5 Important Areas for Improving Efficiency (Part 1)

We all want to enjoy life and do work we love. Improving efficiency can help you do that. Here are 5 important areas to consider.


Table of Contents


Lack of efficiency causes problems

We’ve talked before about how a lack of efficiency can lead to big problems:

  • financial inefficiency ⇢ money problems
  • schedule inefficiency ⇢ feeling rushed, not having enough time
  • resource inefficiency ⇢ not having what you need
  • social inefficiency ⇢ conflict and loneliness ☹️

We don’t want to spend all our time thinking about improving life: we want to be enjoying life! But a little bit of efficiency thinking goes a long way. Here are five key areas that are important for everyone. If you improve your efficiency in one of these areas, you can see a good effect in all of your life.

Area 1: Knowledge

Knowledge is having the information you need, that allows you to do what you want to do. If you don’t have knowledge, you’re stuck. You can try random things, but they might not work. Without knowledge, you may not even be able to define the problem. Without enough knowledge, maybe you see the problem, but you don’t know how to arrive at a solution.

No information, wrong information, or incomplete information all lead to lack of knowledge. And lack of knowledge can lead to messy things like confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, and wasted time:

  • Not enough information ⇢ confusion ⇢ hesitating, don’t know what action to take, end up procrastinating
  • Lack of information ⇢ uncertainty ⇢ not sure which task to do first, or what project has priority… so don’t do anything!
  • Wrong information ⇢ assumptions ⇢ answering the wrong questions, doing more than necessary, wasting time.

To counteract lack of knowledge, which creates inefficiency and lots of frustration, try a few of these methods:

  1. Ask more questions. Asking more questions helps you to know what you don’t know.
  2. Identify your assumptions. Assumptions are dangerous. We have so many of them, and we’re so used to depending on them that we don’t even notice. When you’re facing a sticky problem, take a few steps back. What are you assuming? What do you actually know? You might discover some important information.
  3. Think about why. Uncertainty and lack of clarity come when we don’t really know why we’re doing what we’re doing. When you’re hesitating and procrastinating, start thinking about Why. Another way to ask the same question: What difference will this make?
  4. Take a little time. It’s okay to pause. It’s okay to need some time and space. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure.” We often have the information we need; we just don’t give ourselves a chance to find it.
  5. Seek an expert. An expert might be a subject-matter expert, a supervisor, an author, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a family member, a colleague. Who has experience in the type of situation you’re facing? Asking for help and seeking expert insight is a great way to get more and better information.

Area 2: Organization

If Marie Kondo hasn’t already convinced you, we’re here to back her up: clutter doesn’t spark joy. It’s also a cause of inefficiency, which makes us even more sad. If you can’t find what you need, when you need it, what good does it do to have it?

In our world of digital apps, documents, media, and more, digital organization is also important. Since digital storage is theoretically infinite, it’s easy to accumulate digital clutter, and not even notice. The frustration comes when we need to find that one photo or document or email or note, and it’s lost in a massive digital hoard of unorganized stuff.

To counteract disorganization, decisive action is needed:

  1. Delete or archive old digital items. If you get in the habit, it becomes easy. If you’re not comfortable deleting old documents, etc., then set up a folder for archiving them. You could keep one folder for each year: Archive 2019, Archive 2018, etc.
  2. Keep related things in one place. Keep all the cooking supplies in the kitchen. Keep all the pet supplies in one cabinet. This seems obvious for physical things, but it applies to digital life as well: Keep all the team communication in one app or messaging service. Keep all the event information on the calendar. Keep all the family photos in one cloud storage service.
  3. Do a regular clean-out. Stuff accumulates without much effort, so it takes some conscious effort to remove the stuff. The more often you do a clean-out, the easier it is. A short weekly declutter of even a few minutes can make a huge difference. Find a local charity and donate those items that aren’t adding value or joy to your life. Marie will be proud.

Area 3: Time

It’s been said that you can’t manage time; it keeps moving along, at the same pace, despite our best efforts to stop it, slow it, or speed it up. Time just won’t be regulated. All we can do is keep track of it as it moves along.

However, we can manage to make better choices about how we use our time. Many of our time management problems come to the same root issue: not having enough time. But is that really the cause? We all have the same amount of hours in the day and days in a week. Having more time isn’t possible. Using our time differently, though: that’s well within our power, and it can make all the difference.

Here are some common complaints regarding time:

  • Having to spend time on things that don’t matter
  • Feeling that certain things take longer than they should
  • Losing time to transition/in-between periods
  • Having uncertainty about the best way to use an open block of time
  • Trying to do more than is possible within a time period
  • Feeling that other people take or waste our time
  • Not knowing how to claim time for what we enjoy/value most

There are a few good ways to start reclaiming our time:

  1. Map your time to see what you can easily change. Some things are solid, such as work hours or school schedules. Beyond that, what parts of your schedule are easy to change, under your control? Focus on improving your time use in those hours first.
  2. Think about what you enjoy and value, versus what you do out of habit or obligation. Sure, some obligatory things are important. But we do many things out of habit, and we don’t have to. Begin to notice how much value or enjoyment you get out of each activity. Those that give you more deserve more of your time. Those that give you little value or enjoyment may need to be eliminated from your calendar completely.
  3. Try time-stacking for those transition or “down” times. Time-stacking is just a term we made up that means using “wasted” time to get something else done. Preferably, something you enjoy and value. Use commuting time to read your book or listen to a podcast. Waiting for kids at school pick-up line? Call a friend, or pick out recipes you want to try. The point is not to fill your time pointlessly, but to make the most of it.
  4. Do those low-reward but necessary tasks in batches and bunches. Some activities aren’t very rewarding, but are necessary: changing the tires on the car. Getting your certification updated. Fixing a computer issue. Making a phone call to customer service. Answering emails. You may not be able to avoid these tasks, but you can make them go faster:
    • Batch process by doing a lot of the same task (answering emails) all at once, at a time you choose, rather than letting them interrupt you throughout the day.
    • Bunch them together by doing some different tasks at the same time, such as washing the dishes while you listen to that annoying on-hold music from the customer service center.

Time isn’t completely in our power, but our choices are. Come back next week to read about the last 2 important areas that can bring a huge improvement with a little bit of efficiency thinking.


Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash