Insider Secrets for a More Efficient You in the Office

People aren’t machines, and you can’t expect to work like one. But you can harness their power to help you manage your time—and enable you to leave early for once.

Samantha Lear
office efficient time
Photograph: iStock

Clean House in Your Inbox

Only one of every 10 messages is vital to the workday, estimates Laura Leist, author of Eliminate Chaos at Work. Don’t let old mail pile up in your inbox. When you open a message, immediately do one of four things: delete it, file it, forward it or act upon it.

Cut to the chase

“Use technology to your advantage, not just as a tool, but also as a time-saver,” says Laura Stack, author of SuperCompetent. If you are sending the same information over and over—your credentials, requests, media replies—create a signature or template with pre-written text. In addition, text replacement tools like will take any length copy and assign it a shortcut. Your message will appear with the tap of only a few keys, saving you up to 20 minutes each day.

Stop trying to multitask

“Multitasking is code for ‘never getting anything done,’” says Stack. If you switch back and forth between tasks, you lose momentum on your current project. When you recall an important task in the middle of working on something else, fight the urge to do it right away. Add it to your list and go right back to what you were doing. The same applies for emails: Curb your instinct to check the inbox right away. Instead, make a rule in the toolbar that only allows alerts for messages from key players, like your boss, most important client or assistant.

Be smart with your schedule

Since you have ultimate control of your calendar, shape it in a way that works best for you—not for someone else. It’s essential to set boundaries on your availability so that clients and co-workers won’t expect to reach you at all times, says Leist. Be honest with yourself when setting a deadline, and only agree to a date that you know is possible.

Don’t neglect the long-term

Attaining any balance between day-to-day and long-term tasks can get difficult when you don’t schedule in time to work on bigger projects. “Everyone has a period during the day when they’re at the top 25% of their energy and their brain is capable of doing higher-level activities,” says Stack. “And that’s when you should work on long-term projects.” She suggests scheduling a recurring appointment each day to shut down email, turn off your phone and put an hour of energy into a high-value task. People will see you’ve marked this period busy in your calendar and won’t interrupt your progress.

Use one electronic task system                       

Centralize your to-do list in one application that can do at least 80 percent of what you need, says Leist. She recommends a management system that is cloud-based and remotely accessible, such as GoogleTasks or These allow you to keep on top of your tasks while away from your computer, and they help you to avoid wasting your time by rewriting lists.

Don’t start with the low-hanging fruit

“It’s our instinct to handle problems in the order that they make noise,” says Stack. Since projects rarely show up in order of precedence, we are left to set our own priorities. Take 10 to 15 minutes before you leave every day to create a short list of what needs to get done the following day, says Leist. Choose three important tasks to complete--anything else is a bonus.

Avoid the “drive-by”

In a busy office, we tend to overhear people and get distracted. By facing the door of your office, you are likely to make eye contact with passersby and engage with them through a wave, smile or small talk. By the end of the day, these little interruptions have added up to 10 or 15 minutes of time-wasted, says Stack. Avoid this by turning so your back is to the door, or at a 90-degree angle, and wearing a noise-cancelling headset to keep out background noise.

Shred it

First Published May 10, 2011

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