Time is our most valuable asset. Every day at midnight, we are given 1440 minutes that are uniquely ours before we rest our heads on our pillows and the clock resets. As we finally allow ourselves to drift off to sleep at night, we are wrestling with half-baked ideas and unfinished tasks that will be waiting for us when we wake up in the morning.
No matter how we decide to use those 1440 minutes, it never seems like enough time. In order to navigate the constant constraints that time imposes upon us, we must find a way to beat the system and increase our efficiency.
Increasing Your Efficiency.
Many how-to articles on increasing efficiency will tell you to do things like make to-do lists, refrain from frequently checking emails, and minimize your use of social media. Well, duh. These overly prescribed bandage solutions are only suitable to keep you afloat – to keep you in the game, at best.
If you really want to maximize your efficiency, you need to gain a deeper understanding of the way in which you navigate the stimuli that engulfs your mind at the subconscious and conscious levels.
In order to be exceptional, to experience the timeliness that comes with the ultimate efficiency of achieving flow, you must open your mind to unconventional approaches. You must be willing to change your mindset in order to alter your mind.
These ten approaches to increasing efficiency are far from conventional. Yet, I have found them to be incredibly effective, so experiment with them at your own risk.
Alternate Between Conditioning and Work Tasks.
If you have a stack of papers to grade, briefs to read, or meetings to prepare for, alternate between completing a small task and doing conditioning. Read one ten page paper. Do one hundred calf raises. Read another paper. Do one hundred crunches.
Read another paper.
Do fifty squats. If you are in a corporate office and are more socially conscious than I am, get up and go to the bathroom or the copy room every hour and do your exercise in there. You can also run up and down the stairs as an exercise in between work tasks in a corporate office setting, in addition to doing subtle core strength exercises while sitting at your desk.
As much as you may sometimes want to fall asleep at your desk, this routine will ensure that you don’t.
Mentally Simplify Your Life.
We all have many priorities and many goals – often so many, that it is hard for our minds to keep track of these things. In order to help your mind to better situate new information and to more strategically map out where to spend your time, you need to mentally simplify your life.
I suggest mentally creating three buckets: priority 1 (your main priority at the moment), priority 2 (your secondary priority at the moment), and bucket 3 (everything else). It is easier to process new information if we can situate the content into one of our mental buckets in order to assess both the importance of the information and how to relate what we are learning to the rest of our mental real estate.
Your main priority should be what you spend the most time working towards. It is what drives you to get up in the morning and keeps your mind churning late into the night. If priority 1 is work related, priority 2 should be representative of your life outside of your primary job.
The last bucket should be everything else. It might be helpful to create a pie chart something like the one below, to think through how you might want to create buckets to mentally simplify your own life.
I have included the percentage and topic breakdown of my own current mental buckets as an example. You can anticipate that this breakdown would alter at different stages of your life as your priorities are naturally evolving.
Remove the Phrase ‘Most People’ from Your Vocabulary.
Most people function best on at least eight hours of sleep per night. Most people are most effective when they narrow their focus on one task at a time. Newsflash – you are not MOST PEOPLE.
No matter what study is being conducted, there are almost always outliers. And more likely than not, you will be an outlier in at least one aspect of your life, which misaligns with the highly publicized logic as to what ‘most people’ should do.
Figure Out What Applies to You.
Rather than accepting everything you read as a personal truth, go figure out what actually applies to you in your own life and shape your daily actions accordingly.
If it turns out that you can function just as well on six hours of sleep per night as you do on eight hours of sleep per night, then by challenging the group norms, you just earned back 14 extra hours of time per week.
Take a Long-Run Approach.
Most people tend to be fairly myopic in nature, consistently focusing on what is directly in front of them, rather than taking a long-run approach to personal and professional development. When you are in the midst of the daily grind, I know how easy it can be to feel like you are drowning in life and barely managing to get through the absolute priorities for tomorrow.
There is no possible way that you could do anything more than what needs to be done to meet your short-term deadlines (or so it seems). In order to finally stop feeling like you are constantly trying to catch up with your life, you ironically need to alter your mindset and take a long-run approach.
Establish the Proper Mental Framework.
