Why you should make it your habit to work efficiently

In this post I explain why it is so important to work efficiently and why efficiency has value for all aspects of your life. There is a lot of benefit in making it your habit to think and be efficient. I also describe why it doesn’t mean that you have to enslave yourself by trying to be efficient in life. It actually means quite the opposite.

Choices we make

I strongly believe that our habits ultimately determine who we are. You may think “Nonsense, I have certain habits because of the person who I am”. True, probably uncounted times you have heard someone justifying bad habits as give by nature.

“Well, I am born a slob. Can’t help it”.

Does that mean this guy is unable to ever clean anything up? Do you really think?  Well I don’t. Unless this person has a serious mental or physical problem of course. So let’s say our slob has some incentive to clean his room, car, desk, or whatever, that makes it worth for him to do it. Punishment otherwise would be one option, but we want to stay positive and assume for example someone paid his all-included cable fees as long as the apartment is impeccably clean. In other words someone offered him something that makes it worth for the slob to spend the energy for keeping everything tidy.

If you visited him now you would not think he was unable to keep his apartment clean. Obviously he is not.  Although it may be in his nature to do otherwise he makes the active choice to be different. That is what distinguishes us from animals. Millenniums ago man made the choice against his nature not to be afraid of the fire but to control it. See, where this choice has gotten us.

I am also pretty sure no baby is born with the need to brush her teeth, even more so considering she doesn’t even have any. However, most of us wouldn’t go to bed without dutifully brushing day in and day out.

Obviously, good habits can be built over time.

Work efficiently – live happy

The most basic definition of efficiency describes it as the extent to which any resource is well used for its intended purpose.

In the business world the ultimate resource is money or currency, which can be easily traded against other resources. By working for financial compensation we trade our time against money.  This is part of our culture and there is nothing wrong with it. Generally speaking we actually spend time for the  purpose of receiving financial compensation. Logically, the less time we spend to earn the same amount of money the better.  That is not a new revelation is it?


March 2nd, 2013|Tags: , , |

Admit You Are Wasting Time!

The times we are living in are great because we are able to accomplish so much in so little time. But time is something we never seem to have enough of. Day after day it feels like we are trying to hold time like water in our hands,  it is simply running through our fingers. The task lists are getting longer and longer and with every new task you pile on, you seem to get further from getting anything done. There are two truths you have to realize. The first is: You will never get everything done. But the good thing is you don’t need to. To succeed you have to get the important things done (also see Simple Secret to Efficient Time Management).

The second truth is: You are wasting time! Just admit it. You can do much better, but you have to finally start to be honest to yourself. Please read on, I have listed a couple of ways how we cheat ourselves into wasting time.

Being upset

Yes, that is right. I mean it. We spend too much time being aggravated about small issues. You may have the attitude of an Nepalese Monk and nothing can irritate you, but  I presume then you wouldn’t be reading this post. In our lives there are so many reasons to be upset and I don’t mean serious problems. You have every right to be bothered and distracted by life changing problems, but these aside think about what was the last time something bothered you.

  • “I shouldn’t be doing this.”
  • “Instead of talking, he could have worked on the presentation already.”
  • “We all know why she is wearing this dress today.”
  • “Of course he wants last minutes revisions, like always.”
  • “She has no clue, how did she get that position?
  • “If my computer was better I would already be done.”
  • “I really don’t like this program.”
  • “Why is is always so hot in here?”
  • “Took my parking lot, unbelievable.”
  • “Great, and now I can spend the entire afternoon on the phone.”
  • etc.

These are just examples, but having such discussions with yourself or others, who are not involved only takes away energy from you. You make yourself feeling inferior and passive. You can tackle a problem by addressing it to your superior, delegate it or suck it up and just do it. When you think a task should not be yours to do, while you are already working on it, then are not 100% focused and thus you are wasting time. The same is valid if something happened that you did not like: Either address it, set a reminder to address it another more favorable time or take a break to get over it, but a job half done is a job not done at all.

Not having breaks

Without a break you soon reach the point where you are just hanging in there. And this means, you are wasting time! For example thinking we save time by having lunch at the desk, can easily result in us checking emails or answering the phone. This is not a break. We also all love these lunch meetings. I love them too. You can do business and have food, how great is that.? But that is not a break it is work. When I eat at home not much comes between me and my pizza.

Even more so for days off. I know we like to make everyone believe we are indispensable. Unfortunately, we are not. Everyone can be replaced and every task can be done by someone else. The only currency here is time. Don’t do your job only half and then say “If you have questions, you can always call me or write me an email. The hotel has free WIFI.” Do it so that there are no questions. I know there are some things that may come up while your are gone, but you can try to anticipate them and let people know who may be able to answer them for you in your absence. Admit it, you keep checking your emails because you want prove they still need you and the company would be doomed without you. They are not, sure it would be more convenient with you, but they’ll survive. You can make clear that you are always reachable for emergencies only and if it makes you feel better, go and check your emails once a day.  Getting some emotional distance between you and your work can be very refreshing for short and longer breaks.

Trailing off

Everyone researching anything on the Internet knows how easy it is. This moment you were looking for the best venues for the next meeting with the Seattle branch and the next you find yourself scrolling through the menu of this nice little seafood restaurant next to the convention center. This makes you remember to check out reviews of this new Italian in your neighborhood. What were Gnocci again? You can post the question on Facebook or ….
Hey, admit it: You are on a break right now! You are wasting time!
We are also wasting time when are trying to accomplish too many things at once and forget the priorities. For example when we forget to anticipate the unexpected. “On the way to the post office I only wanted to buy more of these folders we need next week, but then I had to ask if they had them on stock and then it took the guy forever to reach the other other branch. I finally got them but when I arrived at the post office they were already closed.
We don’t have mean intentions, but whenever we are not fully committed we like to trail off and waste time.

