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The Efficiency Expert: Getting More Done in Less Time (Short version)

By Marty Nemko

My friend Michael Edelstein asked me, "How do you get so much done? I've posted a chapter-length answer on this site. Here, in the spirit of efficiency, is a short version.

I care to be very productive because, by my definition, a life is well-led to the extent it makes a positive difference. All of our activities, indeed all the minutes of our life, could be scored on a meter from -100 (selling crack to kids) to +100 (trying to cure cancer), with 0 being neutral activities such as watching TV. I want my life's average score to be as high as possible.

Here are a few of the things I do to make the most of my time, to do things efficiently.

Despite having a full career coaching practice plus a weekly radio show, I've managed to find time to write five well-published books and over 1,000 columns, articles, and blog posts. Key is that I usually choose to write on topics that require no more research than some smart googling. This article is an example. Also, I defer perfectionism: I quickly crank out a draft and then review it multiple times. It's much easier to revise your way to excellence than to generate it out of thin air.

Within reach of the shower, I keep a memo pad and pencil. We're likely to get good ideas in the shower (and while exercising) because the warm water increases oxygenation to the brain and because we're not otherwise distracted.

Key to saving time painlessly is to stay aware of the myriad easy ways to save time. They really add up. Examples:

I took myself out to lunch today. I chose a buffet place because I can get in and out more quickly. I asked for the check in the middle of the meal so when I was ready to leave, I could do so without having to wait for the check and wait for her to return the credit card slip to me for signature. During lunch, when I wanted to take a break from eating, I took notes for this article in a memo pad. I was parked in such a position that by backing up 10 feet into a quiet intersection (that's illegal of course) I could save the two minutes it would take to drive around the block. I looked around to see if it was safe (including no cops around) and did it. Those activities, in total saved me at least a half hour and the process of trying to save time was fun.

Here's how I time-effectively process my U.S. Mail. I keep the recycling bin and a small trash can at the intersection of my bedroom and the stairs going up to my home-office. Every day when the mail comes in, I sort it as I'm walking to the recycling bin and trash can. Usually, in the 15 seconds it takes to walk there, it's almost sorted. I dump the recyclables, put the plastic-wrapped junk mail in the trash can, and scale the mail-order catalogs and other bedtime reading the 10 feet onto my bed. Tossing/scaling items is another fun way to save bits of time. Finally, I carry upstairs the stuff that requires more time or my computer.

After I've said good-bye to my last client of the day, my doggie Einstein and I take the 10-minute drive to the Lafayette Reservoir, a beautiful lake that we briskly walk around six days a week. I bring along my memo pad and an idea to think about. In between enjoying the scenery and other doggies on the path, I think about that idea, jotting down a few notes.


You may well not want to be as time-effiency-oriented as I am, but it's tough even to get life's basics done. Remembering the following may help you accomplish more of what you want to accomplish:

Time is our most precious possession. Be more conscious about how you spend it. As you're deciding whether and how to do a task, make a point of asking yourself, "Is this a good use of my time?" During the task, ask yourself, "Do I want to do this in a more time-effective way?"

You don't want to be one of those people who's always asking, "Where did the day go?" let alone "Where did the years go?" You want to be one of those people who feel, "I'm making good use of my time on this earth. I'm living a life well-led."

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