Best Time Efficiency Hacks for the Generations

How do you save time? This depends on who you speak to and their age. Each generation has an affinity for different efficiency tools and techniques.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, tend to opt for multi-tasking because they believe that doing more than one thing at a time saves time. Truth is it doesn’t. Multi-tasking is counterproductive and decreases efficiency. Perhaps Boomers’ nonconformist ways make them stick to their beliefs. In fact, Boomers labels of themselves range from “self-obsessed” to “stuck in their ways” (Jane Holroyd, Sidney Morning Herald).

To improve efficiency, Boomers are unlikely to put in the effort to change their habits at this stage – unless they can buy it and it’s easy to assemble.

Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1976, are often labeled as the “slacker” generation. They appear to be uncommitted, unfocused and disorganized. They tend to move between jobs frequently, preferring a balanced lifestyle over the financial comfort that their parents craved.

Gen Xers, you can improve your efficiency by:

  • Closing all applications on your computer other than the one that you’re working on. This will help you maintain focus.
  • Do work in small manageable chunks, rather than tackling the whole project at once. This will help you reduce overwhelm.
  • When something needs doing, do it right away. If you think about it for too long, you may procrastinate and not get the job done properly (or on time).
  • If a task is boring or frustrating, think of something else that you might be doing that may be worse. Then use that comparison to start working on the task at hand that now does not seem so bad!
  • Every hour, take a ten minute break to refresh. When you do, you will have more energy and focus to attend to the task.

Generation Y (also called “Millennials”), born between 1977 and 1994, are the largest cohort since the Baby Boomers. They are labeled as lazy, debt-ridden and programmed for instant gratification. They are portrayed as demanding and unrealistic in their career aspirations. They also tend to be Internet-addicted and lonely.

Millennials don’t mind working hard, but they want to be judged on their output and results, rather than the total number of hours they put in. Their time efficiency hack is leveraging technology to help them gain greater work-life balance. In other words, whatever can be automated to save time, should be!

Here are some efficiency hacks for millennials by millennials:

  • When not in a mental state to work, hit the gym or go running. Don’t forget to shower before returning to work!
  • Return phone calls while waiting for the bus, taxi, airplane, or ferry.
  • When you have an idea, chase it until you figure it out. If you don’t, the idea may drive you nuts and lead you to procrastinate and be overwhelmed.
  • Instead of a computer, use an e-reader for reading books – the lack of multitasking actually helps you maintain focus because you cannot switch between windows with a browser.
  • Make friends that can save you time – for instance, if your friends love to browse online for the best deals, get them to tell you when they find a great deal. Then, all you have to do is “click” to buy. The homework has already been done for you.
  • Allocate one hour each and every day to handle e-mail and other “to-do’s” that you need to clear off your list. This can be either at the beginning or end of the day. This is a must for saving time!

Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2012, grew up with the Internet. They are incredibly technology-savvy and can be labeled as the iPad generation. These kids are just entering the workforce and you can bet that whatever efficiency hack they use, it will involve technology.

Generation Alpha, those born from 2010 onward, will likely be the most formally educated generation in history. They began school earlier (think pre-school or daycare at the age of two or three) and will be studying longer. These children are from older, wealthier parents with fewer siblings and they are already being labeled as materialistic (Baby Boomer déjà vu?).

Regardless of which generation defines you, the best way to be efficient is to rest when you need to, get over overwhelm, don’t procrastinate, plan your days in advance, and use your “to-do” lists to monitor your progress toward your goals.

What happened to achievement?

Several years ago, my son came home from school with a report card that included mostly B’s and A’s. When asked about the B’s, his response was that his teacher said that B’s were good. In fact, he said that his teacher told him that it’s okay to strive for B’s or even C’s (“as long as you pass”)—and not work so hard to get A’s.

We have become a society of underachievers.

Consider these facts: workaholics have higher social status, exceptional achievers live longer, and the ten most workaholic nations in the world produce most of the world’s GDP.

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints about how much e-mail and smartphones have taken over our lives. But let’s get serious for a minute. Has technology really taken over our lives? Or are we saying we’re overworked because technology runs our lives?

When we let technology run our lives, we end up wasting time on e-mail, cell phones, playing games on smartphones or computers … so much so that we become underachievers. Underachievers don’t complain about working hard on the trivial, but when it comes to working hard on the important, a proclamation of “overwork” is made.

The world’s most influential people such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and others rise to the top because they worked (and continue to work) hard to accomplish the important. Their passions drive them to succeed. These people are not overworked. It is not possible to be overworked if you love what you are doing.

For those that underachieve and proclaim to be overworked, perhaps the blame rests with personal coaches, bosses, teachers, and other authority figures—those who say, “There, there, you will do better next time.” Failure does not guarantee success next time. And giving an “’atta boy” for each failure only reinforces the failure.