By framing your days with macro-level content and goals, you are both putting yourself in the proper mindset to succeed and better setting up a mental framework in which you will be able to sort the remainder of tasks and stimuli that come your way.
By grounding your everyday actions in your long-term goals, you can easily shift your priorities away from the urgently unimportant matters and remind yourself why you are doing certain tasks in the first place.
While this approach may make you feel like you are only putting more work on your plate, focusing on obtaining a high-level mastery of the material in your designated topic-area will allow you to work through micro-level tasks at a much more rapid pace.
Ride the Momentum.
When you come out of a meeting with your boss where you discussed a new project you are working on, the information and the content of your discussion is fresh in your mind. The meeting itself has initiated the early stages of a momentum build-up, which can be capitalized upon through spending the next few hours following the meeting taking your ideas to the next level.
Rather than riding the momentum in our lives and following-up on tasks after the seeds of momentum are planted, we tend to walk away from the project and we let that momentum build-up go to waste.
Do It Immediately.
Instead of riding the momentum that your boss initiated while meeting with you about the project, you decide to continue with the project two days later rather than finishing it the night of the meeting itself.
Through pushing against our internal desires to procrastinate and to give ourselves ‘deserved breaks’ following momentum build-ups, we can utilize this initial momentum as a springboard to energize ourselves to complete the work more quickly and effectively than we otherwise would have, given that we are now in the appropriate mental space.
Plant Seeds in Your Mind.
When you fall asleep watching a scary movie, what happens? Well, often watching scary movies before bed leads us to have bad dreams. As we were watching the scary movie while dozing off to sleep, seeds were planted in our mind that grew into the stories that we experienced in our dreams when they were given the opportunity to naturally develop.
We don’t always think about what our minds are doing to advance our ideas when we are not consciously focused on them; yet, by simply planting a seed in your mind, your brain will utilize its excess processing power to move the idea forward without expending significant amounts of conscious energy in doing so.
Read Before Bed.
If you want to begin writing a fiction story or need to memorize a speech, read the speech right before bed or start crafting the beginnings of the plot development or character development for one of your characters.
While your speech will not be fully memorized nor will your storyline be fully developed at the time when you plant the seed, the act of planting the seed in your mind will give your brain just enough material to play with and develop further while you are busy going about your everyday actions.
Let Your Inspiration Lead the Way.
Many people argue that you should just make a to-do list, and start working down the list regardless of whether or not you feel inspired to complete the task in the given moment. I strongly disagree with this approach.
The key to moving through tasks not only efficiently but effectively is to get your mind and body excited and in a state of readiness to work on a particular project. If you are not excited about working on something, not only are you going to move through the task at a snail’s pace, but you are also going to get easily distracted and do low-quality work.
Give Yourself Options.
While there are some tasks and projects that are inherently dull in nature and will never excite us in isolation, the mere opportunity to choose the best option amongst a set of alternatives will get our minds in a more advanced state of readiness to complete the task.
In order to give yourself the leeway to operate under a system where you can choose what you want to complete at different times based upon when you feel inspired and ready to do so, you must get yourself far enough ahead in your workflow that you will not be forced to do any one thing in a previously designated hour of the day as a result of procrastination and time constraints.
Never back yourself into a corner. Always give yourself the option to choose how and when you execute various tasks amongst your given set of alternatives.
Always Have Two Lists.
Many people find jumping back and forth between tasks to be incredibly distracting. I beg to differ. Trying to jump back and forth between tasks is only distracting if both tasks require the same type of brain power.
If the tasks are inherently different in nature, switching back and forth between them will constantly help your mind to hit the reset button and provide a burst of new energy to help you get through your harder tasks. Instead of having one long to-do list for the day, I suggest you create two separate lists: one for content-heavy tasks and one for administrative tasks.
For example, if I need to read five papers in a day, work on hypothesis development, and do a problem set, these tasks will all go on to-do list A.
The Secondary List.
Beyond doing my academic work, there are also various other big-picture things that I may need to get done in a day, such as doing my laundry, buying groceries, booking a flight, painting my nails, calling my sister, and making my friend a birthday card.
In order to get the most done in the shortest amount of time without ever drifting into the low-productivity zone that results from working on a project for too long at one time, I suggest going back and forth between your two types of lists.
