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Work hacks: how to be more efficient

It’s easy to get distracted at work. You might think you’re multitasking but you’re probably just doing piecemeal work. Just think – do you spend hours checking emails, only to realise you haven’t gotten anywhere? Adopting efficient work strategies can help you change that!

Why is efficiency so important?

Efficiency can help you thrive at work, reduce your stress and impress your boss. The advantages don’t stop there either: limiting distractions and working efficiently is beneficial for everyone – including your colleagues.

Dr Andrea Howell, a lecturer in management at Deakin Business School, says your efficiency impacts the whole team. ‘Inefficient employees are like social loafers – the willing horse gets the work and the inefficient worker is carried by others – productivity suffers.’

Don’t want to be that loafer? Here are the top seven work efficiency hacks and Dr Howell’s take on them:

1. Write a list, but don’t procrastinate on it

Make the list realistic. Keep it short and achievable. Remember – you won’t find a magical stash of extra hours to do the tasks.

Are you a list writer from way back? You might be at risk of being a procrasti-lister! It’s easy to sink time into list writing (neatest handwriting, sub-tasks and so on). Scratch out a quick list and get on with the job.

‘I love a list – use it for work and for personal things but then again, it’s a personal choice,’ Dr Howell says.

2. Limit your email checking

It’s an oldie but a goodie – those emails can be a mighty distraction, so try to cut back. Reduce your stress by limiting your email usage to three times a day.

Close apps to stop email side-tracking. Unless you’re sweating on an urgent email, there’s no need to keep them open.

Dr Howell says to schedule an email check for certain times and stick to that. ‘Or quickly scan and if there are some tagged High Importance, attend to them only and check the other emails at your nominated times.’

3. Try the Pomodoro Technique

Pomo what? The Pomodoro Technique recommends timed sprints of work with no interruption, broken up by micro breaks. There’s an abundance of Pomodoro Technique apps to try.

If your work requires intense concentration for long periods, this technique can help you portion the work into achievable pieces.

Dr Howell says it’s suited to someone who prefers to focus on one thing at a time. ‘It would work for people who perceive other events as interruptions, however others thrive on doing more than one thing and multitasking.’

4. Tackle the hardest task first

The hardest task is usually left for last. Getting little jobs ticked off first makes you feel good but might not be the most efficient way to work.

If you consider your energy levels when scheduling work, you might find you’ll be more efficient attacking that tricky task when you’re fresh.

'Inefficient employees are like social loafers – the willing horse gets the work and the inefficient worker is carried by others – productivity suffers.'

Dr Andrea Howell,
Assoc. Lecturer in Management, Deakin University

Dr Howell says it should be a personal choice for you to be your most efficient. ‘Some people may want to work their way towards the tough task and others prefer to tackle it when they’re at their freshest.’

5. Leave admin until last

Leave the work that needs the least mental load for last. Don’t get bogged down in busy work. If it’s basic administration that doesn’t require your expertise, can you delegate?

Dr Howell says to know yourself and what works for you. ‘For example, I work more productively in the morning, so do my best work then; after 2pm my concentration levels drop off.’

6. Make your meetings for mornings

It’s tempting to put those meetings off, especially when you’ve got deadlines. But if you get that meeting out of the way first thing, you’ll have the rest of the day to work efficiently without interruption.

Dr Howell says this should depend on your body clock but be mindful of others too. ‘If you’re making a choice for a team, either change the mornings and afternoons around or base it on the majority vote.’

7. Look after yourself

You can’t be efficient if you’re not running at full steam. Self-care might seem simple, but it’s easy to neglect when you’re busy. Try the tips below.

  • Take proper breaks. Get fresh air. Don’t eat your lunch at your desk.
  • Be mindful of your resilience and work on building it.
  • Pay attention to your body clock and schedule to suit.

Dr Howell offers her own self-care tactics: ‘If you don’t achieve everything on your list, be kind to yourself and do it the next day. Don’t work after 8pm (I dream about work otherwise!). And finally, get out of your head space by doing something physical (I walk).’

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Dr Andrea Howell
Dr Andrea Howell

Associate Lecturer in Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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