"Efficiency is fantastic as long as you are also being effective," says Sebastian Bailey, co-founder of The Mind Gym, a company that specialises in offering 90-minute mental workouts to improve performance.
"So if I was thinking through my career I might try to get my CV to people in the most efficient manner, which may be online, for example. But I also need to think about what career is going to give me a sense of purpose."
Once you've got your aims sussed and your method sorted, get a sense of rhythm for the task. Pace is important as speed doesn't necessarily mean doing a job well.
"In some instances slowing down can get you somewhere faster," says Bailey. "Rushaholics dash around trying to be as efficient but go into a kind of autopilot. They rush ahead trying to get to the outcome without thinking about what they are doing in the present and actually end up doing things more slowly."
Maybe some of us focus on the end goal but others get stuck on the little tasks in the middle. We are very efficient at sorting out what needs to be done without actually doing anything.
"Be as clever about completing tasks as putting them off and do each job only once," says Kerry Gleeson, author of The Personal Efficiency Programme (Wiley). "Sorting through all the papers on your desk and creating a 'to do' pile for later, for example, is common practice." But it does require that you read everything twice. "Answering a letter the first time you read it through, you save time," he says.
Boring jobs can be easier if you batch similar tasks. "Schedule times to complete work such as returning calls and processing e-mails and paperwork." If it's in the diary you're more likely to get it done.
It sounds dull, but creating routine can significantly increase efficiency too. And though some people are more predisposed to developing handy habits than others, there are certain routines that can make life a lot easier. And it's the simple things that count. "Many people put their keys down in one place but then their wallet and their mobile and their bag in three different places," says Bailey.
"So when it comes to leaving the house they have got four things to find. But putting your keys, wallet and bag in the same place is even better if you put it next to the charger for the mobile; then you save yourself a huge amount of time."
This can be difficult for spontaneous individuals who tend to find routine more constraining, but Bailey warns against thinking the more creative among us are inefficient. In fact, a degree of flexibility is useful when it comes to a greater variety of responsibilities, particularly at senior management level. "The real skill here is being able to swap in between the two," he says. "We need to have the discipline and foresight to create routine while in other situations we need adaptability to respond to the demands of the situations."
Having increased your productivity, you might think you deserve down time. But don't forget all that dead time that you could be using. When you're in an airport or station and all those moments when you are waiting for something. Think about what you can take with you so you can use your time effectively, says Bailey. You could be checking through the report you have to present at tomorrow's meeting, for instance.
It's also a good moment for some serious day-dreaming, allowing your creative mind to come up with some useful answers to those seemingly unsolvable problems. On the other hand, you might be so efficient by now that all your jobs have been completed to your satisfaction. This so called dead time is an ideal moment to take a well-earned rest and enjoy watching the world go by.
And it allows you to re-charge your batteries so that you're ready for the next efficiency drive.
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