Image: Igor Mojzes / 123rf

While Singaporeans spend longer hours at the office than, well, everyone else, they aren’t exactly known for being the most efficient workers. In fact, unless you’ve been working as a private tutor your entire career, you’ve probably witnessed first hand how the guy who stays the latest at the office is never the most productive.

On the wishlist of many an overworked Singaporean is being able to leave the office earlier. On the other hand, if you’re not going to do the work of five people, nobody else will. Here are some tips for upping your efficiency levels at work so you can enjoy better work-life balance while continuing to meet your deadlines.

1. Time yourself whenever you’re working on a task

If you work in a boring job or are just easily distracted, tasks that usually don’t take too long can balloon to alarming proportions. If you’re constantly chatting with friends on Whatsapp (made easier now that there’s Whatsapp Web, you know it’s true) or sneaking peeks at Facebook while you work, you’re probably a hideously inefficient worker.

One thing that works for me is to time myself each time I start on a task. Record on a Word document the start and end time of all the tasks you did that day. The possibility of spending 3 hours typing up a single email is usually enough to scare you into speeding up and working a little more efficiently.

At the end of the day, go through your timesheet and see which tasks you finished quickly, and which dragged on for longer than they should have. The next day, work on improving your efficiency.

2. Start each day with a to-do list

Many employees in cash-strapped SMEs are forced to take on several roles at once. If you not only have to do your actual job but also help with IT troubleshooting, market your company and make coffee for clients, you’re in desperate need of prioritising.

People with a whole pile of tasks to do each day would benefit from creating a to-do list in the morning, ranked in order of priority, and then work on ticking all the boxes as they get through the day.

I have a lawyer friend who manages to leave at 6 or 7pm every day while her colleagues who do the exact same work leave at 10 or 11pm. I’ve seen her to-do list and it’s super detailed, each task broken down into smaller steps, and every single step ticked off methodically. That’s efficiency.

Image: Showbit

3. Listen to music as you work

Having to listen to the aunties in the next cubicle complaining about their kids is enough to break anyone’s concentration. If you work in an open-plan office, good luck to you, as you’ll be able to overhear every single conversation in every part of the office.

Listening to music can be immensely beneficial not only to shut out all that noise, but also to help you concentrate on otherwise complex, tedious or boring tasks. Many people don’t realise that it takes way longer to get back to doing a task once interrupted than it does to start on that task.

You’ll have to experiment a little to see what works best for you, but I find that when I need to give something my full concentration, classical music works best. When I’m doing a routine, mindless task like tying up invoices, something upbeat and catchy helps to perk me up and help me power through the work—in a previous job I once stayed at the office till 2am doing data entry, and would have died if not for my iPod playlist.

4. Plan for breaks, and plan ahead of time what to do during those breaks

If your eyes are so strained from staring at the computer for so many hours your eyes are starting to resemble Keropi’s, you need a break. Working for 12 hours straight without a break is not productive unless you’re some kind of machine, because sooner or later you run out of steam.

A friend of mine disappears from the office for 15 to 20 minutes while he relaxes downstairs sipping a kopi. He’s also frighteningly thorough in his work and very efficient, so his boss doesn’t mind.

The most important thing about these breaks is to plan what you’re going to do when you take them. If you spend your breaks surfing Facebook your smartphone, you’re not going to feel very relaxed when you return to work.

Taking a walk downstairs, doing some stretching in your office or having a coffee or snack are okay ways to spend your break. Just make sure you give your eyes a rest from staring at a screen or at documents, and really unwind for a while.

Make sure you don’t forget to go back to work, though. If you’re prone to losing track of time and accidentally taking 2 hour-long breaks, set an alarm on your smartphone to remind you when it’s time to head back.


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