These days, everyone needs to do more with less – and some people are nailing it. So what are those productivity superstars doing that you're not? Productivity and leadership coach Ellen Faye reveals some of the best tips for becoming more efficient.
1. Triage your e-mail
If you let it, e-mail can takeover you entire work day.
According to Faye, the best way to handle your daily deluge of email is to triage with a "FAD" system: file, action, delete.
File anything you think you might need for future reference, says Faye. Some people like a big, global filing system they can easily search, like dated folders (May 2017, for example), says Faye. Others are more analytical and prefer a system based on projects, subjects or tasks.
"Just find something that works for you, so you can get the e-mail out your energy field until you need it," says Faye.
The only e-mails in your inbox should be ones that require action. "If you file those in any kind of folder, you might as well forget they ever existed," says Faye. Label or star within your inbox to flag priority actions.
The main thing to do to streamline your inbox, Faye says, is delete. "Once you determine you don't need [a message], delete it immediately. Leaving trash in your inbox kills productivity because you can't find the important stuff," she explains.
2. Prioritize your to-do's
Divide tasks into four buckets. The first, "critical," is anything that has happen today or you can't leave the office, says Faye.
Next is "hot," which means anything that needs to happen in the next few days or you'll suffer a consequence, she says. "That could be it will cost you money if they don't happen, or you'll miss an opportunity, or you'll just be embarrassed," she explains.
The other two categories are "sooner" and "later."
"This system will allow you to focus your time and energy on the most important work," explains Faye.
3. Go with the "flow"
Everyone has a different body clock, a different "flow," says Faye. "When you listen to your body, your effectiveness improves."
Though not everyone has the luxury of setting their own schedules, most people can decide when to focus on what tasks within a workday. Are you more clear and creative in the morning? Use that time to do tasks that require those skills, like writing. Not so much in the afternoon? Knock out more mindless to-do's like filing.
4. Use the 80/20 rule
"Simply put, 20 percent input yields 80 percent output" in many instances, explains Faye. So know where you can give 20 and get 80 — by writing quick, non-perfect emails for example; or by bringing on clients that bring in high revenue and ditching the ones who don't.
But you also have to know when you do need to give 100 percent, like writing a proposal for a big new contract or when your boss asks you to take on a significant project.
5. Say "no"
Steve Jobs famously said: "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But … it means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying 'no' to 1,000 things."
If an opportunity is going to cost you time or resources, Faye suggests sleeping on it before saying yes. "People get all caught up in the excitement," she explains, but "24 hours can give you a whole new perspective. If it doesn't fit your goals or if you'd have to give up an even better opportunity as a result, you can say, 'No, thank you.'"
6. Set boundaries
There are several ways to set boundaries. One it to decide on rules for how you like work. If email is the best method for people to reach you, and you hate texts, tell people that.
Physically setting a boundary to get work done is also helpful. Close your door and put up a sign that says, "Do not disturb (unless it's an emergency) from noon to 2:00 pm."
Similarly, turn off notifications on your email or Slack. That way you control when and how you check it – it doesn't control you.
7. Set phone appointments
Sometimes talking on the phone is just the best way to have a conversation. Schedule your calls and set a 30-minute limit – that way you'll focus on the most important stuff.
8. Prioritize self-care
Optimizing habits like good sleep, exercise, eating healthily, hydrating and stress relief make you more productive, says Faye. And if you don't actively prioritize self-care, it's likely to fall by the wayside.
But only change one habit at a time – that will give you a 92 percent chance of success, says Faye, whereas trying to change even two habits at once drops your chance of success to 53 percent.