1. Evaluate How You’re Spending Your Time
Before you even begin improving your time efficiency, you have to know exactly how you’re spending your time. Only by assessing how you spend your time will you be able to spot inefficiencies. Then, you can later use that information to improve work processes, streamline them, and ultimately become time efficient.
There are a couple of ways to evaluate how you’re spending your time — from using a manual stopwatch to time each of your daily tasks, to utilizing the power of modern technology and going with time-tracking software.
The former is a bit more taxing and, because it’s completely manual, it will rely on your ability to concentrate, collect, and analyze the information you gather manually. On the other hand, time-tracking apps may require a modicum of manual input but will ensure that the data you collect is completely accurate. Depending on the features, an app might allow you to generate charts or reports that will give you a better insight into how you spend your time. By identifying how much time you spend on each individual task, you’ll be able to spot areas ripe for improvement much more easily.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Setting realistic goals is an important part of the journey to becoming more time-efficient. Asking too much or too little of yourself can both prove detrimental to your time efficiency. The former will leave you feeling overworked and overwhelmed, and the latter will leave you feeling like you’re not doing enough, and you will ultimately end up under-performing.
Now the question is, how do you set goals?
There are a lot of methods and techniques that you can use to set goals, both short and long-term ones. For example, you can use the SMART technique. This goal-setting method boils down to:
- Specific – Clearly state what you want to accomplish. Make your goals as detailed and precise as possible.
- Measurable – Define how you want to measure progress. Choose concrete metrics to track progression towards achieving your goals.
- Achievable – Ensure that your goals are both realistic and attainable, given your current skills and resources.
- Relevant – Determine if the goals you set align with your values, long-term plans, and broader priorities (both in your professional and personal life).
- Time-bound – Set a specific timeframe or deadline for achieving your goals. This will help create a sense of urgency, allowing you to stay focused but not feel overwhelmed.
If the SMART method doesn’t seem like your thing and you want to look into some alternatives, check out our article about time-management techniques. There, we examine different methods and strategies that can help you with time management.
3. Learn How to Prioritize Tasks
Another important aspect of being time efficient is knowing how and when to prioritize certain tasks. This will, amongst other things, allow you to work on more difficult tasks when you’re feeling at your best while leaving more menial or mundane administrative work for those periods in the day when you feel less focused.
There are multiple ways to prioritize tasks, from creating a simple task/to-do list to using more robust methods for task prioritization.
For example, you could choose to go with the Eisenhower method. This method will allow you to categorize tasks into four separate quadrants, based on their urgency and importance.
- Quadrant 1 – Urgent and important (Do these tasks immediately);
- Quadrant 2 – Not urgent but important (Schedule these tasks for later);
- Quadrant 3 – Urgent but not important (Delegate these tasks if possible);
- Quadrant 4 – Neither urgent nor important (Consider eliminating or postponing);
Another popular method for prioritizing tasks is called the ABCDE method, and it's relatively simple. All you have to do is:
- List all your tasks;
- Assign letters to tasks based on priority (A is for high, B is for medium, C is for low, etc.)
- Work on your tasks in order of their priority;
4. Learn How to Manage Distractions
Distractions can lead to a lot of wasted time. They can include not only the actual duration of a specific interruption (e.g. a colleague walked into your office to ask you a question) but also the time it will take you to refocus on your task. Anything from social media and phone notifications to distracting coworkers and unending emails can distract you from focusing on the task at hand.
So, because of that, successfully managing interruptions is crucial for improving your time efficiency. To do that you can:
- Identify the most common distractions you’re dealing with;
- Try to work in an environment that is free from noise and interrupting co-workers;
- Turn off your phone or turn off notifications when you start working;
- Limit the time you spend on social media;
- Use time-management techniques;
- Plan your day in advance, make daily schedules, and stick to them;
- Work on your self-discipline;
- Reward yourself every time you manage to avoid distractions.
5. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking, contrary to popular belief, is actually a big time-waster and can lead to you spending more time on tasks, thus making you less time-efficient. Switching from one task to another might feel right but will end up leaving you overwhelmed and ultimately less productive.
That’s why, if you want to become time efficient, you should try and avoid multitasking. You can do that by utilizing the popular method called Time Blocking. Here’s how:
- Split up your entire 24-hour day into smaller pieces of time, i.e., time blocks;
- Estimate the time you’ll need to finish your work tasks and put them into specific time blocks;
- How long each time block will be will depend on the type of activity or task you want to perform. For example, you could have a 15-minute long time block for breakfast, a 30-minute time block for exercise, and a 45-minute time block for answering emails.
What’s the difference between time efficient and time effective?
Being time effective is about producing quality results, but not taking into account the amount of resources that are required to produce them.
Being time efficient is about producing quality results with the least amount of resources (e.g., time, equipment, etc.).
Does being time efficient mean working faster?
No, or at least not if the consequence of working faster is producing lower-quality output (work).
Being time efficient also means ensuring that the quality of work is maintained. If working faster means that the quality will suffer, then, to truly be time efficient, you should think about working slower. Remember, time efficiency does not include compromising quality for speed.