Forget being efficient. Here’s how to be more effective
We all know the drill:
“Work smarter, not harder.”
“Don’t do it faster, do it right.”
“Focus on being effective, not on pure productivity.”
But how? How do you do those things?
Before I share my suggestions with you, let me say: they aren’t shortcuts, tricks, or hacks. They’re not buttons you can push to magically quadruple your effectiveness in 7 days.
My pointers are more like new habits you can form with ease. One step at a time. They’re little acts that pay back big. A solid investment, as far as I’m concerned.
Here are some signs that you may have something to gain:
You hop from project to project
You often think you could be doing something more important than what you’re working on right now
You always feel like you’re behind
You have trouble showing progress in your work
You choose to work on what feels good, instead of what’s important
Having trouble deciding what’s important? Then there are huge gains to be made. Or put another way: if you generally do what feels good, then odds are you can use your time more effectively.
Today I’m sharing my collection of tools with you. I have 3 categories: 1) seeing clearly, 2) getting things done, and 3) switching gears.
Seeing clearly just means having a clear view of what progress means for you. By far the most helpful tool here is writing. What are you working toward this week? This month? This year? The next few years?
Write. It. Down.
Move that tangle of ideas out of your head and onto paper (or a digital doc).
Many of us don’t do this, or don’t do it enough. Often with the idea that “I just don’t work like that. I decide in the moment what’s important.” But if I push beyond that answer, I almost always get to the real reason: it’s not easy. Writing down what moves you, what’s important, the direction you want to go in—it takes effort. And it means making tough choices. Both are things we work to avoid.
Another big help here is the Pareto principle, which states that roughly 80% of a given result is achieved with just 20% of total efforts. In other words: a small portion of our work gets the big results. Try to relate this idea to your weekly calendar. What things really seem to make a difference in moving you forward? How could you make room to do more of those things?
Getting things done
Seeing clearly and getting things done go hand in hand. Here are my top 3 tips:
Reserve time in your week for priority work. Setting aside time on my calendar means I continually have to estimate how long things will take. Putting it down in black and white forces me to make choices and brings into focus what I’m choosing to do (and what not).
Try to do a Friday recap every week. If you’ve tried a recap before, but haven’t managed to make it a habit yet, remember this: a weekly recap—where you go over the past week and fill in your schedule for the week to come—can be key. It’s the link between knowing your priorities and making real progress on them. It’s what allows you to course-correct, adapt your plans, and switch gears to get where you want to go.
Get yourself a partner in crime. Talking with a trusted partner about work goals is a great way to get things done. But there are other ways to be accountable for your work: You and a colleague can start emailing each other every Tuesday morning, say, to share your priorities for the week. You can arrange to give a presentation every other week to keep a key client in the loop.
However you do it, speaking with others on a recurring basis about what you’re doing can be a powerful motivator. It helps keep you on track.
No matter what direction you choose, you’re going to have to adjust your course from time to time. It’s good to be aware, however, that switching gears can also be a great way to avoid the real work. Something to keep in mind.
These 4 strategies help me:
Share what you’re working on sooner. When you share what you’re making, you get feedback. The sooner you share, the sooner you get that feedback. And bonus: early on, we tend to be less emotionally invested in our ideas, which means it’s easier to make the needed changes.
You’re allowed to change your mind. Plans and goals aren’t set in stone. Even as I’m writing them down, I know that if there’s good reason to, I can make a change.
Make time for writing and reflection. New realizations can occur to you out of the blue. But my experience is that regularly making time to quiet down and think and reflect reliably generates fresh insight. Figure out what gives you fresh perspective and give yourself the gift of making time for it.
Seek out experts and mentors. Expand the circle of people that give you feedback and advice you can use. When you’re entering unknown territory, it can be especially important to seek out new advisors. Arrange introductions and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It can lead to amazing things.
When I get stuck, my tendency is to reach for that new to-do app I’ve been meaning to try. Or to think there must be some hack that would suddenly make me super-efficient. But really, I only need to spend some time focusing on the elements above. Forget efficiency—being more effective is the way to go.
Have a good week!