Author Topic: How to be more effective and efficient at work?  (Read 2182 times)

Duchess

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How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« on: December 14, 2018, 03:47:22 PM »
TL:DR - What specific strategies do you use to be more effective and efficient at work?

This thread was resurrected a little while back: https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/the-art-of-not-working-at-work/

Re-reading the whole thread has got me thinking. In the replies, quite a few of the MMM community talk about how they have the same amount of work as their colleagues but get through it much quicker because they only focus on the really essential tasks and/or because they have made processes more efficient.

The posts made me realise that Iím probably not one of those super-efficient or effective people.  Iím interested to learn more about the specific strategies people use at work to create the greatest results in the shortest amount of time. Especially since I went part time after returning from maternity leave, I always seem to have more work than I can feasibly do in my 2.5 work days.

If more context helps, Iím in professional services at a university working on various projects and schemes for supporting faculty in their teaching practice. Iím at a satellite campus, my boss is at the main campus 100 miles away and I share the office with four colleagues (one who does the same role as me, our administrator, and two people from another related team). I work closely with a colleague from the main campus necessitating regular Skype meetings.


Thanks in advance :)

BECABECA

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2018, 04:45:27 PM »
I noticed that there are times of the day that I didnít feel like being productive or just donít think as efficiently and there are other times of the day that I would be able to get my best work done. Iím not a morning person, so even if I started on a task in the morning, I wouldnít get really meaningful progress done on it until later in the day. By instead using the mornings for meetings and going through emails, I was able to free up my afternoons for serious project work, and so was able to be much more efficient by just changing the times that I work on certain tasks. Also, for difficult tasks, itís hard to get motivated to jump back into it when you get interrupted, so I would work on these when I knew I had a big chunk of uninterrupted time.

Basic triage of my tasks helped, bucketing them into easy vs hard and high impact vs low impact, and then knocking out all the easy + high impact tasks ASAP, working through the others more slowly, but basically ignoring the hard + low impact tasks indefinitely.

In addition to my regular tasks, I like to set aside 4 hours a week for process improvements, optimization, and automation. Especially in the first few months of a new position, thereís inevitably quite a few things that are taking a lot of time and donít need to be.

Automation: Good candidates for automation are any repetitive tasks... Iíve had lots of jobs that required updating graphs and spreadsheets with weekly data which Iíve just written macros to do automatically. In my profession, the vast majority of emails I got were unique and required a lot of thought to address, but other professions would greatly benefit from setting up a few quick email rules to sort and even respond automatically.

Process Improvements: sometimes just the act of documenting a process illuminates superfluous steps or other ways that it could be improved. Also, by documenting a process you can possibly offload the whole task to an intern or lower level staff member. Knowing what should be delegated is an important piece of efficiency.

Optimization: For any task that Iím doing, Iím thinking about what the ultimate goal of it is, and this helps me ensure that Iím not missing something that could make it better. For example, with home repairs my ultimate goal is to have as little ongoing maintenance as possible. So Iím not just thinking about how to fix the immediate problem, but also how to prevent any future problem and how to optimize so that any future fix of the same thing is much faster and easier next time. In another example, product design, the ultimate goal is total user experience, so although my task is to improve one specific use case, Iím thinking about what the second and third order effects of a design decision are and ensuring that a change to improve one isnít going to mess up another.



DreamFIRE

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2018, 05:26:28 PM »
The thing that improved my efficiency the most was getting my own office, a real office that I can close the door and shut out most of the sounds from near-by offices and hallways.

I don't take my smartphone to work, and I almost never make or take personal calls at work.  I have co-workers that waste a lot of time on their smartphones for personal use (non-work related) .

I've been optimized in my processes for years, as far as what is in my control, so there's not much room for any further improvements.  I'll be FIREd soon enough, so after many years of learning my job skills and becoming so productive, my replacement is going to have a heck of a time, so I suspect they will end up hiring two people to replacement when I retire and that they together still won't be able to reach my level of productivity for years.

Less company meetings would help, but that's out of my control.  My CIO loves meetings, one of the few things I dislike about my job.

Going to work after getting at least 6 hours of sleep helps.  If I'm tired, I'm less productive.  And by mid-afternoon, if I think I'm going to stay late, a single cup of coffee actually gives me more energy and helps me concentrate.  But I never make a habit of depending on caffeine.

I've tried to offload some of my repetitive tasks before, but when factoring in the time to document and train, and for the unexpected issues that flare up for the trainee, and then because the process later has to change, I end up feeling like I'm further behind than if I just kept doing it myself because I was more efficient at it and handling the unexpected issues.

