Researchers at the University of Chicago have investigated our fear of being still. They found that people believe being busy is “a sign of success and hard work.” This is why no driven people would ever dare say that they aren’t doing anything for most of the afternoon, or that they are taking a day off from pursuing career goals. Our society often equates free time with laziness.
Efficient vs Effective
Efficiency refers to the time frame in which a task is performed. The faster you complete your work, the more efficient you are as an employee. Being efficient is good for our pride, and it looks good in the eyes of those who expect results from us, but it isn’t always the best method for achieving our goals.
We should instead aim to work effectively. How effective our work is describes the level of quality we produce, which should be the most important metric we have. As they say, “quality over quantity,” right? We shouldn’t grind to work 12 hour days just to ease our conscience; rather, we should strive to maximize our effort and quality, whether it takes an hour to complete a goal, or a month.
Four Key Habits To Work More Effectively
1 Pace Yourself/No Multitasking
A study published by David Meyer from the University of Michigan has shown that switching between tasks will increase the time it takes to finish the tasks by 25%. Neuroscience is clear on the multitasking debate — “we are wired to be mono-taskers.” In going against how you’re wired, you’re only making it harder for yourself to be more creative and better at solving a problem, and you’re taking more time to finish tasks.
Rather than multitasking, choose to pace yourself. Stop comparing yourself to others — it’s easy to fall into this trap with social media. In pacing yourself, you’re less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to produce top level work.
Tip: Meditating every morning for as little as ten minutes can help keep you more focused for the rest of the day.
Choosing to pace yourself and not multitask means your anxiety will be tested. To ease this, create the ultimate to do list. Don’t simply write everything on one list and hope for the best. List your ultimate goals, then break them down into tiny goals, and prioritize which ones to execute first.
Leo Babauta, the man behind Zen Habits, writes how we should tackle our MIT’s (Most Important Tasks) first. Whatever is important to you, Babauta explains, should be crossed off the list first. In doing so, the rest of the day will feel easier to tackle.
More than making the day easier, tackling MITs first leads to seeing your goals accomplished in less time. If what you are doing is bringing results, then you have succeeded in being effective. If, on the other hand, what you’re doing is not cutting it, then you can change your MITs and have your work become more effective.
Tip: Use a journal to jot down your goals and break each one down into steps with deadlines to project a timespan for your goals.
3 Track progress not time
It’s good to remember that no matter how passionate you are about your work, at the end of the day, nothing is as important as the time you spend with the people you love. Having said this, it’s not important how many hours you are working in a day. There shouldn’t be pride in saying that you work 15 hour days without knowing when the sun rose and set.
Working effectively doesn’t necessarily mean working long hours, but it does mean seeing significant results. Effective work happens when your MIT’s help you reach high quality. It’s when things are getting done but not for the sake of them getting done, rather, for the sake of seeing the right results.
Progress is subjective and it depends on what you’re working on. Whatever your definition of progress is, make sure to track it so you’ll know if your work is effective. Are those social media numbers increasing each week? Are brands contacting you for representation? Is the wordcount of your book increasing each week?
Tip: Progress needs to be tracked for best results. Use a wall map and mark down your progress to know if you are moving forward or if your project is at a standstill.
4 Take More Breaks
When writing about the importance of working smarter and not harder, Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Buffer and co-founder of Exist, wrote about one her favorite books. In the book, Stephen Covey writes a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets continually blunt with time as he continues to cut trees. Covey writes how the woodcutter would benefit more by taking a break from cutting the trees to sharpen his saw.
This is a great metaphor by Covey that reminds us why breaks are crucial in producing effective work. Research tells us that we need to stop believing we are too busy to take breaks. Just like the woodcutter’s saw, our minds need time to sharpen again, so our ideas don’t run dry and our work remains top level.
There is no shame in working fewer hours in the day. Life is not a competition of who worked the hardest or the longest. These things are not important at the end of the day. What is important is knowing that you’re working smarter, not harder, and achieving the results that you were hoping for.