Have you ever had the experience of looking back on your week with the sinking feeling that you didn’t get as much done as you’d hoped? When building a successful career or a business of your own, your time is perhaps your most valuable asset, and your income is a direct result of how you spend your time.
You cannot buy any more time than you’re given, and the clock is always ticking. A few years ago, a friend of mine discovered a simple system that allowed her to nearly triple her productivity substantially increasing her earnings. With her permission, in this article I’ll share some very practical strategies she applied and you can apply right away to increase your effectiveness and efficiency by working smarter not longer and harder.
Identify Trust Busters
Work with a small group and identify “trust busters.” Discuss ways to avoid or eliminate trust busters.
Analyze the effort and results you are currently experiencing
The first time she kept a time log, She only finished 15 hours worth of real work in a week where she spent about 60 hours in her office. Even though her results showed that she was about twice as productive as the average office worker, She was still disturbed by the measured results. Where did those other 45 hours go?
Her time log laid it all out for her, showing all the time drains she wasn’t consciously aware of: checking email too often, trying to reach people on the phone when a text would have been adequate, excessive perfectionism, doing tasks that may have been important before handling the urgent ones, over-reading the news, taking too much time for meals, succumbing to preventable interruptions, etc.
Calculate your personal efficiency ratio.
When she realized that she spent 60 hours at the office but only completed 15 hours of actual work within that time, she started asking herself some difficult questions. Her income and her sense of accomplishment depended only on those 15 hours, not on the total amount of time she spent at the office.
So she decided to begin recording her daily efficiency ratio as the amount of time she spent on actual work divided by the total amount of time she spent in her office. While it certainly bothered her that she was only working 25% of the time initially, she also realized it would be extremely foolish to simply work longer hours.
Efficiency Ratio = (Time Doing “Real Work”) / (Time Spent “At Work”)
Cut back on total hours to force an increase in efficiency.
If you ever tried to discipline yourself to do something you weren’t really motivated to do, it most likely failed. That was naturally the result she experienced when she tried to discipline herself to work harder. In fact, trying harder actually de-motivated her and drove her efficiency ratio even lower. So she reluctantly decided to try the opposite approach.
The next day she would only allow herself to put in five hours total at the office, and the rest of the day she wouldn’t allow myself to work at all. Well, an interesting thing happened. Her brain must have gotten the idea that working time was a scarce commodity because she worked almost the entire five hours straight and got an efficiency ratio of over 90%.
Wow…surprise! She continued this experiment for the rest of the week and ended up getting about 25 hours of work done with only a total of 30 hours spent in her office, for an efficiency ratio of over 80%. So she was able to reduce her weekly working time by 30 hours while also getting 10 more hours of real work done.
If your time log shows your efficiency ratio to be on the low side, try severely limiting your total amount of working time for a day, and see what happens. Once your brain realizes that working time is scarce, you suddenly become a lot more efficient because you have to be. When you have tight time constraints, you will usually find a way to get your work done. But when you have all the time in the world, it’s too easy to be inefficient.
Gradually increase total hours while maintaining peak efficiency.
Over a period of a few weeks, she was able to keep her efficiency ratio above 80% while gradually increasing her total weekly office time. She has been able to maintain this for many years now, and commonly gets about 40 hours of real work done every week, while only spending about 45 total hours her office. She has learned that this was ideal for her. She discovered that if she tried to put in more time at the office, her productivity dropped off rapidly.
“The interesting thing is that the system that allowed me to optimize my effectiveness at work also created a tremendous amount of balance in all other areas of my life. Even though I was able to use this approach to triple my business productivity, I still gained plenty of time to pursue personal interests.”
Time logging is the intelligent choice to ensure optimal productivity without increasing your hours. But time logging need only be done periodically to provide these benefits. I do it for one week every 3-6 months, and over the years it has made a huge difference for me, always providing me with new distinctions. If I go too many months without time logging, my productivity gradually drops as I fall back into unconscious time-wasting habits. You’ll probably find as I do that your gut feelings about your productivity are closely related to how much real work you actually get done.
When you feel your productivity is lower than you’d like, raise your awareness via time logging, measure your efficiency ratio, and then optimize your efficiency to boost your productivity back up where it belongs. Time logging is a high leverage activity that takes very little time and effort to implement, but the long-term payoff is tremendous.