When defining time management, the terms “time-effective” and “time-efficient” are often used interchangeably. Yet, they have completely different meanings. Let’s start by defining each of them.
Effective (adj.): Adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result.
Efficient (adj.) Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.
To remember this, think of efficiency as being part of effectiveness. It’s not about just getting things done, but doing them the right way.
At work, time management is one of the most valuable skills for employees. In fact, organization and punctuality are among the top 10 soft skills employers look for. Knowing how to manage time both effectively and efficiently can be a real game changer in your career.
Time management values effectiveness over efficiency
Why do some people seem to manage their time and get things done so easily? They consider effectiveness before efficiency.
Efficiency refers to how well you do something. Effectiveness considers whether you should be doing it at all!
Say you have a list of people you need to call about an upcoming meeting. If you think in terms of efficiency, you consider the best time to call, whether their names might be put on speed-dial, whether the list is accurate and current, and so on.
But, if you think in terms of effectiveness, you would ask yourself, “is calling these people the best use of my time?” You examine options, such as delegating the task, or eliminating it altogether so that your time can be used more effectively.
Now think about your day-to-day tasks. Are you focusing on results or activities? If you focus on activities, you may not have really accomplished anything at the end of the day. Instead, focus on results.
A lot of people try to get more things done by multitasking. They stay busy all day, switching between tasks, yet they accomplish nothing. This is because the human brain isn’t built for multitasking. Working on two or more things at the same time is scientifically impossible. Yes, we can easily switch from one task to another, but the brain can only process one activity at a time.
Multitasking always gets in the way of effectiveness. By focusing on results only, you are more likely to avoid distractions and focus on a single task from start to finish, until you can cross it off your list.
Now that we’ve established the importance of effectiveness, let’s get into efficiency. How can you optimize the way you do things?
Set daily goals
Goal setting is a key component of time management. Setting daily goals allows you to think about what needs to be done and mentally prepare for each task. Some people find it helpful to make a list of their daily tasks. Lists can bring order to chaos, and help you organize what is otherwise overwhelming.
Goals provide clarity, purpose and meaning at work.
Prioritize your goals
Now prioritize for effectiveness. Remember that there’s no point in doing a job efficiently if you shouldn’t be doing that job at all. Think about what’s really important and how much time you’ll need to accomplish each goal. Then schedule an uninterrupted block of your time to do it.
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, was famous for his incredible ability to sustain productivity. He developed a method for prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance. To use time efficiently, you should focus primarily on tasks that are important and need to be done on the same day.
Shut down distractions
Distractions at work are the number one productivity drainer.
On average, people check their phones a few times an hour. You might not notice a big difference, but when you switch your focus to your phone and back to the task you were previously working on, you have a hard time concentrating again. This bad habit increases cortisol levels, the stress hormone, making you feel tired.
Now think about other distractions at work: emails, coworkers, social media, etc. Making a conscious effort to shut down distractions, at least for an hour, will dramatically increase productivity and overall performance.
Do this every day and you will start to see results, rather than spending time on day-to-day tasks without getting anything done.