Tips to Be More Efficient

Our daily lives were already hectic. Add in kids that are suddenly learning from home and you have a new level of chaos. Instead of resigning to longer workdays, try these tools used by highly successful professionals.

By Shelby Rowe Moyer

We all have the same number of hours in the day, but how we each spend our time is likely very different.

Productivity and time-saving tips feel more valuable than ever as many of us are stuck inside with kids, work and home projects to contend with. Queue Laura Vanderkam. If you haven’t heard of this author and speaker, check out “Before Breakfast,” a daily podcast with bite-sized tips and tricks that can help you move through your day more smoothly.

She came onto our radar with her book “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time.” The data-infused tome followed the schedules of high-powered women, proving that you don’t have to choose between work and family. It’s possible to “have it all,” when you’re aware of how you spend your time.

Vanderkam has authored a handful of other titles, including her most recent, “The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home.”

Now that working from home is a vastly more common norm, we wanted to share some of her tips which we derived from her podcast.  

One major takeaway is that successful people, including CEOs, aren’t working around the clock, Vanderkam says. Time spent working doesn’t equal success, and that’s good news for everyone.  

Here are some ways to help you live and work more efficiently.

It’s Not Always Your Job

Noticing a problem doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to fix it, Vanderkam says. In other words, just because a co-worker is fighting with the printer or the kitchen needs to be swept doesn’t mean you need to do it. “When everything is your job, nothing will ever get done,” Vanderkam says. If it’s your responsibility, handle it. If it’s not, ask yourself what would happen if you left the problem alone. You’ll probably find that someone else will rise to the task, or try asking your team how it can be solved together.

Save Your Brainpower

Some of the stresses of Mondays come from the accumulation of emails that await you. You know work has piled up, but you don’t know what’s sitting in the stack. The beginning of the work week can feel hectic, Vanderkam says, so she recommends having a Monday uniform, of sorts, whether that be the clothes you wear; the breakfast, lunch or dinner you eat; or the workout you do. Wearing, eating or doing the same thing every Monday frees up mental space for other things. “Decide once and then you don’t have to decide again,” she says.

Spend Less Time on Email

Ever felt like you spent all day replying to emails? You finish responding to one, and five more roll in. Constantly checking and responding to emails also means you’re constantly switching between tasks, which also stalls your productivity, Vanderkam says. She recommends email batching. Schedule two, one-hour blocks each day and dedicate that time to responding to your emails. In between those blocks, you can pop in to see if any urgent messages have come in. This way, Vanderkam says, you’re really only a few hours away from seeing someone’s email and you can spend more time responding thoughtfully.

“Sometimes you need to disappoint someone’s immediate expectation, such that they will receive an immediate response, in order to meet the bigger expectation, which is an actual solution to their problem,” she says.

Plus, if their need is truly urgent, they’ll call.

Pick No More Than Three Priorities

When you create a miles-long to-do list for the day, it’s unlikely you’ll actually finish it, and it feels demoralizing ending the day with an uncompleted list — like you didn’t really accomplish anything. Instead, stick to three daily priorities, with enough room for the unanticipated tasks and projects that will likely crop up during your day. Three tasks a day is 15 tasks a week, which is 150 tasks a year. Outlining a small list of priorities better ensures you’ll complete them, and it all adds up.

Change Your Language

Does your to-do list ever look like this: contact client, research venues, end of year reviews? When creating a list of tasks, it’s important to set clear intentions. To say you’ll “work on” researching venues is too ambiguous. “That sneaky little phrase can tank our productivity,” Vanderkam says, because you didn’t have a measurable outcome, so you didn’t decide what finishing it actually looks like.

Instead, create a smarter to-do list like this:

  • Set up call with client and create a summary of progress on their event planning, plus questions for them about catering, liquor license and A/V needs.
  • Contact five outdoor venues that can accommodate seating and catering needs, then email client with the best options for their event.
  • Prepare summary of accomplishments and areas of improvement for each employee, plus a 10-question staff survey about needs and adjustments going into 2021.

Outlining each step needed to complete the task will also make you quickly realize whether finishing it is realistic for the time and resources you need to complete it.