If you spend all day working on a project, that means you’ve had a productive day, right? Well, not necessarily. All too often, companies and individuals think a full schedule automatically implies productivity. That’s a far cry from work efficiency, though. As New York Times best-selling author Harvey Mackay warns, “Don’t equate activity with efficiency.” Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’ve achieved work efficiency.
Businesses stress the importance of work productivity, but many fail to address time management and working efficiently. This results in people putting in the hours but not getting the results in a reasonable amount of time. As more people spend long hours without an eye towards making the most of their time, they begin to suffer work burnout and low job satisfaction. That’s not to mention the missed deadlines and growing frustration as people constantly keep their eyes on the clock. But there’s a better way to work.
In this article, find out the benefits of work efficiency, the habits productive people adopt, and what companies can do to encourage work efficiency in their organizations.
What is Work Efficiency?
Work efficiency means completing a task effectively in an optimal amount of time. Someone who practices work efficiency is productive and makes good use of their work hours. They waste very little time, and their focus remains on the task at hand until completion. At the same time, efficient workers don’t waste resources, saving organizations time and money.
Productive Habits to Improve Work Efficiency
If you’re wondering how to influence your employees’ productivity levels, look at the most efficient group members on your team. What habits have they adopted? Where do they place their focus? These are the workers known for “getting things done” no matter the obstacles they encounter. You can also teach people how to increase their productivity by helping them implement the following habits below.
1. Break Up Large Tasks
When faced with a large project, many people feel overwhelmed. The daunting challenge feels like too much for any one person to handle. You can help workers eliminate this feeling by breaking up a large task into multiple smaller ones. For example, if there’s a 20-page quarterly report to write up by Friday, help them divide the report into smaller sections and tackle each section one day at a time. Suddenly, the enormous project has become easily manageable. The same applies to almost every monumental task at a job. Create a list of smaller tasks that contribute toward completing the large one, then check them off as you go along. This leads to a sense of progress that can motivate you and others to keep going.
2. Steer Clear of Multitasking
You may have heard that if you want to get a lot done, you need to multitask. While that sounds good in theory, work efficiency means staying away from multitasking as much as possible. This concept is also backed by science. According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking does not lead to more productivity. In fact, the opposite occurs. The organization cites numerous studies conducted over the course of decades, showing that when people frequently switch between tasks, they get less done than people who focus on one task at a time. If the goal is to improve employee productivity, multitasking cannot be part of the equation.
3. Plan Ahead
Doing work without planning is like playing in the Super Bowl without a game plan. Success is unlikely, but you’re sure to expend a lot of energy during the game. This is why tackling big tasks requires planning ahead with your team. While it may sound counterintuitive to spend some of your time planning, your team will save that much time and more in the long run. As part of your planning, think of what your team will do if things go wrong. No plan is perfect, and unforeseen problems can arise, so creating backup plans will help you and your employees adapt to changes as they occur.
4. Eliminate Distractions
You can have the best plans in place, but distractions will still crop up. Try to eliminate as many potential distractions as possible for your team. When your employees work on a task, encourage them not to look at their email and put away their smartphones. That text message can wait until you’re done. Many people convince themselves that they must absolutely be ready for an important call or urgent message, but that’s not the case in all but the rarest of circumstances. Put away the distractions so your team can concentrate on what’s in front of them.
5. Take Breaks Often
To become as productive as possible, some people try to push through and work non-stop throughout the entire day. While they might stay busy, they end the day exhausted and burned out. To get things done and remain energized, make sure your employees take breaks multiple times during the day. This helps to refresh and re-energize them so they can continue putting in their best work. Studies have shown that even a short break can help people focus and continue working hard at their current task for longer. Start by having workers taking a five-minute break every hour and see how much it improves the workday.
6. Try the Eisenhower Matrix
You can improve your team’s work efficiency by trying a technique called the Eisenhower Matrix. This technique helps people focus on long term priorities instead of short term gains. Dwight D. Eisenhower used this technique during his time as a general to help him make decisions.
To perform this technique, do the following:
- Create a 2×2 square
- Along the outside of the Y axis, write “Not Important” and “Important”
- Along the top of the X axis, write “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.”
- Write down the tasks you need to complete and place them in one of the corresponding squares: Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent
- Focus on doing the tasks in the first square (Important and Urgent)
- Create a plan to do the tasks in the second square (Important and Not Urgent)
- Delegate the tasks in the third square (Not Important and Urgent)
- Eliminate the tasks in the fourth square (Not Important and Not Urgent)
As you look at your team’s tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix, you’ll quickly see what should demand the team’s attention and what should not. Base tasks for the day on the most important and urgent items. You’ll find that focusing on those tasks will make the whole team more productive and efficient.
7. Work on Self-Improvement
Workers can’t achieve the goal of becoming more productive in just one day. It’s an ongoing process filled with highs and lows. Take the time at the end of each day to evaluate how your employees did and where they can improve. Did they get all their tasks done on time? If not, what prevented them from completing them? Even if they had a successful and productive day, you can still note why they got so much done and what methods they can continue into the next day and beyond. This practice of self-improvement will lead to great results the more teams do it.
