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10 Ways to Be More Efficient at the Office

by Doug Williamson
how to be more efficient

Everyone has gone home at the end of a long, hectic, frustrating day wondering exactly what they accomplished during their eight hours at the office. Endless meetings, mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, inconveniently timed phone interruptions, and of course, way too many e-mails. There has to be a better way!

how to be more efficient

The challenge we all face is figuring out how to rescue our individual sanity and improve our collective productivity. The fact is that most offices are simply not efficient because most people are not efficient. However, contrary to popular belief, it’s not a matter of how well organized we are. No, this is a matter of choices, practices, and disciplines to improve our mental acuity, the net result of which will be greater efficiency.

Here are some ideas that can help you be more efficient at the office. They fall into three broad categories and it’s all about getting the balance right.

Maintain Smart Discipline

1. Develop a strict time budget and stick to it. Decide how you want to spend your time and then track it relentlessly until you get it right. Make tough choices. Don’t allow random events to make you a prisoner of someone else’s agenda.

2. Schedule internal meetings only in the mornings – between 9 am and 11 am. Your team needs guidance to stay on course and remain efficient. Give it to them early in the day, in small doses as a group. Huddle-like. Standing is ideal. Don’t waste their time and yours with the impromptu end-of-day meetings that typically add confusion and raise anxiety levels.

3. Label your meetings ahead of time. Not all meetings are created the same. Some matter more than others. Some are for decision-making, others for information sharing or administrative updates. Be respectful, let people know what the expectation of the meeting is, and don’t confuse one thing with another.

4. Ruthlessly organize and categorize your personal priorities. There are some great web-based tools for tracking your various priorities and tasks. I use Priority Matrix and find it invaluable in ensuring I remain focused.

How to Eliminate Noise and Distraction

5. Don’t keep piles of paper on your desk. The endless piles of paper are not only distracting but they create a subliminal level of stress that is totally avoidable. Your desk is a working space, not a storage system.

6. Ignore reading E-mails where you are not the primary addressee. If the e-mail is not addressed to you then ignore it. Most of these particularly wasteful types of e-mails are either intended to show artificial self-importance by the author or are the plain cover-your-you-know-what variety. In either case, you have more important things to accomplish with your time. 

7. Read your e-mails only during set time periods. Whether on your mobile device or desktop, the constant scanning of your in-box is a habit you can and must break. In the process, you will allow your mind to get in a groove rather than having it ratchet aimlessly from one issue to another.

How to Decompress

8. Work from home one day every two weeks. We all need a mental break and a solid block of time to address the top-tier, more thoughtful, and contemplative work we all have. You will find this type of work is often best done when you change things up, put yourself in a different atmosphere, and maybe even work in your pajamas.

9. Block off your Friday afternoons for unscheduled time. Use the end of the week to sort out any loose ends. Allow yourself a 3-4 hour buffer at the end of the week so you can reflect, tidy up and go into the weekend with your mind at ease and all the little, annoying loose ends attended to.

10. Coach, Teach, Talk and Connect. Consider giving yourself an adrenaline boost by using some of your unscheduled Friday time to connect with people – to coach, teach or talk. Engage in some good old-fashioned relationship management to provide a sense of personal accomplishment.

Whatever you do, avoid the tempting embrace of being seduced by sweat. Instead, fall in love with the idea of working smarter.


doug williamsonDoug Williamson is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Beacon Group, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in Organizational Transformation, Effectiveness programs as well as Talent Identification and Leadership Development.

Featured photo by Ha-Wee

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1 comment

Eric December 20, 2012 - 10:56 pm

The one I live by is to clear the inbox every day. If you’re like most people, your inbox has 5,000 emails in it. For one, you’re going to be disorganized. But worse, you will spend hours fishing through them as you procrastinate higher priority work. When you do emails, delete, reply, or forward. Clear the inbox out everyday and get rid of the distraction. If you already have 5,000 emails in there, delete them–all of them. If it’s over two weeks old the sender already thinks you’ve forgotten and if they really need it, they’ll ask again. Start the new year with a clean slate!

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