Sadly, as I've become more efficient over the last 18 years, I've just been given more to handle at work.  In fact, there were two of us working full time doing the same work (same job title), but when the other guy quit about two years ago, they didn't hire a replacement, they just wanted to me handle everything, and I have.   I guess it helped that I was so much more efficient that I was already handling the bulk of the workload, even while there were two of us sharing tasks.  But being efficient and optimized hasn't given me extra free time, just more work to do!

« Last Edit: December 14, 2018, 06:23:44 PM by DreamFIRE »

big_slacker

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2018, 06:35:58 PM »
Most of my early career I skated by on pure talent, I was just smarter than the jobs I was in so they were relatively easy. Once I hit a certainly level and ESPECIALLY after I had kids being effective and efficient became a lot more important.

I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits that just came out, which draws from The Power of Habit. That's good for general philosophy on habit building.

I also highly recommend using the techniques in that book to build a meditation habit which is a meta skill that lets you identify things you're doing mindlessly and decide if they're serving you or not.

Once you know those techniques it's time to optimize. High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard gives you one framework to do so. He now sells a high performance planner which is a daily planner/tracker so you can see (at least based on self ranking) if your habits are improving your life in general. I use this one every day and just writing down what is most important to do and scheduling it is HUGE in terms of work effectiveness.

All of this assumes you have some control over your schedule and are willing to push back on impositions to your time and priorities. If you're not yet at that stage the goal is to get there.

To tie all of the above together, here is how a day for me usually goes:

Up at 4:30-5am, in to the office or my home ofice by 5:30-6am.

Sit down and fill out my planner for the day including top 3 goals, top 3 tasks and then times blocked out for those tasks.

Start working on the first task in the planner. My goal is to knock out at least 2 of them before banker's hours people start showing up and the meetingpocalypse begins.

I try to turn down as many useless meetings as possible. I almost never attend meetings in person because inevitably I don't need to be in them except for 5-10 minutes of talking in an hour. The rest of the time I mute my mic and work on those important tasks.

I'm usually done with my important tasks by lunch, so I go get lunch and bring it back to my desk to batch read/respond to emails. This is pretty key, I do not check emails all the time as it's easy to be pulled in too many directions, none of which are particularly important.

Around 1 or 2pm I'm done with important tasks, meetings and communication so I leave the office or sign off from the home office. That means mail client closed, IM/collaboration software quit, call or text me if there is a REAL emergency.

Now it's not even always that long at work. Quite often I'll be done at lunchtime and especially if I'm working from home I'll just go ride my bike, work out or otherwise not work. I do make it a point to check email around 1-3pm when I do this just to make sure I'm up to date on things.

But in general I'm not frazzled and working my life away like I see some co-workers do. My way isn't the only way but I think the most important thing is to be crystal clear on what is actually important to accomplish and do that. The rest will sort itself out, I've never yet worked for a company that cared if I was a little slow answering emails while I was knocking my big projects out of the park.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2018, 06:38:43 PM by big_slacker »

use2betrix

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2018, 06:40:06 PM »
I take tons of notes. I write everything down. I leave emails unread until Iíve had a chance to read, digest, and respond if needed. I make a to do list every week. Carry items over to following weeks if needed.

Those items alone have helped a lot. It seems a lot of people just donít follow through on tasks all the time and itís clearly annoying to others.

I also find a lot of ways to insert myself and help and make myself valuable. I volunteer to take lead on a lot of tasks that need to be done even if it isnít necessarily my job responsibility.

I find the lists to be the biggest help. It feels good crossing items off after you get them complete.

use2betrix

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2018, 06:45:35 PM »

I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits that just came out, which draws from The Power of Habit. That's good for general philosophy on habit building.


Just downloaded the audible, thanks for the suggestion! I was a big fan of The Power of Habit

Syonyk

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2018, 06:48:16 PM »
Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," is well worth a read.

Duchess

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2018, 01:09:36 AM »
Thanks all for  the thoughtful suggestions. I can definitely give some of them a go in my current work situation. I donít often get to decide the projects I work on but I have a flexibility in how I structure my day. I have quite a few meetings with faculty and other colleagues plus I deliver training and developmental events. I canít believe it only recently occurred to me to contain them in one or two of my working days to give me bigger blocks of time for deep work *facepalm*

I especially like the suggestion of leaving emails for less productive periods of the day. For me, thatís the afternoon. As I only work Tuesday-Thursday, however, I feel compelled to check my emails first thing on a Tuesday to catch up on happenings, and then I get sucked into my inbox. Email seems to be the way our team and the organisation more generally communicates and there is often a lot of it to wade through. I need to get better at just scanning it for the urgent and important things (or the easy and high impact stuff as mentioned above) then leaving the rest for a more thorough triage later in the day.

MrThatsDifferent

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2018, 03:46:09 AM »
I have a big job, manage a large team and Iím quite efficient and effective for 2 reasons: I empower my people and delegate wisely; and, I control my emails and calendar.

