I once wrote a 150,000 word novel in 30 days. I also have been known to do more than an audition a minute, given the right circumstances. I’ve been called prolific. I’ve also been called an asshole.
I have to admit, I’m not as good as I used to be. I’ve slowed down at the ripe old age of 31. There are days now where I get to the evening and wonder, first, where all the time went and, second, what the hell I did with it. At least I understand what those mental signals mean: I spent a day being efficient, but perhaps not being effective.
So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look at the dictionary definitions of both, courtesy of Merriam-Webster.
Efficiency: the ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy (punching a glass window 30 times a second)
Efficacy:the power to produce a desired result or effect (using the door)
I want to talk about both. Being effective is important. In fact, it’s probably more important than being efficient. But today we’re going to talk about efficiency, and in case you couldn’t tell by the prophetic PART 1 in the title of the post, we’ll look at efficacy next time.
Oh, and don’t punch windows.
Here are some simple philosophies I use to do more, more quickly-er.
Do similar tasks at the same time.Have you ever seen a production line at a major factory? How about one where there’s still a large amount of human influence on the processes? Let’s take Pam, a starving actress who takes a job as a line worker in a widget factory, as an example. Do you see Pam running from the widget raw materials station to the widget boxing station, back to the raw materials station, and then over to the shipping-label-generation station?
No. Pam sits her ass down at one particular part of the production line and does that task over and over and over again. If she were to keep switching stations, she’d do half the amount of work in twice the time, and eventually she’d trip on that wire that Steve keeps leaving out on the floor even though she told him notto and break her ankle.
Break your task up into sections of similarity. For me, I don’t record an audition, listen back, fix things, mix things, export things, send things. I record EVERYTHING. Fix EVERYTHING. Mix EVERYTHING. I don’t do a grammar edit while I am writing a first draft. I don’t look up graphic designers in the middle of the chapter. I don’t - like I literally just did - stop writing a blog article to tweak the synopsis for book 3 of the Epic Failure trilogy. By doing that, I just made both of those tasks weaker.
Focus on one thing at a time. To make scrambled eggs, would you crack one egg, whisk it, crack another egg, whisk it, and so on? No. Crack all the eggs at the same time.
Master surrogate skills. This is one I don’t often see talked about. Every task you’re doing has a whole batch of surrogate skills that make that task stronger. Think of it like cross training. You can learn how to match foods to each other all day, but if it takes you 20 minutes to chop an onion no one will eat at your restaurant and you’ll die alone.
For me, two absolutely critical surrogate skills are typing and shortcut mastery. I type, on a good day, 150 words a minute. That’s the average person’s reading speed. I can literally write a book as fast as you can read it. What does that mean? It means when I’ve batched all of my other tasks and I am prepared to sit down and write, I can churn 3,000-4,000 words an hour, easy.
Yes, I know 150 x 60 is 9,000 words an hour. Shut your face.
Anyway, I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t mastered a surrogate skill. Suck at typing? Take a typing class. Do you infuriatingly right click your goddamn mouse every time you want to copy and paste something? Learn keyboard shortcuts and use them.
Quality control.The absolute best way to become outrageously bad at something is to do it poorly 10,000 times. You are literally becoming amazing at being terrible. You need to implement some sort of quality control in your efficiency processes to ensure that you aren’t producing a bad product over and over again. Don’t get so head-down-charge-forward that you forget to watch where you’re going. I don’t have too much process advice here. I just wanted to remind you that you’ve been walking for 3 miles with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.
So there you have it. A little practical advice for being efficient at whatever it is you’d like to be more efficient at. There is a huge amount of advice out there for being efficient and productive in your workflows. If you learned how to speed read, you could probably go and read 50-100 of them a day. You would become a master at reading articles on efficiency.
But that wouldn’t be very effective, would it?
More on that next time.