The demands on our time are relentless and continuously increasing. I’ve found an approach that seems to help, and in the hope it might offer value to others, I’m sharing a few thoughts on the topic. I admit to being obsessed with efficiency. This fixation is fundamental, at least for me, to keeping up with, and staying abreast of, the decisions, actions, reviews, planning, and million other things that cross the proverbial desk each day. If I am efficient, I can accomplish more in less time and with fewer resources. If I am not efficient, with a rigorous commitment to continuously becoming more efficient, I simply cannot keep up. This is what makes efficiency a critical skill and practice in business and life. Here are a few points to consider.
Unlike wealth or physical possessions, time is an asset no one can increase. It is fixed in quantity, which makes it rare, which means it is extremely valuable. Efficiency starts with treating time with this level of respect and valuation. That is not to say we should not relax, enjoy ourselves, and sometimes even indulge in a nice quiet swing in the hammock. It is to say we should always be aware of the special value of time and be cognizant of how we are investing this extremely scarce resource. As an example, I’m often approached with new ideas from potential vendors. I complete as much evaluation as possible before agreeing to any meeting. If we do have a meeting, it’s 30 minutes max. If I can verify in 30 minutes (or less) their idea has merit, then I’m willing to invest more time.
I also apply something I call the “4 Ds.” When presented a task or request, I try to immediately make one of our 4 decisions; 1) do – do it now – it’s a priority, 2) do not – don’t do it – it’s unnecessary or of very low value, 3) delay – plan to do it and put in on the schedule – it should be done but it’s not urgent or high priority, or 4) delegate – it should be done, but by someone else. The faster you can assign each task to one of these four decision paths, the easier it is to gain efficiency and effectiveness.
Decisions are not all the same, and vary in terms of importance, urgency, and impact. I once learned a very interesting perspective from a former boss who taught me to understand the “sliding scale” of decision making. Understanding the amount of information required to make the decision (clearly related to complexity and impact of the decision) and the amount of time available to decide, will help facilitate efficient decision making. For example, think about having 100% of all the information that could be available regarding a pending decision. Do you really need all the information for that decision, or is 40% sufficient? Maybe 40% is sufficient, but you have the luxury of more time to make the decision. To help ensure accuracy, why not increase your amount of information to 50% if more time is available? That is the sliding scale of decision making.
Last, it is mandatory to continuously and religiously declutter. Not once a year, not when you change jobs or offices, but on-going and every day. Paperless is a great first step which means digitizing any paper you must save and avoid printing in the first place. I remember a time when a clean desk was interpreted as someone who just was not very busy. Not anymore – it’s the mark of an organized person. This extends beyond the physical to the digital. It’s necessary to regularly organize and clean PC folders, email folders and shared drives. Don’t be a digital hoarder! It makes it so much harder to find and use what you really need. Apply careful thought and regular restructuring to your file structure (digital and physical). How you organize information has the greatest impact on the accessibility and value of that information.
Time awareness, the 4 Ds, sliding scale decision making, and decluttering are just a few of the ways you can gain efficiency. There are many books, courses, articles, blogs, and other materials/experts who can help you on your journey to becoming more efficient. Invest some of that rare asset called time in this area, and I’m sure you will enjoy the benefits!