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Effective Habits That Have Helped Me Work Less & Get More Done

In today’s world which seems to be moving at warp speed, working more efficiently has become everyone’s goal in hopes to achieve a desirable work-life balance and at the same time get more done.

With so many competing priorities in life, everyone is looking for that perfect solution through which all of life’s obligations can be met while staying sane.

As a proud Six Sigma, I look for efficiency in everything.  There is a joke in my circle of friends that if I could, I’d find ways to breathe and sleep more efficiently.

Although I am not sure I can ever live up to those expectations, I can definitely share with you a few effective habits that have helped me work less and get more done and therefore free up time to dedicate to other endeavors.

A key point to note here is that a lot of these habits have applied to me whether I have worked for a paycheck, or for myself, or a combination of both.

So invest some time in reading these, digesting the information and implementing what you can in your routine to see if they work for you as well.  For me, the benefits have simply been life changing.

Streamline Goal Setting

Without an end goal or destination in mind, a journeyman is simply a wanderer.  How do you know you are making progress toward your goal if you haven’t defined your goal?  Does it matter in which direction you go if you don’t know where you are going?

While it is nice to have several goals, and multi tasking sure sounds nice, it actually is counterproductive as you end up spreading yourself too thin.  Set a single goal at a time until you achieve it.  Focus your concentrated energy on the current goal until it is achieved.

If the goal is long term in nature (say 12 months), set yourself smaller goals in weeks or months’ increments which serve as milestones that reassure that you are progressing toward the bigger goal.

The exception to this are “lifelong-term goals” that run in parallel to your day to day life.  Getting and staying in good shape, eating healthy, saving for retirement, children’s education and buying a house are just some examples.

Keeping your eye on the prize will definitely help you get more done.

Cut Down Checking Email & Web Browsing

I have written numerous times before that cutting down email time alone can improve your productivity significantly.  Rather than having the email up all day, set designated times to check and respond to email.  I like to check mine once at noon and then again around 4pm.  These times have been proven to be the most efficient and effective after studying people’s emailing behaviors and patterns.

Though we may not realize it, checking email throughout the day, even if it is for just a few minutes each time, distracts us and takes concentration away from our current task on hand.  Keep in mind that the more you email the more responses you will you likely get.

Get in the habit of drafting clear and precise emails with if/then scenarios if necessary to ensure minimal back and forth.
If you are an avid blog reader, sign up for RSS feeds and check it once a day rather than bouncing on and off of blogs all day long.

Let the news come to you rather you spending valuable time searching for it.  If you have a blog or website as a side business, avoid checking traffic stats and Adsense earnings throughout the day. Again, designate a specific time for it once a day.  Checking email less alone will help you get more done.

Batch Process Tasks that Can Wait


Schedule routine tasks at your convenience, not at the conveniences of others. My wife and I always get into it because she expects me to pick up every single call at any time.  I am sorry but I simply disagree.

If I did that, I would be allowing others to control my time and day to day routine.  Other than calls to my cell phone from family and some very important people in our lives, anything and everything else can wait.  As I’ve learned overtime, there are seldom any emergencies. The world will go on just fine.

If you disagree, you can focus on batch processing other less “pressing” tasks such as checking mail, paying bills, routine paperwork, laundry, folding clothes, etc.  Schedule a set time to do all these tasks instead of spreading your time doing a little bit of each throughout the day.

This applies to both tasks at home and at work.  Momentum is very often underestimated. It is important that you keep the momentum going and distractions away from the current task on hand.

There is no subjectivity involved here. Batch processing is proven to help you get more done.

Cut Down the Commute

Working from home is a dream come true for many employees.  That dream however is increasingly becoming a reality in today’s economy where businesses are actually paying employees to set up their home offices so the companies can save on rent, utilities, office supplies and parking that it would otherwise have to provide to their employees.

But even if your company doesn’t support such arrangements, working from home can be totally possible.  You just need to convince your boss that you can be more productive and therefore benefit your employer.  I was able to do this successfully in my days as a consultant.  I tell you, work from home days were the MOST PRODUCTIVE days in my career as a consultant.

If convincing your boss seems out of reach even after numerous attempts, perhaps it is time to consider another job that allows you that flexibility?  Even if that new job compensates a tad bit less, you will be pleased to find out that your cost of living also decreases when you work from home.

Gasoline, car depreciation, toll charges, dry cleaning bills and expensive lunches are just some examples of expenses where you will save when you work from home.

I realize that not everyone is in a situation to work from home at will. If you are in a high enough position where you have autonomy over your schedule, try to work from home when possible. If you are an employee with less authority and autonomy, try the method above.

If you are able to pull-off working from home once a week, you will quickly see the numerous advantages, providing you have the discipline to stay away from distractions at home.  In the worst case scenario, you can force yourself into experimenting working from home by calling in sick or taking a personal vacation day.

While at home, work hard and get more than compared to your progress if you would have been in your office.  When you go back to work, take some time and communicate to your boss your increased productivity.  You may just get the approval this time around.