8. Listen to Music
If you want to improve work efficiency for your team, try listening to some music. While this might sound like inviting a distraction into the workspace, music can actually help people work harder and get more done. A survey conducted by Robert Half shows that 71 percent of office workers said that listening to music made them more productive during the day with only 6 percent saying it made them less productive. The music teams choose depends on their preferences, but make sure to pick tunes that help people focus and relax. Also, always wear headphones and earbuds so other people can’t hear what someone listens to. That ensures others don’t get distracted by their choice in music.
9. Use a Kanban Board
As you try to show more productivity at work with your team, test out the usefulness of a kanban board. First developed by Taiichi Ohno for Toyota back in the 1940’s, the kanban board acts like a project management system. It divides large tasks into columns, each representing one stage of the task up until completion. Those tasks on the far left column should be done first, while those on the far right are the final phase. Many project management apps use this same formula as it helps break down large tasks and keeps people organized. If you have difficulty tracking your team’s progress on big projects, try using a kanban board to figure out what you need to do today and in the weeks ahead.
10. Learn the Power of “No”
Many people reflexively say “yes” to whatever tasks show up on their desk or in their inbox. This is a surefire way to accumulate numerous tasks, leading to a massive “To Do” pile that can bog down productivity. Sometimes, you just need to say “no.” Saying “no” can be a challenge, especially for those eager to please and help out their teams and companies. However, there’s nothing wrong with declining a task when you already have too much to do. As long as employees show productivity with other projects and clearly explain why they’re turning down the opportunity, people will understand.
11. Practice the 80/20 Rule
First developed in the early 1900’s by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, the 80/20 Rule (or Pareto Principle) states that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the effort. In other words, 20 percent of the work leads to 80 percent of the outcome. That 20 percent consists of the most important tasks. Workers who want to increase their work efficiency should concentrate on the 20 percent of tasks that play the most critical role in getting the best results. Doing so helps to cut down on unnecessary steps and frees up more time to provide excellent outcomes.
What Leaders Can Do to Improve Work Efficiency
The above habits can transform you into a more productive worker at your company, but what if you want your whole team to improve their work efficiency? Whether they’re a small business or a large corporation, organizations can help others be more productive through policy changes and the right incentives. Here are a few examples of what companies can do to see more efficient production.
Promote Remote Work
While many companies have already made the leap to having more remote workers, some organizations remain hesitant. Those organizations often think that when people work from home, they’ll be more distracted and won’t get as much work done. While it’s true that remote workers contend with different problems than office workers, productivity isn’t one of them. According to a survey from CoSo Cloud, 77 percent of remote workers say that they’re more productive than when they were in the office. The survey goes on to show that 23 percent are willing to work longer hours and 52 percent are less likely to take paid time off. A survey from Fundera found similar numbers as well. Based on these numbers, companies should seriously consider promoting more remote work.
That’s not to say that all jobs will automatically do better when working from home. However, many jobs can benefit from making the switch. By allowing more remote work, leadership places more trust in employees while giving them more autonomy to determine how best to manage their jobs. Workers have shown their appreciation by becoming more productive and improving their work efficiency. Even when working outside the office, strong teams can form and increase their collaboration and coordination.
For more inspiration on creating effective teams, even with remote work, check out these teamwork quotes.
In the same vein as promoting remote work, companies should embrace digitization for increased work efficiency. A Fujitsu report called “Walking the Digital Tightrope” discovered that organizations that promoted digitization efforts improved their efficiency. The same study found that most businesses don’t have a clear plan for digitizing their work processes. This should become a priority for companies, one that goes beyond simply leaving it for the IT department to handle. While many organizations may feel like full digitization is a gamble, those who have done it have reaped the benefits.
Reduce the Number of Meetings
How much time do you think you spend in meetings? If you’re like the average worker, you spend about 31 hours every month in a meeting, at least according to Atlassian. Their research also found that half of workers thought the meetings were a waste of time. If companies want to improve employee productivity, they need to think about reducing the number of meetings during the week. Not every meeting is a drain on productivity, of course, but organizations must make sure that meetings serve a clear purpose. Promote leadership styles that keep meetings brief and to the point. Have a definitive goal in mind when holding a meeting, and feel free to end it when that goal has been met. With fewer meetings to worry about, workers can concentrate on their own tasks.
Greater Work Efficiency Leads to Success
Becoming more productive requires trimming the fat, so to speak. Eliminate unnecessary tasks and focus on what really matters. As you seek to improve your own work efficiency, look inward at what you can change about yourself and how you work. You’ll be following Herbert N. Casson’s advice when he said that those “who succeed are the efficient few. They are the few who have the ambition and willpower to develop themselves.” Start taking the steps towards greater work efficiency without delay. Identify what habits will help you become more productive and implement them today. The sooner something becomes a habit, the sooner you won’t have to think about it anymore.
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