With continued underachievement, our society’s general level of ambition is also threatened. Chamorro-Premuzic observes this about the younger generation: “If you go to China and East Asia, Gen Y is totally different, consumed with ambition, very similar to post-Second World War Americans and Canadians, who took advantage of a booming economy to set out to run the world.”

Now ambition is withering. He says: “We’re behaving like people who say that we don’t like chocolate ice cream because we can’t get chocolate ice cream. In the rest of the world, they want chocolate ice cream.”

The way to become an achiever and never be overworked again is to stop working in a job, get a career, and embrace hard work. These are the only ways to succeed—both personally and for your organization.

Tradition and Productivity

In the acclaimed Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the main character, Tevye, explains his society’s traditions in the song “Tradition.” The song juxtaposes village life to a world that is changing all around them.

In many respects, struggles faced in today’s organizations may be rooted in difficulty in letting go of tradition—an inability to change.

Consider that the world’s most successful organizations have one thing in common: they are able to adapt quickly to change. Aside from the fact that the top 20 companies in the world are all in the field of technology, this in itself is telling—companies that have embraced technology are the companies that continue to lead in both earnings and productivity.

To improve performance and productivity, companies use technology and its related gadgets, but if the technology does not provide useful information to the user and the organization as a whole, its usefulness is limiting. Technological tools must be able to provide information about performance in both directions. Let me give you an example.

Some companies implemented a web-based time sheet manager that includes two measures of productivity on projects—one for the employee and the other for their team. While the system encourages productivity, it only measures performance one-way—the way the organization has determined correct.

In this example, time sheet measures provide what the organization is looking for, but what is missing is employee input. Meeting targets is one thing, but did the employee agree to the targets in the first place? Are the targets realistic? How has meeting the targets impacted employee wellbeing? These and other considerations need to be incorporated within performance measures to not only improve on performance measures, but to improve on the activities that comprise productivity.

The approach described is typical of many organizations. It is, by all accounts, traditional and one-way—company to employee.

Company demands for maximum productivity needs to be coupled with meeting employee demands. This includes understanding the individual and their work as well as understanding what the individual needs to get their work done. In other words, companies need to listen to their employees before developing systems. This is especially true in today’s economy where Generation X and Generation Y have already displaced the Baby Boomers in the workforce.

Successful organizations need to change their systems and processes to meet the needs of the “what’s in it for me” generation (X) as well as the Gen Y kids who are very technology-wise and “immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches.”

The tradition carried into the workplace by Baby Boomers no longer meets the needs of organizations. Insisting on maintaining practices started in the 20th Century is not a tradition that will benefit 21st Century companies. The successful organizations of the 21st Century will want to work with their individual employees to learn how to accomplish more for the benefit of both employees and the organization.

Technology and Social Media on a Collusion Course

In the olden days (remember those?), technology didn’t have a place at work other than as a tool to get work done faster. Today, technology in the workplace is much different than it was even a decade ago.

E-mail has coupled with instant messaging, texting has coupled with mobile phones, and other applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, HootSuite, Klout, Ping…the list is almost endless…seem to be must haves for businesses and individuals alike. These technological aids invading the workplace no longer allow users to get their work done faster in an organization laden with “tradition.” In fact, the collusion of technology and social media in the business environment is having the opposite effect.

The complexities inside a business need an overhaul and this includes updating policies and procedures to include technology wherever possible. For instance, why use “approved” corporate travel agents when booking online is much faster? Get rid of your travel department (or travel roles) and allow employees to book for themselves. Allowing employees to use technology (like online travel booking) rather than relying on “tried and true” in-house processes can actually help speed up business.

And forget about middle management taking recommendations to upper management for decisions. Organizations should either do away with middle management or trust middle management (and other front line staff) to make decisions on behalf of the organization. The hierarchical structure of old no longer fits the technological revolution. If your organization is trying to fit technology into its deep hierarchy, it’s doing it wrong and the approach is hurting its bottom line. Deep hierarchies suck both efficiency and productivity out of the organization. In fact, it’s probably not an overstatement to say that deep hierarchies suck the life out of organizations.

Employees can only be productive if the bombardment of technology is managed efficiently. Give your employees access to all of the information they need, so they (and only they) can decide what information is important to be effective in their jobs. Essentially, it’s about employers loosening the “controls” on what their employees may (or may not) access. At the end of the day, productivity and results matter more than the steps taken to get there. But if those steps are enabled through technology, then productivity is also improved.

Employers that trust and value their employees will reap the results of improved efficiency and productivity and, ultimately, corporate success. Allow your employees to use a full range of technology to manage their jobs in the best way they see fit. When this happens, your employees will also trust you and the organization’s leadership. The end result is a win-win relationship that enables the company’s success.