Wake Up and Commute Early

Get in the habit of waking up early and hitting the road before everyone else does.  You will save a lot of time commuting to work, be a lot less frustrated due to avoiding stop and go traffic all while earning brownie points from the boss for getting in early.

Getting in early has other advantages as well.  There are less distractions from coworkers, and as a result you can get more done and finish your day well before everyone else.

Did you know that a soldier gets more done before 10AM everyday than most professionals do all day?  While a professional’s alarm clock may go off at 7am, a soldier is up by 4am.  But as you can see, the impact on productivity however is much more than the mere 3 hour gap in the wake up times.  This stuff is real.

Pack Your Lunch

I know I know this involves waking up half hour earlier and doing work in the morning when you are still half asleep and cruising like a Zombie.  BUT – packing your own lunch has several advantages.

You can work through lunch rather than getting out in the middle of a war zone. Lunch time commute is absolutely horrendous.  Not only does it waste a lot of time, but it also builds a significant amount of frustration.

God forbid you have a bad lunch break, you might just ruin the rest of your day from a productivity perspective.  You also save some money in the process, both from fuel savings as well as having to spend on expensive downtown priced lunches.

As a result, you can wrap up the day and leave early, or stay the course and get more done.  So don’t forget to take your leftovers from restaurants dinners home and take it to work the next day, or get some of that deli meat the next time you go grocery shopping.

Take in Work Like You Would Reese’s Pieces

Approach projects in bite size pieces, particularly if you are someone who gets overwhelmed easily. Treat each project like a goal, with the final deliverable as the end goal.  This will allow you to set intermediate milestones, or smaller goals along the way to the end goal.

So start getting into the habit of splitting up major projects into smaller tasks to avoid intimidation and paralysis.  Focus on one task until it is done before moving on to the next.
Eliminate and Delegate

Again, my Six Sigma qualifications kick in when I speak of eliminating the trans-fat out of a process and start delegating the rest.  Study Pareto’s principle, also referred to as the 80/20 rule in modern day.  Cut out all activities from you day to day routine which you can live with and which do not add much value or bottom line results to the overall goal.

Take some time and analyze what 20 percent of your activities yield 80 percent of the results and simply focus on those.  You will be surprised of the results that come out of your analysis.

If you are in a position to do so, avoid doing everything yourself.  All successful business men and women have to start trusting others and delegate work at some point, whether they like it or not.  It is inevitable if you are going to succeed.

As a serial entrepreneur, I know that it can be painful to relinquish control, but this will save you a lot of time and headaches in the long run and get more done, especially if you take the time upfront and train the person who you delegate to.

The collateral benefit of delegation is that you empower the individual whom you delegate to, while freeing yourself to focus on other tasks that are more important to you.

Prevent and Block Distractions

Do not let your environment interrupt your work.  This is a lot easier said than done, especially today when everyone and their dog owns a Smart Phone.  If you are going to buy a gadget that allows you to be glued to Twitter and Fantasy Football updates all day long, please take the initiative to instill the necessary discipline to avoid doing so during working hours.

Your desk at work is likely too crowded to begin with to distract you, the least you can do is not add more distractions to it.  Put your phone on silent or vibrate and check it only during breaks and lunch hour.  When at the desk, plug in ear phones, even when you are not listening to music, to prevent others from disturbing you (DO NOT DISTURB SIGNS DO NOT WORK).

Send all incoming phones calls to voicemail.  If bugged by an occasional call or a personal visit from a shameless coworker or boss despite seeing you with earphones plugged in, indicate that you are in the middle of something and that you have a few minutes to help them.  Simply say “hi so and so, I am in the middle of something that I need to get done, but how can I help you?”

If you are a boss, keep an open door policy for a set number of hours per day and communicate this to everyone.  Cite work related reasons to maintain the good image and relationships.  Otherwise, shut the door and get to work.

The point is to get to the point and get them out of there.  You can always catch up on life, family and friends during your breaks and lunch time, or on the phone while driving during your down time.

If I was asked one single effective habit on how to get more done, this would be it.  Keep the eye on the prize by eliminating all distractions out of your path.

Make Most of Meetings

The best way to get nothing done is to have meetings all day long.  Set the agenda before entering into a meeting and stick to it without derailing.  Set a limited amount of time for the meeting, communicate it clearly to all constituencies involved and most importantly stick to it.

Meetings are the biggest joke in Corporate America in my opinion.  That said, some meetings can be beneficial.  Decide for yourself, and be very honest, what each meeting means to you and what you are to gain from it.  90 percent of the time it will be NOTHING.

Try to get out of meetings as much as you can, but make sure you get a lot of work done so you can tell your boss about it.  It will be much easier to get out of future meetings if you consistently prove that you are getting a lot more done than those who are busy killing their brain cells in useless meetings.

Because most meetings can truly be avoided, try to get more done over email, communicating as clearly and specifically as you can (but stick to doing email only twice a day at most).

