A guide for how to work efficiently (definition and steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Efficient work is an important contributor to the performance and success of both your career and the organisation in which you're working. This can mean being efficient with your time, adopting practices that improve your productivity and being flexible. If you want to make the most of your time, learning how to become more efficient is going to be very helpful. In this article, we explain what working efficiently means, how to work efficiently and the different types of efficiency.

What does working efficiently mean?

Working efficiently typically means that you maximise the outputs or performance of your work, while simultaneously reducing inputs and wasted resources. These resources could be the physical inputs of your work process or simply the time you spend. For example, assume that you're a carpenter working in a workshop making wooden tables and can make one table per week. If you can change your processes to make two tables per week with the same amount of time and materials, you've become twice as efficient.

Changes to work processes are often an integral part of increasing efficiency. For this reason, efficiency is typically related to creativity and innovation. It's also related to hard work, as reducing waste often requires extra steps and effort. It's also important to remember what your goals and objectives are, because how effectively you achieve them is central to how efficient you are. This is why prioritisation and organisational skills are important contributors to efficiency. Finally, efficiency requires adaptability and a willingness to change, because only by improving or changing old processes can you surpass their limitations.

Related: Effective vs efficient: definitions, differences and tips

How to work efficiently

If you want to work efficiently, it's important to understand the contributory factors and implement them in your work. These include open-mindedness, creativity and hard work. In many cases, increasing efficiency can require extra time and resources initially. To increase your efficiency at work, consider following the steps below:

1. Create a list of responsibilities

Efficiency benefits from an organised approach to your work. For this reason, a good first step is to make a list of all your responsibilities. You can make this list daily or for a longer period. Depending on your work, it might even be a good idea to develop two lists, namely one for immediate tasks and one for long-term responsibilities and goals. This can help you to determine how much you're going to do and whether your workload is reasonable.

2. Prioritise your tasks

Once you've got a list of your various tasks and responsibilities, you can start to rearrange the list in order of priority. Place the highest-priority tasks at the top of the list and the least at the bottom. In some instances, it can be a good idea to develop two parallel lists. This is because you may have less important tasks that are close to their deadline and more important ones that still have some time. You can therefore develop one list for deadlines and another for importance to help you organise your work.

3. Set a schedule with milestones

Without a strict schedule, it can be easy to spend too much time on particular tasks or become distracted. If you set your schedule, you can ensure that each of your responsibilities receives an adequate amount of your attention. You might also have a mix of tasks, some of which you can complete in less than a day and some which require regular incremental effort. You can use your work schedule to divide your time between these to ensure that you maintain your deadlines.

You can also rework your list of tasks so that each has a deadline. With the larger tasks that are going to take some time to complete, you can also break this down with smaller milestones. You can then divide these into smaller sub-tasks, each with its own deadline.

Related: What is time management? (Importance and how to improve it)

4. Delegate if necessary

An important aspect of efficiency is understanding how much work you're capable of completing within a given time frame. Once you've developed a prioritised list of tasks and a schedule, you may discover that you lack the time to complete them all on time. In this case, it's usually better to seek help or delegate some of your responsibilities as early as possible to avoid potential delays. When you're delegating, consider delegating the tasks that you're less confident about and assign them to capable individuals. This allows you to focus your efforts on what you do best.

5. Remove potential distractions

A major cause of inefficiency is allowing distractions to get in the way of your work. Some of these distractions are avoidable and it's a good idea to take steps to reduce their effect on your work. An example of this would be setting your mobile phone on silent or filtering calls and messages so that only essential work-related communications can reach you. If you work in a noisy office environment and this adversely affects your ability to focus, you can try to find unused office space that's quieter or perhaps use closed-back headphones.

Some distractions require attention, such as work-related phone calls and messages. With emails and other messaging that rarely require an immediate response, consider setting aside time in your schedule specifically for responding to these. Regarding phone calls, you can send out a message to the relevant individuals indicating times of the day when it would be convenient for them to call you. This is also something that you can introduce into your schedule to better organise your time.

6. Take breaks

In many cases, it's a good idea to include regular breaks throughout your daily schedule. This allows you to temporarily relax, get a cup of tea or coffee and recover your energy before resuming work. Although it can be tempting to simply try to work constantly for long periods, this can often decrease your productivity. Remember that efficiency is about using your time effectively, not about using more of it.

For example, you could work for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break every hour. Alternatively, you might find it better to work for 100 minutes and take a 20-minute break every two hours. Try out different approaches and see which works best for you and implement them in your schedule.

Related: A guide to the Pomodoro technique and how to use it

7. Reflect on your work

A significant contributor to efficiency is using your time effectively, but the actual way you carry out your responsibilities is also important. When you're working on a task, try to be aware of the process that you're using and analyse it as you work. With time, you may start to develop ideas for how you could improve this process. This could be anything from product design to communication protocols.

Alternatively, if it's difficult to simultaneously work and analyse your processes, take some time during your breaks or at the end of the day for this. You might even find it beneficial to keep a work diary or a notebook of your observations. Approach this like an investigation and analyse your processes carefully and with time, you're likely to discover opportunities for reducing waste, improving productivity or even updating products.

8. Track your performance

If possible, find ways of tracking your performance in a quantitative way. This can take a little extra time, but it can also help you determine if new practices are increasing your efficiency. Once you've got a set schedule, you can start tracking how much time you spend on particular tasks throughout the day.

You can then keep a tally of the number of outputs you produce. This could be the number of output items you produce, sales you made or client queries that you've handled. Compare this with the time spent on each and see if it improves over time.

Related: What KPI stands for and how to use it in your career

Different types of efficiency

Although efficiency is essentially about improving the ratio of resources used to outputs, there are two different variants of this. These are as follows.

  • Dynamic efficiency: This is a more proactive form of boosting efficiency, whereby you develop new processes or inputs that can increase your productivity. You can do this by investigating your work processes and practices and introducing alternatives based on your analysis.

  • Static efficiency: While dynamic efficiency refers to the introduction of new processes or products, static efficiency is when you improve something that already exists. This could be rearranging work schedules, removing unnecessary steps or finding cheaper inputs for existing processes.

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