Seven Principles for Better Work Efficiency

by Jhoanna O. Gan-So for Manila Bulletin & HR Club Philippines


There are generally three types of worker bees in every office:  those who act busy only when the boss is around, those who are busy but can't seem to finish the job on time and those who are busy but gets the job done.

The first type of worker bee, those who act busy only when the boss is around, is really not serious and dedicated to his job.  No amount of skills training can improve his work efficiency because his heart is simply not there.  What this type of person needs is motivational talks and coaching which will hopefully change his heart, if at all possible.  Most of the time, however, this type of worker bee needs constant supervision and monitoring.  Frankly, this type of worker bee isn't worth the time and effort for many bosses.  It is so much easier and worthwhile to work with the other types of worker bees.

Now the other types of worker bees have their heart for the job which counts for much.  People who have dedication for their jobs, whether or not they are efficient, have the potential to do great things.

If you or your team are already efficient, then congratulations, you are on your way to do great things together.  However, most people need to constantly and consciously improve their efficiency and effectiveness.  It is an on-going effort for self-improvement.  People who are most efficient always find ways to do things better.  That is the foundation of work efficiency---one's constant effort to do better.

So if you have the desire to improve your work efficiency, here are a few key principles to ponder upon:

Find a System that Works for You

This means learning to manage your time, space and workload as best you could using work tools that are applicable to your taste, lifestyle and type of work.  For instance, there are many apps available nowadays that can help you manage your time better.  Since I am an iPad user, I personally find the calendar, email and reminder apps crucial to my daily work life.  At the same time, I make sure that my work files, both electronic and printed documents, are organized properly.  That way, it is easier and faster to retrieve things exactly when I need them.  If you want to improve your work efficiency, you have got to find a system that works for you.

Working Smart vs. Working hard

We have all been told that we should work hard to get ahead.  This is partly true, but I believe, working smart is more important.  There are so many people who work so hard all their life and wonder why they have not gotten ahead of their peers.  What they do not see is that their more successful peers work smarter.  People who work smart take short cuts if they have too without sacrificing work quality and their integrity.  They use strategy and tactics that will get them ahead faster.  They do not work hard for the sake of working hard.  Comedian Ai-Ai delas Alas says it best in her Tanging-Inang movie, "Ang batang masipag, paglaki, pagod.". (A hard working child grows up very tired).

Dedication or Incompetence

Many hardworking people stay up late at the office to finish up work and go overtime, regardless of whether they get extra pay or not.  One would think this is commendable and what their bosses want.  Contrary to popular belief, companies actually want their employees to finish their work and go home on time, compared to staying until the wee hours in the office.  For one thing, staying late at the office is more costly for companies because of the added electricity costs and overtime pay.    When my husband was still young and very ambitious in the corporate world, he would stay late without pay.  One night, when he was about to go home, one of the VPs of the company saw him and commented, "Mr. So, you are still here..." Proud to be noticed by the VP, my husband said, "Yes, working hard, sir." To this the VP retorted, "I see, is that dedication or incompetence?" My husband got the point and finished his work earlier from that time on.

Perfectionism and Analysis Paralysis

Oftentimes, I encounter very brilliant people who have the creativity and talent to make a huge impact in their work.  But many get stuck because of two usual reasons:  they are either perfectionists to a fault or they overthink things to the point of paralysis.  In the end, they are not able to meet deadlines and they do not get to complete projects.  The real problem with perfectionists and over-thinkers is that they are afraid of making mistakes.  They can’t risk failing.  But efficient people, on the other hand, do not see mistakes as failing.  Instead, they see errors and problems as opportunities to see how they can improve their work better.  They understand that their daily output is not the end all and be all of their existence.  They forge ahead with doing what is good enough.

Getting Things Done Right the First Time

When efficient people do things, they make sure to give what is good enough on the first go.  This means listening to instructions carefully, planning what needs to be done, asking all the important questions they can think of, doing work with high standards and checking their work quality before submitting.  Doing things right the first time will save you and your boss a lot of time, effort, back and forth correspondences and resources.  What is the point of working hard to do work that is substandard or erroneous, only to be returned by your boss for further corrections or even a redo.  So do yourself and your boss a favour by always getting things right the first time.

Delegation vs. Abdication

Most of the time, we cannot do everything ourselves.  So it is important to seek help and tap into the expertise and skills of your colleagues.  If you are a manager, supervisor or team members, this means assigning certain tasks and responsibilities to capable people.  If you are not a leader, this could mean  volunteering for tasks that you are good and quick at and passing off things you find difficult or are slow in to your team mates with your team leader's consent.    Interestingly, many new leaders find it hard to delegate because sometimes, it is it seems so much easier to do things yourself.  But in the long run, your ability to delegate will make you less tired.  Take note, however, that there is a difference between delegating and abdicating.  Delegation involves assigning, guiding and monitoring your team to get the job done.  Abdicating is assigning the task and disappearing.  So delegate properly, do not abdicate, if you want things done right.

Following Through

Working efficiently and effectively, means doing work that gets results.  It means completing tasks from start to finish.  It is having follow-through.  I once had an employee who was dedicated to her work but not yet very skilled in work efficiency. She would prepare a Things-to-Do list daily which is good.  But she would scratch off things from her list even if the task was not done completely.  For instance, in her list, it says call the client.  She called the client's office, but he was not there.  Since she did the task, she scratched it off her list.  That of course, is a clear sign of inefficiency.  When doing things, we need to make sure things are done completely.  There must be follow through.

Striving to improve your work efficiency should be an on-going habit.  We must take the time to do things right and better always, because ultimately, working efficiently will save you time, effort and energy.  Being an efficient and effective worker bee will make your hard work and dedication worthwhile.  So always strive to improve your work efficiency.