Like many people, I often feel like there is more to do than there is time to do it. My personal situation these days is more often on the scale of more things to do in life than there is time in a lifespan, so less of an acute stress, but there all the same. In the spirit of this feeling, I always strive to find more efficient ways to do things. Work smarter, not harder is a motto I love. So how do you go about being more efficient?
The first word that comes to mind in relationship to “efficiency” is multi-tasking. Unfortunately, multitasking is not a good idea. Studies have shown that trying to multi-task just makes one complete both tasks slower than had each one been done independently. Of course, like most people, I persist in my belief that *I* can make multi-tasking work, at least for some things. I often multi-task while eating, brushing my teeth, and other tasks that take little thought or effort. I also occasionally find it ideal in creating a work flow to frequently switch between two related tasks, though I am not sure if that would be considered multi-tasking.
One mistake I have to constantly keep myself from making is cleaning inefficiently. A good rule of thumb is to clean from the top down: if you sweep the kitchen floor before cleaning the counters, you’re going to have a dirty floor when you’re done. There is an ideal order to cleaning tasks, and I often need to remind myself to stop for a moment and make sure I’m following this order. I have seen in many places the suggestion to break cleaning into one task a day, to make it more manageable. I dislike this idea, as I would rather clean once for half a day than a little bit each week. There’s a lot to be said about cutting out wasted time from “on-ramps” or preparations for an activity, and I love the feeling of a perfectly clean house. There is probably a most efficient way to do almost everything, and I love looking for and thinking about what that might be.
Another big efficiency tool for me is remembering when to do less. I am a perfectionist by nature, and my basic tendency is to do everything to the utmost of my availability. This is not efficient, and I try to frequently ask myself if what I am doing is worth the time I am spending on it. Does this apple really need to be cut into perfect cubes? Does this email to my sister really need to be reread a third time? Does this paper really need five extra references when it will already earn an A? I am by no means advocating mediocrity, just not wasting time and effort making everything perfect.
On the flip side of this, it’s also important to know when doing more now will save you time later. As I mentioned above, the “on-ramps” to getting work done can take up a decent amount of time. If I am going to write the draft of an essay, for example, I like to gather all of my resources and write a draft in a single sitting. If I break it up over several days, or even in chunks throughout one day, it takes time to reorient, figure out where I left off, remember what I had planned next, etc. With many tasks, doing more of it at once will save time later. Can you double that recipe and have leftovers for an easy dinner in a few days? Can you stock up on essentials so that you need to go shopping less often? In my experience, just being aware of this idea helps me to work more efficiently.
I did some brief Google research in search of tips on finding efficiency. Many of these tips center around planning: use a schedule; keep a physically organized space; become aware of time wasters; self-impose priorities and deadlines; make lists; break large tasks into a specific plan; and on and on. Other tips include: be committed to resting and relaxing in appropriate amounts; reward yourself for work well done; challenge yourself to complete tasks more quickly; use technology to your advantage but eliminate distractions; and simplify your work. What about you? Do any readers have tips for working more efficiently?