Hereís what I do for emails and calendar. I have a zero inbox mentality, so at the end of the day, no emails in my inbox. I took all existing emails and deleted them, which just put them in the deleted folderóthey are still searchable. Next, I created some folders, the most important is one I call Action. Then an email comes in, I instantly see if it needs to be read or trashed. Then, I work out, do I have to do something with the info or is it just FYI? FYIís I read then file or trash. Ones I have to do something I see if I can respond within a minute or will it take me a bit longer? Ones I can quickly answer I do with the shortest amount of words possible for the context. If longer, it goes in the Action folder.

Then I take my calendar and block out a time in the morning when I get to work to plan the day, lunch and a time at the end to deal with Actiins. No one can book into my times without my permission. All other times are bookable. Iíve been doing this for 3 years and always on top of my emails, everyone needing a response gets one and Iím quick as hell, no waiting to hear from me. I maintain this system when I travel, at most it takes me an hour to manage this and Iím always on top of everything. Best thing Iíve ever done.

Zola.

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2018, 05:56:41 AM »
Write out a list of things you need to achieve the next day and strike them off.

Duchess

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2018, 08:55:49 AM »
I have a zero inbox mentality, so at the end of the day, no emails in my inbox. I took all existing emails and deleted them, which just put them in the deleted folderóthey are still searchable. Next, I created some folders, the most important is one I call Action. Then an email comes in, I instantly see if it needs to be read or trashed. Then, I work out, do I have to do something with the info or is it just FYI? FYIís I read then file or trash. Ones I have to do something I see if I can respond within a minute or will it take me a bit longer? Ones I can quickly answer I do with the shortest amount of words possible for the context. If longer, it goes in the Action folder.

Then I take my calendar and block out a time in the morning when I get to work to plan the day, lunch and a time at the end to deal with Actiins. No one can book into my times without my permission. All other times are bookable. Iíve been doing this for 3 years and always on top of my emails, everyone needing a response gets one and Iím quick as hell, no waiting to hear from me. I maintain this system when I travel, at most it takes me an hour to manage this and Iím always on top of everything. Best thing Iíve ever done.

Iíve been aiming for inbox zero but getting nowhere near it. I clearly need to separate out all the emails for action then, rather than getting distracted by all the actions, schedule time later in the day to address them.

Write out a list of things you need to achieve the next day and strike them off.

The tricky thing is that I always have more to do in the day than I can get done. Seems like the key thing is to identify which of those tasks will have the biggest impact once completed.

me1

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2018, 09:55:17 AM »
I am fascinated with this topic. I am like you and not very good at being efficient.
I donít know if itís possible to be more efficient at my job in particular;  most of my tasks take a few hours to accomplish. I donít know if itís just the nature of my job or I am no good at breaking it down into smaller chunks. I for example have a lot of 10-12 page reports to write. This is not all I do, but it is probably 20-30% of what I do.  Each report takes a few hours to do. And if I am not super motivated, or think the client will be especially critical, it might take a lot longer. My problem is  I donít know how I can possibly do it in less time. Or how to break it down into smaller chunks since the Incomplete report is basically useless.  I would love to be done by lunch time with 3 important tasks. But my 3 important tasks normally take 9 hours to do.
I am reading peopleís replies here with great interest. I will definitely  be checking out the books you suggested.

wageslave23

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2018, 01:01:46 PM »
Very good suggestions here, especially batching email time and eliminating distractions/multitasking.  I would also include alternating between difficult tasks and easy tasks when you need a mental break.  And only giving yourself an allotted time to spend on tasks that could be variable in time required.  For example, if you have to create a presentation, you could spend an hour or two weeks developing it.  Figure out a reasonable amount of time beforehand and stick to it.  "Perfection is the enemy of...." (something) can't remember the saying but perfection isn't good :)

MrThatsDifferent

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #13 on: December 15, 2018, 01:07:17 PM »
Also, for emails, I should add: unless an absolute emergency (which should be a phone call or in person), I donít respond to action emails after work hours or on the weekends. Fuck those people, they can wait!

tyler2016

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Re: How to be more effective and efficient at work?
« Reply #14 on: December 16, 2018, 06:04:04 AM »
Learn to say no.

Don't do optional stuff you don't want to do. E.g. potlucks.

If you work an office job, spend some time reading work related stuff every day. E.g. if you use spreadsheets, read the documentation for the spreadsheet software you use. Spending an hour learning to save 2 hours on a task makes a lot of sense.

Take breaks. No sense working 2 hours straight to produce 10 products when taking a 15 minute break after an hour and working an hour and 45 minutes total can produce 12 products.

Sometimes when people say "we can't do X because people Y" isn't true. Usually things aren't communicated well.

Read the book crucial conversations.