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How to Work Efficiently

Something I am very passionate about is the efficient use of time and energy. These are two limited resources that every person has, and yet squanders frequently.

Over the past two years, I've strived to cut down on time spent on tedious tasks so I could spend more time on satisfying, significant tasks that bring the most value to me and the people around me. I've included below some of the things I have learned over the last two years as someone working in a nontechnical role.

Why Efficiency Matters

For a worker, efficiency can be a scary concept - it is often imposed on you, and is not usually an empowering idea. But for the individual, efficiency can provide a greater sense of agency in your role, no matter what level you're at within an organization. It means less time spent on tedious work, and more time spent on important and more satisfying aspects of our jobs. Although it will not make any systemic issues in your workplace disappear, I believe from personal experience that it can make you feel more engaged in your work and give you a greater feeling of control over what you do in your job.

General Advice for Improving Efficiency

Self-reflection

If you want to improve the way you work, it's crucial that you get an accurate view your workflow. It's important to take a step back and clarify how you actually work throughout the day. It's difficult to get an objective view of your work, but you can't make effective improvements to your workflow without understanding what a typical day is for you.

Self-reflection may seem like an obvious answer, but in practice many people do not take time to think through what it is they are doing day-to-day. By letting the momentum of your routine dictate the choices you make even when circumstances change, you end up working in reactively, not actively. Setting aside time to critically think about how you operate can make a huge difference in how you work moving forward.

Incorporating external feedback

Taking in outside perspectives is crucial if you want to improve the way you work. We can work very hard to better ourselves when sometimes the easier option is to get an outside perspective.

Being aware of assumptions

Sometimes you have no choice but to draw conclusions based on limited information. But holding on to those assumptions as you gain more information can mean ignoring simpler, better solutions to your problems.

Although it can be exhausting to constantly reevaluate your approach to work (and this can certainly be overdone), it's necessary in a world that is in constant motion.

Asking questions about your work

Clarify your tasks and their priorities by systematically asking questions about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you do it.

Again, this is another fairly simple answer. But making a habit out of questioning the things around you and how they work brings awareness of details that may otherwise be ignored.

Questions you may want to ask about your work

I've included below some examples of questions that I ask about everything I do at work.

  1. Time-based questions
  • How much time am I spending on this process? Is it time-consuming, or trivial?

    • If something already does not take much time, no need to reinvent the wheel – try to identify the tasks that consume the most time during the week.
  • When am I completing this throughout the day/week? Should I be completing it sooner, or later?

    • Asking this can help you determine the priority of a task; i.e. you may want to complete higher priority tasks earlier in the day/week to ensure that they are completed, and leave lower priority tasks for later in the day or week.
  1. Action-based questions
  • What steps am I taking every time I complete this task?

    • Every process and action we take can be divided into a number of smaller sub-tasks. Considering how many actions are needed to complete something can make you aware of unnecessary steps, allowing you to consolidate or eliminate them.
  • How many steps am I taking to complete this? How can I reduce the number of steps needed to complete the task?

    • Even if a single step doesn’t take much time, many smaller actions added together over time can mean a lot of extra time and energy spent completing the task.
  • How much effort does each step require?

    • If a process is particularly taxing, consider ways that it could be simplified. Is a given step crucial to get the job done, or is there an easier way to accomplish the same end goal?