Most time management advice focuses on ways to shorten your to-do list or improve your concentration. But if you’ve already delegated, prioritized, and Pomodoro’d—your next best option might be to actually work more efficiently, suggests time management coach Elizabeth Saunders in a 2019 article for Harvard Business Review.
Based on advice from Saunders and other work coaches, as well as my own experience working in a deadline-driven environment, here are a few ways to save time in your workflow.
1. Clarify expectations
At the start of a project, confirm the scope of the project with your stakeholders, Saunders advises. Do they really need a 10-page report, or are they actually looking for a 3-sentence email? Don’t sink three hours into a project you only need to spend thirty minutes on.
2. Look for material you can re-use
Existing materials can be adapted for your current project or used as a template. For example, if students frequently email you with questions about degree requirements, save a copy of your response as a template for the next inquiry. Or ask a colleague if they can share their go-to email response to student questions.
3. Create a deadline
Decide how much time to spend on a task, block it out on your calendar, and then stick to it. For example, if you know you tend to spend too much time in the research phase, pre-decide how much time you want to invest and stop when the time is up. Setting up deadlines for yourself keeps you focused and acts as a guardrail against rabbit holes, writes Saunders.
4. Pick up the phone or walk over
Depending on the issue, a short conversation might be faster and easier than an endless email chain.
5. Ask for help
In a 2018 survey by Harris Poll and LinkedIn, respondents said they would rather work for six additional hours than ask for help. But this is probably not the best use of your time or your organization’s resources. A separate survey by VitalSmarts found that coworkers of high performers often described them as people who know when to ask for help and the right person to go to.
More on time management
Nearly a third of workers would rather work six extra hours per week than utter these four words, according to one survey.
Piling extra tasks onto your workload will quickly lead to burnout and exhaustion—and can even impede your career progress, argues one Kellogg School of Management professor.