09 Dec 2019  |   05:19am IST

7 vital habits to multiply your workday efficiency

Sunil Dias

Our days at work are often chaotic. At the end of the day, we often wonder how the day went by so quickly. With many incomplete action points in our daily to-dos, there’s a nagging feeling that we really didn’t do too much. Despite feeling that we were really busy. Despite the feeling that we spent almost every minute of our day doing something. Despite a weary feeling when we get home and wanting to do nothing more than having a quick dinner and going to bed. 

If you’ve been reading ‘The Business Owl’ series regularly, you would know that there’s a big difference between being busy and being efficient. But how do we make our day more efficient? This article looks at a few ways to bring in efficiency. So, you go back to your family in the evening with a smile on your face! And have more time and energy to follow those pursuits which you keep postponing. Who wouldn’t want some time to exercise more and get fitter? Or spend some quality time curled up with a wonderful book? And the 7 habits to multiply your workday efficiency are

Habit #1: Don’t treat all ‘To-dos’ as equal

To-do lists are easy to make. Most of us keep one. Yet, we tend to cram them with a ton of activities. Some surveys suggest that 40% of the items on a to-do list never get done! Tasks that do get completed, get done quickly. Typically, the easier stuff on the to-do list gets done. And often, many of the ‘dones’ don’t even feature on the to-do list. At an extreme, if your to-do list looks anywhere close to the one below, you’re in trouble

Monday: Get ready to plan your week

Tuesday: Plan your week

Wednesday: Revise your plan for the week

Thursday: Note plan for the week on your computer

Friday: Think about starting planning for the next week

While the above is an unlikely (hopefully!) extreme, it shows how obsessed we can become with our to-do lists. And without any results. Where’s the time to think deeply about your business and develop new strategies? 

What’s a better way to make to-do lists? Break down your to-do list into specific, actionable steps. Prioritise. Delegate the less important ones. Be realistic of what you can get done. Don’t try to do it all. Former US President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." From that quote stems the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Quite a useful tool to categorise your to-dos. 

Habit #2: No more than 2 important activities a day

Aim to do at least 1 and not more than 2 important activities a day. These should be mission-critical activities which involve creativity. When you start your day aiming at doing 5 important things, its likely none of them get done. Especially when they are swimming in an ocean of possibly urgent but definitely not important to-dos. 

Make all your important activities actionable. Break big projects into smaller tasks and then try to do them sans distraction. ‘Turn company around’ isn’t actionable in a day. ‘Identify 3 reasons for slow growth’ is an actionable activity. If we have un-actionable activities in our to-do list, we’ll keep getting disappointed by our inability to complete them. 

Try to do one of the important activities before lunch. Makes for a more enjoyable lunch and sets the tone for the second half! Of course, this is based on your personal preference. If you find your ability to concentrate better in the second half, then do the important activities in the second half. What’s important is to understand your rhythms andschedule your workday accordingly. 

Habit #3: Beware the big monster- email (and WhatsApp!)

Email, while useful, can also be a huge distraction. And WhatsApp’ getting there. The best thing you could do with both is use batch processing. Pre-determined times when you check email. At all other times, ignore it. And if it’s hard to ignore, turn off email / WhatsApp notifications from mail clients on your PC and phone. Ditto for social media. And if you are a news buff, remember that you get more informed news and insightful views some time after an event happens. So, fix a time to batch process the news as well. 

What if there’s a fire? You’ll know soon enough! And for all you know, it might get doused by the time you get around to responding to those ‘urgent’ emails!

Habit #4: Leave open spaces in your calendar

It’s difficult to precisely predict a day. It’s stressful transitioning quickly between a meeting to a phone call to some creative thinking. Leave some breathing space between activities. A 15-minute break between activities can make a world of a difference. Ideally, relax in those periods. If talking to someone makes you relax, do that. If a reflective silence makes you relax, do that. And never discount the relaxing benefits of a simple walk out in the open.

Habit #5: Say No!

It’s difficult saying ‘No’. But if you don’t want to or can’t do something, its best for everyone involved if you do. You save time and stress. And have one less thing on your already long to-do list. 

As Stephen Covey famously said - You have to decide your highest priorities and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.

Habit #6: Have fun!

Chill out a bit. Share a few jokes. Watch a funny video. Having fun can take the ‘edge’ of the day and increase productivity. Unless you do it the whole day! Plus, if you include your team in the fun, there is the added benefit of deeper relationships and team bonding. We humans are predisposed to perform better when happy. So, bring the fun back to work and take advantage of your internal programming.

Habit #7: Drink (good) Coffee

This one’s my favourite. Coffee boosts cognitive function, creativity and makes you more alert. Don’t believe me? Coffee was an integral part of JonyIve’s super-secure design studio at Apple. The same place where the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad were designed! And that’s just for starters. People swear by the different benefits of coffee. Right from keeping you more alert to reducing pain for desk workers, to helping you stay trim by giving your metabolism a boost.

So, keep time for coffee in your day. Its guaranteed to increase productivity!

Closing thoughts

So, those are the 7 vital habits to multiply your efficiency and productivity. Got some more to add? Strong agree / disagree with some of the habits listed? Do let me know. I’ll batch process responses to comments frequently! 


Iddhar Udhar