Stalling because you don’t like it

Not doing something because you don’t like it doesn’t make it go away. Doing it later doesn’t make it more fun. For example if you are avoiding a difficult conversation you will be distracted every time you see the person and feel bad unless you had this conversation. Get it over with. Have it the next time you see this person. No, better. Stop wasting time, call, and set up a meeting now!
Getting rid of these roadblocks will give you a feeling of victory, a sense of accomplishment and send you on your way with a boost.

Not asking for help

False pride, not wanting to show weakness, the fear someone else could get the credit or simply the perception of knowing it all, are few of the many reasons why we are not asking for help. But the realization that you need help and the action of actually asking someone for help are what distinguish the successful from the ones who , well, keep treading on the spot. We also often don’t want to ask for help because then we may end up being depending on someone else for the completion of our task/project. Thus, don’t give away substantial tasks, but still put a realistic and relative tight deadline. This of course works best if you can deliver something in return that takes you less time as it would take you to do what you ask for.
And don’t be too shy to follow up. It is way less complicated than it sounds. I once had to complete an application for a royalty free license to use part of a product from a collaborating firm. Everyone in our group had trouble understanding the legalese on the form and we weren’t really sure what to do. Our legal department was covered in work and the back and forth with the other firm’s legal department stretched on forever. Looking back it sounds quite silly, but that is exactly what we often do. We don’t take the right action and thus waste a lot of time. Only after I got over myself and asked a co-worker who I knew had gone through the process before we got it finally right. It took him only a glance at the paperwork to see that we were handed the wrong form! But I was too proud to ask him initially.


You don’t have to be a robot,  but realizing and admitting when you are wasting time will make you be more focused and accomplish more.
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November 10th, 2012|Tags: , , |

Simple Secret to Efficient Time Management

You answer all emails when they come in, you take every call and you manage all the little things someone else would miss. You check your emails on your smart phone one the way home and even when you relax on your couch. You caught yourself hammering replies in your phone while brushing your teeth or eating breakfast. In short: You couldn’t do more to be on top of it. But still it seems that you never get everything done. Although you are always busy you feel like you could do better. Something is always left over to do and hence you never really feel satisfied with your day.


Time management before

Problem: Overworked and inefficient

If this sounds at least a little bit like you then keep reading. I know exactly where you are. Your day looks like the glass above. It is full and there is always this big block of work that doesn’t fit in. The question is how to solve this? The glass is full.


Solution for an efficient time management

Is it? look at the glass on the below. You can count the big and small blocks and will notice they are all in the glass now. How? Well the they are just organized differently. For your day that means by starting with all the small tasks your fill it up in a way that there is not enough space for the big tasks that take just more time.

This is a common trap we all step in so readily. By answering some emails and covering task that don’t afford a lot of time to solve we think that we are achieving a lot. We are ticking off many tasks on the list. The problem is that most of these tasks are so small that they likely never made it onto this list. We are not satisfied because we still have these pesky other big responsibilities in the back of our mind. That takes hours, I am too busy! Unfortunately the really important time intensive tasks don’t go away they won’t disappear like some of the email questions we wasted time to answer so dutifully.


Number 1 –  No Emails

Do not read your emails right away. Read them in two, three or even four hours.
Emails only distract you and take you off course. Very likely they will determine the direction of your day. But you need to be in control to get things done!

Number 2 – Big Blocks First

Start working on one of these big blocks and make sure you get it completed or at least reach a point from which you can later on continue without having to get familiarized with it again.
This will you give the real feeling of achievement and energize you for the rest of the day. You can now “reward” yourself by answering your emails and ticking off a couple of smaller tasks that don’t  need your full focus to “relax” from the hours of intensive work before.


By following the first two points you already made a big step towards an efficient time management and a satisfying work experience. The following should help you to make this possible.


Number 3 – Meetings

Try to schedule meetings that don’t have the highest priority more towards noon when you likely have a lower attention span. So you can cover some work before the meeting and can use it to re-energize.
Of course you would’t do that with a meeting that puts you in the hot seat, but having  e.g. a regular staff meeting in the morning -at worst Monday morning – will again likely change your planned course of the day.


Number 4 – Rituals

When we don’t want to do something we do something else to make us believe we are busy, while we are not. So we clean up our desk, re-organize our pens, books, paperweights or whatever we think is more more important than to get started. This is really quite important and difficult to get used to. Get rid of these rituals. Try to have a good breakfast before you come to office, have something to  drink with you and a snack. So there is no excuse for not getting started right away as soon as you enter your office. You can of course however have a ritual to reward you after completing one of the big ones.

 Time management after

Number 5 – Planning

Plan the next week before you go into the weekend this particularly includes Monday. So you know where to start getting things done. It sounds like a nice idea to start your Monday morning with planning the week that lies ahead of you (another ritual), but that is already too late. You may have to check your notes from last week, start to go through your stack of papers on your desk, open your emails or even worse be distracted by phone, email and other conversations before you even have a plan for the week. You may be off course even before you really started. On Friday you know what needs to be done and even if you take work home over the weekend take the time to plan the next week on Friday.

If you follow these five rules your day will look like this.

There will be no need to frantically check emails after work, because you already covered it all. You will have time to relax  and be able to come to work refreshed. More efficient and happier.

Start tomorrow!