Jumping Between Lists.
If you start with a content-heavy task from list A, when you proceed to feel yourself starting to lose energy and focus, give your mind a break by doing something from task list B.
While you will still be giving your mind the break it needs, by pre-planning an administrative task list, you will be filling that time with things that actually need to get done, rather than wasting that time watching a netflix episode (which will inevitably turn into a five hour netflix marathon).
Procrastinate ‘Everything Else’.
Many people view procrastination as problematic. However, this statement is overly generalized. There are actually cases in which procrastination can be incredibly helpful in allowing us to give ourselves built-in time limitations for tasks that fall low on our priority list.
In order to check things off our to-do lists, we often will start with tasks which we feel confident in our ability to complete. If we start with those tasks when we do not feel the burden of the time constraints that seem to mentally set in later in the day, we tend to spend inherently too long on these easier and often unimportant tasks, which leaves us in a time crunch when we realize how little time we have left in our days to complete the important tasks.
Focus on High Priority Tasks.
In referring back to the pie chart above, I suggest procrastinating the tasks that fall into the ‘everything else’ category in your mental priority breakdown. Through monitoring which category tasks fall into and weighting their individualized importance accordingly, we can strategically work on the tasks that are most high-priority and relevant to our long-term goals when we feel the most energized and least time constrained.
When we start with the high-priority tasks and procrastinate the low-priority tasks, bumping ourselves up against a deadline for these tasks that don’t inherently matter as much in the first place will designate inherent time limitations with regards to how long we can give ourselves to work on the task. Therefore the majority of our time can be spent working on the most high-priority items on our task lists.
Minimize Startup Costs.
In many cases, high levels of inefficiency stem from an overabundance of startup costs. A startup cost is essentially the additional time sink and effort that must be expended when getting your mind back to the place where it left off the last time that you worked on this particular project.
When you stop reading a paper halfway through and pick it up a few days later, it often takes your mind quite some time to re-situate itself in the world the author has created. Beyond the additional time that it takes to get our minds back to the level in our understanding of a particular topic that we were at the day before, it is also important to realize that our precise mental states tend to shift from one day to the next.
Don’t Start and Stop.
While there is generally a certain consistency about the way that each of us sees the world, we often wake up feeling like various different versions of ourselves depending on a series of different factors and stimuli that shape our view and interpretation of the world on any given day.
While it is often impossible to work through projects from start to finish in one day in order to eliminate startup costs altogether, minimizing the degree to which we start and stop when working on in-depth mental tasks will help us to both work through projects more efficiently and to increase the level of consistency in our writing and ideation processes.
Identity Magazine is all about guiding women to discover their powers of Self-Acceptance, Appreciation, and Personal Achievement. We ask that every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the current article they have written. In that way, and as a team, we hope to encourage and motivate each other, thus inspiring you to Get All A’s.
1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? Additionally, what are you still working on accepting? Now, we’re talking about resignation, rather stepping into, embraced, and owned.
I have accepted the fact that I am not a robot, and that I do have my limits. No matter how hard I work, sometimes I am just not be able to get through everything that I would like to in a given day.
2. What have you learned to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? On the other hand OR in contrast, are there elements of who you are that you’re still working on appreciating?
I have learned to appreciate my ability to stay closely tied to my work. When I wake up each morning, I am excited to jump back into the projects that I am working on. People have a tendency towards talking about the things that they would like to accomplish rather than just doing them. Sometimes you just need to trick your mind into starting things by acting first and reacting later.
3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? Tell us not only what makes YOU most proud but also share the goals and dreams that you still have.
I am proud of the fact that I maintain consistent goals and adjust my daily behavior to achieve my frequently changing goals accordingly.
4. Of course, we all have imperfections, or so we think. In truth, we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? Likewise, what imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
I am definitely a quirky person. I have some unique habits and don’t feel the need to adjust my behaviors and interests simply so that other people can try to put me into a box.
5. “I Love My…” is an outlet for you to appreciate and express all the positive traits that make you…well…YOU! In fact, sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (We assure you!) Therefore, Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
I love my work ethic. If you wake up every morning and steadily do something every single day that moves you closer to your end goal, the product or achievement that you are aiming for will take care of itself.