The Employee and Entrepreneur – Who Gets More Done?

You may have noticed that my tone throughout this post is mostly geared toward the working individual, or the employee.  That is because the majority of earning individuals are working for a paycheck.  And because most people work for someone for a living, it is important that you are working in a job or career that you are passionate about and that which you enjoy.

If you can’t say this is true for you, although the habits detailed above will help in your current position, there may be another issue much larger that you need to address.  If so, you can implement the habits above to create a bit of free time during which you can start to find that ideal job now.

This doesn’t mean that you have to quit your job right away. Getting more flexibility in your work schedule today will allow you to research, network and interview your way into a job that completely satisfies and fulfils.  You can definitely make this your next goal to focus on.

If you are a business owner, or a successful career individual with a side business, implement some of the habits discussed above to remove yourself as the bottleneck of your business. Move toward business automation. Learn to analyze your business so you can eliminate the fat and delegate the rest.  After all, you do have a full time day job to focus on.

Concluding Thoughts

This list is not a one size fits all by any means.  Some may have resonated well with you, while others may have completely not made any sense.  Take the ones that resonate and implement them in your day to day life and observe the results.  They key is to consistently apply the habits over an extended period of time to truly assess whether it works for you.

I can’t say that any single one of these has completely changed my life. However, a combination of all these definitely have.  As a result, I have benefited from a much lighter workload on a day to day basis, better relationships with family, friends and folks I do business and work with, productive working routines and a ton of fun and peace of mind along the way.

Do you have additional tips or effective habits to get more done?  What has worked for you in the past? What are some of the challenges that have prevented you from implementing any of these in your life?

Here are additional effective habits that help get more done.

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15 Responses to “Effective Habits That Have Helped Me Work Less & Get More Done”

  1. Evan says:

    I am the WORST at optimizing my life – especially with emails and stats. I have to check (plus they are pushed to my phone) like 40 to 50 times a day between all my accounts.

    • Sunil says:

      :) I too used to suffer from OCD . . . I think I still am, but I do a better job of fighting it off. In all honesty, it is a natural tendency, particularly when you are first starting off.

      Did you know that FireFox has an Adsense plugin that shows a little icon where your lower right hand tray is? It updates real time each time you earn a few pennies. How cool

  2. Great tips revealed there!
    I think the distraction issue is the main one. We are all the time distracted by other collegues, but diffucult to tell them (all the time) that we need concentration.
    Also the meetings… Lot of meetings in the corporate is very bad for productivity. Sometime I spend 2hours in a meeting without any clear output.
    Thanks for the great tips!

    • Sunil says:

      The best definition of a meeting I’ve heard is TFerris’ version where he mentions something along these lines: Meetings are what corporate employees do because they actually can’t masturbate, or something along those lines.

      I am not against meetings, I am against unproductive meetings. Define the agenda before hand, and stick to it without wasting time. By forcing whoever wants to meet with you to define the agenda, we often realize that most meetings can be avoided to begin with. Unfortunately not all of us are in a position to make those “calls” in a corporate setting. However in our personal lives (whenever we are side gigging), we have all the liberty to call our own shots.

  3. Good tips Sunil! I agree with all of them, especially bringing your lunch an not going when everybody else is going. Makes me scratch my head why people go to work and leave at the same time to sit in rush our traffic, and go to lunch/breakfast/break at the same time.

    Your Guest Post is up! Cheers, Sam

  4. Sunil says:

    Unfortunately the hourly workforce (which is the mass) doesn’t have the option we do. Their lives revolve around the punch clock @ work and what their Manager tells them as what their start, break and end times are. For the rest however, I too find myself scratching

  5. What really helps me stay on track is keeping my email inbox to less than 5 items per day. I delete unnecessary stuff immediately and I handle all actionable items immediately. I do not like stuff to carry over until tomorrow. If it can be don today, I do it today!

  6. Sunil says:

    Robert, does that mean you have your email up most of the day and attend to it when you receive notifications? Or do you do what you mentioned during batch processing?

  7. Rob says:

    Deleting unimportant emails is key!
    Reading one forward can lead to another site, and then another.
    Repeat and rinse.
    Thanks, right on target.

    • Sunil says:

      Rob, you are right. I delete close to 90% of my emails after reading the subject line. Another 5% after reading the first couple sentences. The exception being my recognition of the sender.

  8. Steven says:

    I spend way too much time browsing the internet and checking my emails, I have stopped keeping a tab open with Gmail and try to only check it periodically

    • Sunil says:

      So, any measure of increased productivity that you can share with us since you started the new behavioral pattern?

      • Steven says:

        I find I get much more done if I sort out all of my emails first thing on a morning and then leave them until at least lunch time rather than checking every 10 minutes.

  9. I’ve found that starting my day with my most productive activity makes a huge difference.

    • Sunil says:

      Welcome to the blog Christopher

      I too like that approach, particularly when it is a quantifiable activity. There a huge psychological advantage to accomplishing a monster task right off the bat

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