The Art of Efficiency: The Secret to a More Productive Workday

September 15, 2023

The Neighborhood Kid

Imagine you have invited the neighborhood kid over to work in your yard. He starts by trimming the bushes. After reaching the third bush, he notices the flowerbed at its base is being taken over by weeds. He puts on his gloves and starts pulling. While working his way through the weeds, he sees the lawn mower and starts to mow the grass. He almost runs over dog poop, so he decides to poop scoop. While picking up poop, he runs into an overgrown bush. He puts the poop scooper to the side to start trimming the bushes again. You watch this pattern of starting and stopping each task continue until he asks to take his lunch break … after having fully completed zero of the tasks you gave him. How efficient is his process?

The Temptation to Switch Tasks at Work

Now think about your typical workday. Each day, you have a list of items that you need to do to meet your goals. Depending on your career, this list might be the same each day or vary drastically. Regardless of the consistency of your to-do list, you must choose which tasks to prioritize and how much time you spend fully focused on each one before checking it off or moving on.

Many of the tasks will be mundane and tedious. Others will be more fun and engaging. Because of our natural desire for stimulation and excitement, we often fall into the habit of starting a task and immediately “taking a break” from it when a new or more fun opportunity presents itself. If that task is also easier than the original one, you are even more inclined to jump ship.

The Problem with Task-Hopping

Why is this a problem? All the tasks on our to-do list must be completed at some point, whether we do it all at once or over a stretch of time. If you are continuously jumping back and forth between tasks, you are losing valuable time and energy each time you try to reengage with the task.

We are all guilty of trying to juggle too many items at once, even when it comes to tasks we enjoy. I started writing this blog post yesterday. With my focus playlist on, I powered through the first few paragraphs. I then made the mistake of checking my email. By the time I finished clearing my inbox, I could not refocus on this post. Instead, I had to reengage this morning when I was fresher and could dedicate uninterrupted time to writing.

Writing is one of my absolute favorite activities, but if I am pulled out of my zone, the quality of my writing declines and I must shift the task to a more productive time. If I had refrained from checking my email, I would not have been distracted from my writing goal, and I would not have had to shift my schedule around to ensure this task was completed today.

Efficiency Through Dedication

When you spend a dedicated amount of time on a task, you naturally increase the speed and efficiency of what you are doing. If you split your attention between multiple tasks, your efficiency decreases. When you eventually return to the original task, you are going to waste time getting back into the flow. This could lead to additional procrastination of the task as your frustration and lack of desire to stick with it continues to increase.

How can you resist the temptation to continuously shift between different tasks? You are going to be hit with a multitude of opportunities to shift your focus throughout the day… phone calls, emails, lunch invitations, texts, social media, the list goes on and on.

Creating a Structured Schedule

Create a schedule for yourself. Divide your day into blocks, with each block being solely dedicated to a specific task. During that uninterrupted time, force yourself to remain fully engaged with the task at hand until you accomplish your goal. Do not check your email. Do not answer that phone call. Finish what you promised yourself you were going to. It is okay if you plan on splitting a task up into multiple blocks. All you have to do is set a goal for each block of time and see that goal to completion.

Am I saying that you need to schedule every minute of your day and that you can never get distracted? Absolutely not! Every job will require you to be flexible and capable of shifting your attention when necessary. However, you need to create structure for yourself in the beginning to grow your discipline and accountability. Just like with any habit, the more you stick with it, the easier and more natural that habit will become. As you make efficiency a habit, you’ll find yourself excelling in your career, accomplishing more in a day, and even approaching mundane tasks with a more positive attitude.

The Rewards of Efficiency

Efficiency is not just about completing tasks; it is about reclaiming your time, reducing stress, and achieving your goals with focus and purpose. While creating a structured schedule and resisting distractions may not come naturally to everyone, it is a skill worth cultivating. The road to efficiency may be challenging at first, but with persistence, it will become a natural part of your daily routine.

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