One thing a career in the military can teach you is efficiency! The workloads can be so overwhelming, and yet the mission is too important to go home until the job is done. That can mean either pulling a twelve hour shift…or finding ways to maximize your efforts, and those of your team, so you can accomplish your tasks and get home at a decent hour!
So here’s a quick list of tips we’ve picked up along the way, which might help you get ahead of the curve each day!
9) Use Your Inbox as a Task Management System
If your job requires any level of desk work, you likely have to utilize email. The problem with the way most workers use email is their inboxes get jammed up with messages from days, weeks, or maybe even months ago!
With all that clutter, it’s easy to lose track of things, or overlook an important task or deadline. One way to mitigate that is to aim for an “empty inbox” policy. Few things at work can be more satisfying than a clean white space in your email inbox, where once there were hundreds of annoying old messages sitting there. But is it really possible to have an empty inbox? It is, if you make it your priority to get it there!
If you receive an email, you usually have three options: take action, save it to take action later, or read it for information but take no action. If you are able to take action on it immediately, do so. Then archive the message in a subfolder (more on that soon!).
If you have to wait for more information, or on action of another person, try to reach out to acquire that missing piece, or contact that other person to ping them to take action. Your goal is to get your part done, so you can get that message out of the inbox and archived.
Lastly, if the message is informational only, read it, and save it in a subfolder. Never use your inbox to store old messages. Only keep whatever you are actively working on, and then, with your clear tasks right in front of you, aim each day, and throughout the day, to get those whittled down to zero. It can be done!
8) Archiving Messages
As mentioned above, you never want to treat your inbox like a storage hold. That’s what inbox subfolders are for. Make several of them, dozens if you have to. Invest the time to get specific enough so that, if you need to retrieve that saved message, you’ll know exactly where to look. If that means building subfolders off the subfolders, so be it.
Yes, it takes time, but in the long run, it’ll pay huge time-saving dividends because you’ll know exactly where to drag an email after you’re done with it, and exactly where to find it again, if need be.
7) Pick Up the Phone or Walk Over
For some reason, in modern society we have gotten so used to communicating with texts and emails, we often ignore our fastest method of communication–speech!
Unless you need a written record of something, try picking up the phone and just dialing the person next time you need to get or pass some information. It doesn’t always save time…sometimes you may end up still having to forward an email anyhow. But more often than not, especially if the topic is confusing or convoluted, a quick call can forestall a lengthy and overly complex email back-and-forth. Not only that but any communication where the parties can hear each other’s tone can often forestall any misunderstandings or mixed signals.
Or better yet, simply walk to their desk if you work in the same building!
6) Never Reinvent the Wheel
Why do people so often like to create things from scratch? There are very few original ideas in the world. Most offices which require some sort of item to be created for in-house use could save a ton of time by asking around other local offices if they have an existing template or product to use. If not, run a quick online search for a template. But why bother to create something from the ground up, when there’s almost certainly an existing item to at least get you started?
5) Eradicate Points of Failure
Some workers become such experts in their area that the workplace is lost without them. That’s a problem! Not to sound cold-blooded, but there shouldn’t be any person who isn’t replaceable at work. This doesn’t mean everyone has to have a backup to their job, but it does mean that every worker should maintain enough literature, “how-to’s,” or continuity references that, in the event of an emergency, another person could figure out how to do that job.
Don’t allow points of failure…and don’t be one yourself! If nothing else, keep one other person in the loop by talking to them and letting them know you may being “courtesy copying” them on certain topics, just in case they need to fill in. Nothing is more time-consuming and wasteful than trying to figure out how to do a task that another person’s been working on for ages!
Amazingly, people churn out tons of content, but often never consume it themselves. If you are ever unsure of how to do a certain task, yes you can ask someone, but it never hurts to look up the reference and read it yourself.
If you don’t know where to look, ask someone but then take the time to go actually dig into that reference and bookmark it or save it somehow so you can find it again. This is another one of those situations where it pays to invest upfront in a little self-education. Not only that, but all too frequently, we ask someone how to do something…but they tell us the wrong way!
Remember how I just said you should read and learn processes on your own? Well, after you do so, take a minute to paraphrase anything that might be valuable for others in your office to know about.
Usually, if one person has a question, somebody else has the same question. So by sending out such short, informational messages, you might just boost someone else’s productivity by saving them the time to go out and research. That said, always include a link or reference to your source, so they have it now, too!
2) Don’t Do Everything Yourself
Some people have a tendency to feel that they can get things done quicker on their own. The problem with this is that you never reap the benefits of delegating!
Yes, it’s an investment of your time to properly train another person how to perform a certain task, but if you are lucky enough to have someone you can delegate to, then you’re crazy not to take advantage of that!
1) Sometimes, Do It Yourself
We’ll admit, there are times–especially when talking about “one-off” types of tasks–when it actually is faster and better to just take care of the issue on your own, versus launching into some tedious explanatory conversation or email trying to tell another person how to do X, Y, and Z. Knowing when to do one versus the other is the key!
If you have a small, but somewhat complicated project, and you don’t expect to need to ever repeat the process required to get it done, it might be best to do everything yourself in that situation, instead of bringing others into the mix. Only bring others into the mix when it will make the process more efficient. If you have to train somebody, it may take more time to complete.