouTube every day, that’s a clear opportunity to use your time for a more effective purpose.
However, not all of your low-effectiveness times will have easy, obvious solutions. In these cases, consider the three following techniques for becoming more effective overall:
- Find your most productive times. Working effectively requires energy and focus, so if you find that your analysis shows consistently high scores at certain times throughout the day, create a standing appointment on your calendar for carrying out high priority tasks. In addition, keep a list of lower priority, less complex items that you can work on throughout the day when you aren’t as focused.
- Delegate whenever possible. Entries in your work log with low effectiveness scores could indicate tasks that aren’t the right fit for you in the first place. If there’s someone better qualified to handle a given task from your “to do” list, delegation may be the most effective strategy for accomplishing your business goals.
- Be mindful of your effectiveness. Whenever you sit down to work, ask yourself, “Am I being effective or am I being busy?” If your answer indicates that you aren’t being as productive as possible with your time, take a second to determine how to change your behavior to something more effective.
Are you concerned about your overall effectiveness? If so, have you actively taken steps to identify ineffective work periods and eliminate busy work? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments section below!