When reflecting on my first 10 years as a working human being; these are just some of the tips I’ve picked up that have helped me be more efficient at work.
1. Ask for help
This goes a little deeper than delegating tasks. This is about knowing what you know and don’t know. Knowing when and how to identify people who can help you and who have skills, knowledge and abilities you don’t have to get the really important things done. The sorts of things that stack up in the “achievements worth mentioning” column in your career.
This also speaks to surrounding yourself with people who drive you to improve your own skills and, if you’re a young manager, building a team of people around you who complement your skills and mitigate any weaknesses. Building sound relationships with people who want to work with you on the complex projects and problems that nobody else wants to touch!
2. Become a system super user
If you work on SAP, EXCEL, Outlook, Gmail, Google, Windows, IOS – whatever the system – these are the tools of your trade. Become a super user. One of my first jobs required me to create learning manuals – I spent nights and weekends teaching myself as many features and functions available in MS Word so that I would be able to work smarter and faster. I spent weekends learning Excel in my next job so that I didn’t have to spend weekends fixing broken costing sheets and formulas (and avoiding costly errors for my employer).Becoming a master of the tools of your trade means that you get more done, faster and more effectively.
3. Plan your week ahead
Be proactive with your time by planning each week in advance. This is not rocket science. Group similar appointments together. Book time for preparation for meetings (so that you are not the slowest person in the meeting). Make time for private appointments and rest breaks. Time for networking and enjoying yourself. Things that get scheduled are things that get done, according to the guru Stephen Covey. More importantly – if you can’t manage yourself and your own tasks vs time, how on Earth will you ever be able to manage others credibly?
4. Get to the point
When I started out in my career I thought I knew a lot of theory. I found myself explaining myself more as a means to clarify my own thoughts, in light of my own lack of experience. I wasn’t necessarily wrong, but I certainly wasted a lot of people’s precious time jabbering on. Keep your communication short and sharp. Action creates clarity – so have a bias towards doing more and explaining less. When you do need to explain yourself, use your own time (evenings, weekends, thinking time) to rationalise your thinking. Putting your many thoughts and ideas down into a short and clear message that people can decide and act on quickly. Don’t waste anyone else’s time. Communicate effectively so that people focus on getting behind the message and not debating your thinking.
5. Keep your emails really short
My email word count has dropped significantly over the last 10 years – probably by 90% or more. Nobody has the time or wants to read an essay in email format. Get to the point. Ask the question. Answer the question and most importantly, stop trying to “read between the lines and just read the lines”. If everyone wrote 25% shorter emails – we’d all spend 25% less time processing emails. It starts with you. And if you think someone may think you’re being rude by sending a short, crisp email, then they probably don’t know you well enough yet. In that case – pick up the phone or take a walk to the person’s desk and build the relationship.
I wish someone had explained these things to me 10 years ago, so that I didn’t have to learn them the long and hard way.
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