One of the things I have loved about my life so far is the opportunities I’ve had to chase my interests, learn new skills, and explore different occupations. At different times, I’ve been a carpenter, a web developer, a quality engineer, and a content creator. It’s been a weird and winding path that has shown me many interesting places. But there’s one theme that’s been constant: The absolute importance of efficiency. Here are some of the best, most universal productivity tools I’ve learned along the way, that you can use to optimize your time.
1. Go Where the Wins Are
Think of yourself like a general, and the goal you’re working on as your war. Do you start by figuring out tactics like how to maneuver your soldiers and how they should act in battle? Or do you start with your strategy, and figure out which battles you should be fighting in the first place?
The first step to optimize your time is to put yourself where you have the most opportunity to succeed.
You could do an excellent job of winning a skirmish that doesn’t move your campaign forward at all. On the other hand, even a sloppy win on a critical battlefield could turn the whole tide. There’s a big difference between doing the thing right, and doing the right thing. Successful people know this, and this is why they always plan ahead. You’ll always create more value if you develop a strong high-level strategy before moving on to specific tactics.
What this means for productivity, is that there’s greater payoff to selecting high-value work. Before you optimize your tactics, design your high-level plan. Look for where you can get the biggest wins for the least effort. With that, you’ll skyrocket your output before ever even needing to worry about streamlining the work itself.
2. Respect the Tools
I used to work for a carpenter who had this fascinating original-trilogy-Yoda sort of vibe. He flowed seamlessly between seeming like a wacky goofball and a wise old sage that you just want to sit and learn from. One of the most important lessons he taught me came from a simple habit: cleaning every tool, every day, before we closed up shop. Cleaning up your workspace is not exactly a novel idea. But what this lesson ran deeper than that: he taught me to respect my tools.
Every trade has its tools. Whether yours include a tablesaw, a laptop, or a paintbrush, you’ll find yourself working more smoothly and with fewer issues when you take good care of them. And of course, this applies to you, too. You are your own greatest asset, and you’ll always run smoother if you take good care of yourself and give yourself healthy breaks.
There is so much to gain from the simple act of building respect for the tools that help you do your job. For one thing, cleaning, maintaining, and otherwise looking after inanimate objects endear them to you, not unlike caring for people. You will feel happier using these things, and understand how to use them better. Plus, a tidy workspace inevitably leads to improved productivity and efficiency. And of course, well maintained objects perform their jobs better, and for longer than if they are disrespected and abused.
If you want to optimize your time most effectively, respect the tools you rely on to get the job done.
3. Bring in Help
I’m a big advocate of building greater self-sufficiency into your time. Learning to take more responsibility for your own wants and needs has several significant benefits. That being said, you don’t have to do everything on your own, nor should any of us even be trying.
Everyone has a different set of skills, strengths, and abilities. No one can be an expert in everything, so we’re often better off by sharing in the skills of others. It’s always great to try out new skills and lower your reliance on experts for basic things. But some jobs simply need someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Ultra-successful people know that nothing worth winning can be won alone. Separate the things that only need to be “good enough” from the things that are critical to your success, and don’t be afraid to call in outside support to free yourself back up for what you’re best at.
And by the way, outside support doesn’t always have to be other people. This is a huge opportunity area to start automating your workflow to further optimize your time.