Career Advice Tips to be more productive

How To Work Better By Working Less

There is a common misconception that the person who is first to arrive and last to leave the office is the hardest worker in your office. In fact, that person is simply the one who clocks in the longest hours. Unfortunately, as the day wears on, they actually become less effective and less productive, making simple mistakes and taking longer to complete tasks. Humans are not meant to have sustained, quality attention for multiple hours at a time. If you want to work better, abandon the idea that working longer hours means that you are a sure shot for employee of the month. To be more productive at work, try some of these ideas instead. 

Apply Parkinson’s Law effectively. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For example, with five hours allotted to complete three tasks, it will take the full five hours. We unknowingly amplify the number of steps and the intensity of the tasks when given time to do so. Or we allow distractions and interruptions because there is time for them. Allot two hours to manage those same three tasks, and suddenly we find creative ways to make it happen. You can use this law to our advantage by assigning specific amounts of time allowed for completion of each task on our list. By deciding that you are leaving at a certain (early) hour with the challenge to get the required work done in the hours that you have.

Keep emails short and smart. Email etiquette continues to evolve and it is becoming more acceptable to omit the personal flourishes once you have already established the initial connection. This is especially true with ongoing workplace communication. Try to eliminate the back-and-forth that happens when emails lack clarity or succinct detail. Bullet points are helpful whenever appropriate. Should a situation allow it, try to set up an “if...then...” scenario to reduce the need for multiple replies (i.e. time wasters that increase stress). For example: “Are you able to meet this Friday to go over the budget? If so, how about 11am in Conference Room A?”

Keep meetings brief and purposeful. If you run meetings, try to eliminate all but the ones that actually yield results. These are typically the ones that require discussion on crucial topics in order to make time sensitive decisions. Notify attendees in advance about the topic and content of the meeting and include any preparation or thought-gathering you want completed prior to the start of the meeting. Compress meetings to 25 minutes in order to focus the content and increase the output. 

Use the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle is an economic theory stating that 20% of the total effort leads to 80% of the outcome. In a business setting, this would mean that 20% of the customers would bring in 80% of the revenue. At that same company, 20% of the customers might also make 80% of the complaints. You can use this theory to identify what 20% of your time and effort will lead to your most desired results and focus more intently on those efforts. You can also identify the 20% of your job that leads to 80% of wasted time or frustration and eliminate inefficiencies.

Say no. When you don’t have time or interest to take on additional projects, say no. Even to your boss when you have to. Describe your current workload and ask if others are available to take on the extra workload. Your colleagues and boss may get disappointed when they don’t get their way, but that does not make it your problem to solve. Be gentle and respectful and tell them, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am unable to help at this time. I’ll let you know when my workload clears up.”

Working long hours may seem like an expectation or status symbol in the office, but it’s really a bad habit created by erroneous thinking. Challenge yourself to prove that you can do the same amount of work in less time than before (or less time than your peers). Work less, make fewer errors, waste less time, be happier, and more productive. Your manager will be sure to notice the increase in your productivity and demeanor.