When defining time management, the terms “effective” and “efficient” are often used interchangeably. You can drastically improve your ability to get important things done when you understand the difference between these two mindsets of how to manage time.
Effective vs. efficient time management
Let’s start by looking at the definition for each:
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 just about getting things done, but doing the best things, and doing them in the best way.
How to manage your time for better results
Why do some people seem to manage their time and get things done so much better than others? They consider effectiveness before efficiency.
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 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, using a different mode of communication, or whether it can be eliminated altogether so your time can be used more effectively.
Efficient time management is about how well you do something, but effectiveness first considers whether you should be doing it at all!
For truly effective time management, you need to back up from your to-do list and first determine your priorities and goals. Where are there unnecessary tasks that you can streamline or get rid of altogether? What are the big important things that you’ve been putting off?
Think about your day-to-day tasks. Are you focusing on results or activities? If you focus on activities, you may get to the end of the day and feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at all. Rather than focusing on checking things off or just trying to pass the time, think about the big picture results you’re aiming for.
A lot of people try to get more things done by multitasking. They stay busy all day, switching between tasks, yet they’re no closer to reaching any personal or professional goals. This is because the human brain isn’t built for multitasking.
Working on two or more things at the same time is scientifically impossible. We can rapidly 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, 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 discuss how you can optimize efficiency to reach the results you want.
Set daily goals
Goal setting is a key component of time management. Setting daily goals allows you to align your activities with the big picture results you’re working toward. 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, 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 (now know as the Eisenhower Matrix) for prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance. To build more efficient time management skills, you should focus primarily on tasks that are important and need to be done on the same day.
After those tasks are done, then you can move on to the things that are less important and less urgent.
Shut down distractions
Distractions at work are the number one productivity drainer.
One study found that Americans check their phones every 12 minutes, on average. 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 immediately concentrating again. This habit can add up to significant amounts of productivity lost to the effects of task-switching.
Now think about other distractions at work: emails, coworkers, social media, etc. Making a conscious effort to shut down distractions so you can focus on a single task will dramatically increase your productivity and overall performance.