Do One Thing at a Time to Achieve The Art of Efficiency

We live in a time when we work more hours and feel more stressed trying to get more done. Technology designed to simplify our lives robs us of attention and steals our time. Has the need for a more efficient way of working ever been greater?

Fortunately, we can learn to be more efficient at work, individually and collectively. Business consultants and business professors have long debated the relative merits (and even the definition) of efficiency in the business world. To put it simply, efficiency is about the input cost for the output produced. Efficiency is the care of the best use of resources and the least waste of time and effort.

Individual Productivity

One of the areas in which efficiency can be optimized is the workforce by increasing individual productivity – defined as the amount of work (products produced, customers served) that an employee does in a given time.

Not only can you ensure that you have invested in the right equipment, environment, and training to ensure optimal performance, but you can also increase productivity by encouraging your employees to put an end to a modern-day energy loss: multitasking. Studies show that it takes 25 to 40 percent longer to get a task done when you’re trying to work on other projects simultaneously. To be more productive, “do one thing, continuously, for an extended period of time”, advises Andrew Deutscher from the Energy Project consulting firm.

To help customers like Google, Facebook, and Green Mountain Coffee achieve maximum productivity, The Energy Project uses a wealth of physiological data about the basic human need for rest. The consulting firm, based in Yonkers, N.Y., teaches that key is a biological cadence known as the ultradian rhythm, which causes energy levels to rise and fall about every 90 minutes.

“At that 90-minute mark, you need to think about some kind of refresh to put fuel back into your tank before starting the next cycle,” said Annie Perrin, senior vice president of Facilitation and Programs. She recommends encouraging employees to grab a healthy snack, take a short walk, listen to music, or just step away from the desk, close their eyes and take a deep breath.


Collectively, more productive employees can contribute to a more efficient workplace. Companies can become more efficient at the macro level by refining the methods of what is known as the lean movement that emerged from Toyota’s highly collaborative and infamous manufacturing system.

The healthcare industry is an industry that has made great strides in workplace efficiency through lean management. Craig Vercruysse – COO for California Pacific Medical Center, which is part of Sutter Health, an extensive network of doctors and hospitals – says some Sutter facilities have redesigned their drug rooms to reduce the time it takes nurses to get supplies to collect. “If you save a minute for each nurse and multiply that by the number of times the nurses go to the drug room, that’s the material,” says Vercruysse.

But lean, efficient management is much more than incremental savings. “Lean is a kind of culture and philosophy,” says Klaus Lemke, Managing Principal of Minneapolis-based Lean Project Consulting, which preaches new ways to increase efficiency. For example, in the construction business, lean could mean that the subcontractors on a project – architect, electrician, plumber, landscaper, etc. – work together as a team to get the job done faster. Hiring an inferior contractor based only on the lowest bid could result in a project that is over budget or not on schedule – and that can affect a company’s reputation and long-term performance.

“When Lean works properly,” says Lemke, “it focuses on the value stream.” Efficiency in its purest form.

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