There’s something enchanting about the quest for ultimate efficiency.
It’s a never-ending pursuit – one riddled with stumbling blocks and minor victories along the way. We are not designed to be perfect, and will inevitably break down in unexpected ways. Even those who can claim they’re the embodiment of health and productivity will never reach that pinnacle. Life will throw mental tests at you daily, tests that will attack your hunt for efficiency.
Efficiency is relative. You might increase your efficiency three-fold the day after your read this article, and you may trump that by being an absolute assiduous productive machine five years from now – with a few relapses along the way. It all essentially comes down to forming habits that shape your lifestyle, to learn daily, and to tweak your day-to-day in ways that work for you to be productive.
Multi-tasking doesn’t work
Let’s start by debunking a myth.
Have you ever tried to do some work while watching TV? Have you ever tried to do some work while playing a game? Answering e-mails in between paragraphs of writing a blog post, which in turn, leads you to finish a one-hour article in the span of three hours?
If multi-tasking works at all, it decreases your efficiency dramatically – at best.
Besides, you’re not really multi-tasking, you’re simply task-switching – the complete road-block to building rhythm within the project you should be focusing on. In reality, instead of finishing two projects separately in two hours, you’re finishing two projects simultaneously in four hours. And not only is it taking you longer, it’s also bringing out your mediocrity. According to the American Psychological Association, your quality of work when multi-tasking decreases too.
There are two exceptions to this rule: music and audio books.
Throw those headphones on while you work. Listening to music causes your brain to release the pleasure chemical dopamine which will in turn inspire you while working on your project. Shoot for the instrumentals if you can, especially if you’re working on something that requires reading.
But know when to shut your music off. For example, after I’m done writing this article, I’ll pause the Daft Punk as I proofread – a task that requires extra mental focus.
With audio books it’s more of the same. If used properly, audio books are incredibly efficient. Download that book you’ve always wanted to read and throw it on during your morning and afternoon commute. It applies to doing chores too. Listening to audio books can help you get through the most mundane of house chores.
Now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty.
Re-structure your schedule
If you’re like me – you could have half-a-dozen projects on the go at any given moment.
I own a thriving cafe and wholesale company, work for FourFourTwo Magazine and the ESPN True Hoops Network, and keep my personal blog updated consistently. Then I have to factor in my day-to-day routines – working out, planning meals, meditation, etc.
I imagine your life isn’t any less hectic, so I hope I can share my learning on how to give undivided attention to all your endeavors equally.
The first step is to put time aside for all your projects separately. I used to batch all these together daily, and it was insane. The quality of my content dropped, and on top of that, it became inconsistent. If I was waking up at 5 am, I’d get to the office at 6, plow through e-mails by 8, work on my business until three, work on my sports journalism until 9 or 11 pm, and by then, all of the coffee in the world couldn’t save me from collapsing.
burn (oneself) out
phrasal verb of burn
1. ruin one’s health or become completely exhausted through overwork.
I re-structured my life completely, and it was so life-changing, that all my endeavors improved and grew rapidly – and immediately.
Here is what my pattern looks like right now.
- Day 1 – Business. Work on Humani-T branding, dealing with e-mails, paying bills, contacting suppliers – whatever the business needs.
- Day 2 – Sports Journalism. Extensive research and focusing an entire day to submitting quality content to the magazines I work for.
- Day 3 – Blogging. Helping people with similar issues to re-structure their lives in a conducive way, working on personal brand.
Reality check – it’s not as simple as it’s written above. Everyday, before I start any of those tasks, I do the important things first, and that’s where there can be some ‘cross-contamination‘ (for lack of a better word) of days. If on day 3, I have an article due, I will, of course, schedule that into my blogging day and do both. Or if, for example, I have a big Humani-T client who is in need of a big order or would like to speak to me on Day 2, I will make time for them.
In reality, Humani-T is prioritized daily as it’s my bread and butter, but is not nearly as prominent on day 2 or 3.
