6 Ways To Be More Effective At Work

“Oh my god, I work, like, 12 hour days, and weekends, I only get paid a measly 30k. I should be running the place, my boss is a fucking idiot”.

Undervalued, underappreciated and overworked. The holy trinity for the majority of western workers. I wonder do Chilean miners complain about the same stuff? Or does Quan, the 11-year-old factory worker in China moan like this on the way to work?

They might do, I’m not sure, all I know is that I’m a complainer too. Despite knowing I have a piss easy job (in comparison), and nothing to truly complain about. I sit at a desk all day, get a number of breaks throughout, plenty of holidays and I’m well paid. I don’t risk getting trapped under a collapsed mineshaft, I don’t get the black lung from my air-conditioned office, my only major annoyance is a colleague with a ridiculously loud voice that laughs like a cartoon bond villain (hemeh, hemeh, hemeh!). To be fair Quan may have no childhood but I don’t think he’d swap it to be beside this annoying prick.

Even still I’ve always sought to make my work life easier, and I’m well aware only a very privileged person can say this. But I think the dream for everyone, from Chilean miner to child factory worker to CEO of a Fortune 500, is to reduce the amount of work they need to do.

“But if you love what you’ll do you’ll never work a day in your life”. This statement is true, but not in any real sense, by work I do not mean the things I’m passionate about. Yes if I have fulfilling work it won’t feel like I’m working, but for every piece of fulfilling work there is the corresponding paperwork, that thing I don’t like to do, every artist has to market themselves, every health worker has to make tough decisions (and also do paperwork). The majority of the time a fulfilling job is just that, but there will always be that part that just isn’t great, this is work, the parts I have to get motivated to do. So why shouldn’t I seek to minimise that where I can?

Too much work inevitably means I’ll spend less time on myself. I can’t stress enough how unhealthy it is not to have time for yourself. Never mind having time for my loved one’s, but not taking care of my own fitness, or letting myself have time to read some good fiction, or even simply having 20 mins to relax in a bath just so I get a pat on the back in the office (if even that).

The 80–20 Rule of Work

So to become more effective, efficient and less stressed at work, after lots of research and failed attempts the below is what worked for me. It took quite a while, some were incredibly hard, especially dealing with emails, but they’ve all benefited my effectiveness and efficiency with work, and removed a lot of stress and wasted time in the process. I hope you can take something from it.

1. Emails (The crack cocaine of the office place)

Turn off all automatic notifications, no pings or noises, no popup messages showing you’ve got a new email. (Here is a link for how to do this in Outlook). All too often when you see that notification you check your email and boom, you’re dealing with another problem and have forgotten all about your priorities for the day.

Check and reply to emails only twice a day, once before lunch and once before leaving. If something is important enough that you must look at it before then the colleague that sent it will contact you some other way. Trust me.

Do not check your emails first thing in the morning. This is the single worst thing you can do and detrimental to getting your work done. Just stop. The morning should be for getting your top priority task(s) for the day completed.

2. Task List

Create your task list the evening before, 10 mins before you leave for the day make sure to write down the top 5 things you need to do the next day. Even 5 can be too much, try 3 to begin with.

Make these tasks your top priority the next morning, try to finish as many as you can before 12. Work in priority order too if possible, you want to go home at the end of the day feeling like you’ve done a great day’s work.

3. Meetings

If you must create one (and you should only create one if a decision is needed) make sure it is no more than 30 mins in length and that there is a clear agenda. Follow that agenda.

If someone else has created a meeting for you, ask for an agenda, if they will not supply one decline the meeting (as gracefully as possible). If the meeting is completely unavoidable (you can’t decline it) as soon as you possibly can ask, in as nice a way as possible, what are we looking to achieve in this meeting? You’ll either get an answer (great) or a heated discussion (not so great), sometimes, unfortunately, you’ll have to grin and bear it.

4. Timelines

Set yourself short timelines for every task, this will help you eliminate wasted time (doing the extra 80% that yields only 20% of the results.) If you have a week to complete something, aggressively set yourself a time of 1 or 2 days. It’s amazing how you can actually do it in that time. Usually, when given a week to do a task it takes the whole week, how miraculously strange!

5. Remove time wasters

Wear earphones even if not listening to music, people come over less to bug you.

When people do come over though tell them politely you are busy and ask if they can summarise what they need in an email. If they say they’ll come back again soon, ask them to quickly tell you now what the issue is. If it’s something you must do jot it down at the bottom of your priority list and tell them you’ll let them know when you’ll look at it (don’t think about this issue again until writing your task list that evening).

6. Doing the bare minimum

When asked to complete something don’t look to add bells and whistles, ever. Remember we only need 20% input for 80% of the results. And 80% is usually more than good enough. In my case let’s say I have to write a document, it takes my colleague two days, they add stuff, make the fonts look pretty, waffle in the document. Just write down the points as succinctly as possible, build what they call in agile workforces a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is the bare minimum you can build/do in order to get the product/piece of work in front of those that are assessing it. Sometimes you will receive feedback which you have to then implement, it’s not a big deal here though as you spent a minimal amount of time and effort in the first place. But what if you’d already spent time adding all the bells and whistles, and you still got that same feedback. What a waste. So do the minimum required for your task, usually no more is needed.

What Are The Next Steps

Start tomorrow, or whatever your next working day is. Begin with emails or the task list, if it works for you then move onto the other steps. Remember doing it for 5–6 days will make it a habit, so aim for that.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve implemented any of the above, what worked and what didn’t. I won’t pretend I know all the answers, this worked for me but others might have different circumstances (although I have to say most of the people I talk to think they have jobs not suited to this but they’re wrong).

Let me know any other similar 80–20 advice you have for the workplace, I’m always looking out for ways to continue to cut my time and become more effective.

And if you liked the article maybe please consider joining my mailing list. I send a once weekly update on my attempts to make the complex simple.

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