8 Ways To Be More Efficient Every Single Day

Quit wasting time! These 8 tips can help you find the time you need to be more productive all year long.
Author, Reinventing You, Harvard Business School Publishing
January 21, 2014

With so many demands on our time, we’d all like to become more efficient and get more done. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet, but when it comes to productivity, even small gains make a huge difference.

If you can find several ways to save just 10 minutes a day, you’ll have saved yourself 60 hours over the course of a year—time you can use to move your business ahead.

Here are eight ways to make that happen:

1. Do creative work outside the office. If you really need to finish that client report or blog post, it’s important to limit distractions. Employees dropping by to talk to you can torpedo your concentration. That’s why John Gerzema, author of The New York Times bestseller The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, likes to escape periodically. “Change up your locations for writing and thinking to hotel lobbies and libraries,” Gerzema says. “My favorite hiding place is the New York Public Library.”

2. Email in batches. Email seems to expand to the amount of time you give it. In all likelihood, you could spend eight hours a day responding to messages and not get any proactive work done. That’s why professionals like Bruce Fenton, investment advisor and founder of mortgage banking firm Atlantic Financial Inc., consciously focus their efforts: “I try to use email only in bursts using RescueTime software,” Fenton says, which tracks the time he spends on email.

3. Be a hard-nosed listmaker. Most of us create to-do lists as reminders. But we probably don’t exercise the discipline of Jodi-Tatiana Charles, founder of branding firm and speakers bureau The Embargo List. “I live and die by my list,” Charles says. “I can only carry 10 percent to the next day if I wasn't able to complete it, and that 10 percent has to be the first thing off my list the next morning.” That laser-like adherence prevents procrastination.

4. Leverage apps. Some professionals are dedicated pen-and-paper types. But if you prefer a high-tech solution, you can leverage productivity apps and websites to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. One popular option is Trello, which allows individuals or teams to track projects.

5. Keep it in the cloud. Your 11 o’clock just cancelled … but you’re already out of the office on the way to the meeting. That’s no problem for Renee Gannon, owner of Wicked Art Bar in Beverly, Massachusetts, which offers group painting sessions. “I put all my files in the cloud via Dropbox so I can access them on the go,” Gannon says. “That allows me to do quick tasks on the fly, rather than wait until I’m back at my computer.”

6. Know the rhythms of your body—and your industry. You’ll be exponentially more productive if you match your work to your body’s natural cycle. Consultant and speaker Kare Anderson advises, “Do your most important work during your ‘prime’ time. For example, morning folks like me do well to dive into the most important project [first thing].”

Blogger and business strategy consultant Paul Bradley Smith offers another important take on the meaning of “prime time,” noting that for people in business development or sales, there are a limited number of hours when you can reach prospects on the phone, so in general, he says, “All content planning, writing and social media should be done before prime time business hours.” This way, you can maximize your ability to reach prospects.

7. Use visual reminders. It’s amazing how much time we waste with simple mental errors—forgetting to bring our gym clothes when we wanted to exercise after work or not grabbing the bottle of wine you meant to take to the party. Artist and art dealer Barbara Coleman has a solution: “Place anything you must take with you—bank deposit, letter to mail at the post office, grocery list, coupons, jewelry to take for repair—on the floor right in front of the door so you can’t possibly forget it.” And if you can’t leave something by the door (perhaps you need to keep the wine chilled in the refrigerator), Coleman suggests putting a yellow sticky reminder on the doorknob instead.

8. Don’t let your emotions weigh you down. A common time-suck is our own emotional state. A tense exchange with a colleague or a displeased client can leave you reeling for hours. That’s why life and business coach Jim Lopata suggests his clients consider journaling about their feelings, a solution that's worked for him. “I find that working through my emotions on a daily basis helps me move through things that may weigh me down going forward," Lopata says. "It keeps me efficient.”

Improving your productivity might sound like an impossible goal. But anyone can adopt smart strategies to save a few minutes a day—and those minutes add up over time.

Whether your ambition is to take an extra vacation, spend more time with your friends and family, or finally tackle that major project, like writing a book or launching a new initiative, these strategies can help give you the time boost you need to get there.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press), and follow her on Twitter.

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