Tim Ferris talks about this in his book entitled The 4-Hour Workweek where he discuss the idea of checking your e-mail just once a day at a certain time. I started off with this idea and it seemed to work in terms of productivity, so I decided to take it one step further.
I’m currently down to checking e-mail once every three days. This sounds insane, but it has huge benefits. No doubt, there will be certain e-mails that you’ll have to open daily – that’s something you can briefly check each morning before sunrise when everyone you’re dealing with is still asleep. If it’s important, deal with it. If it’s not, don’t check it – as tempting as it may be.
Of course you can make exceptions to this rule – I do as well. There are certain e-mails that I chose to reply to daily and that has to do with personal reasons. You can decide what works for you.
Just don’t sit in front of your e-mail all day. We all know this person – make sure it’s not you.
In a work setting, treat your visitors and phone calls the same way you treat your e-mails. If an unexpected salesman pops in, make sure your staff understand they should filter him out, or hand them your e-mail. With phone calls – it’s the same. Once you reduce your accessibility, doors of efficiency will open up three-fold.
Since I love making exceptions, I have one exception to this rule: I always have my door open to both my staff and my family. Anytime your employees need something or have a question, make sure they’re as comfortable as possible in approaching you at all times, 24/7, even if it’s 3 am. Your employees are not annoying salesmen, they’re your equals – part of a team that is building your company. Make time for them.
And family is family.
Reduce your commute time
This will be a very brief point, because I’ve already discussed it at length before.
Literally shave 30 mins – 1 hour by leaving the house early – before rush hour hits. I’ve had rule in place for over a year now – if I find myself leaving the house during rush hour, I’ll go back in the house and plow through work for another hour or two and then leave. I apply the same logic when leaving the office.
I realize that not everyone will have this flexibility, in which case, you’re building a more conducive life if you simply wake up an hour or two earlier and get to the office earlier to plow through some work.
Set goals daily
No matter how well your day-to-day or week-to-week is structured, you won’t focus on what’s truly important until you prioritize goals. These goals can be long-term if you like, but more importantly, they should be set daily too.
Here is an actual screenshot of my goals from three days ago.
Setting daily goals like that is great for efficiency, because it truly gets your brain working on what’s important in your life. You should always take into consideration the 80 / 20 (focus on the 20% that brings you the 80% of your results) rule when setting your goals – because it’s a rule that is applicable to time management and efficiency.
More specifically, those five goals above are going to help my sports journalism career to grow, whereas cleaning my toilet or pulling weeds from my garden is not. Nor is answering an unimportant e-mail or going shopping.
Prioritize what is going to make you grow, don’t put chores on your task list. Do your chores when all the truly important stuff is done.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start a project
There’s no such thing as the perfect moment – it’s an excuse, an impediment to completing your tasks.
Often times the hardest part of getting started is just that – getting started.
I would be lying if I said writer’s block is not something I struggle with daily. De facto, I had it with this article. but often times the cure is to just start writing, even if it doesn’t make sense. Just the commencement of the first word of your article will create a flow, and you can always go back and edit the intro later.
Ross Simmonds made a really good blog post about this – worth a read.
The point is, there will always be an excuse not to start something – kids, rough day at work, fatigue – but don’t let these excuses be a barrier to changing your habits for the better.
Stay caffeinated and hydrated
In small doses, caffeine can boost your alertness, increase energy and its daily expenditure, decrease fatigue, increase physical and cognitive performance, increases focus, and enhances decision making.
Once you’re caffeinated enough, stay hydrated throughout your day and keep that water bottle or herbal tea handy. Even the slightest form of dehydration can decrease your productivity, your reaction time, and alter moods and increase stress.
Stay both caffeinated and hydrated as best you can.
Improving your productivity is a daily effort – one that should improve with time if you implement these principles into your life. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you let-go one day. Avoid it at all costs, of course, but realize you have flaws – and that’s perfectly fine. Just remember, if there’s only one thing you can take away from this article it’s this: set goals daily, and reflect on them.