Making the Most of Your Time: 5 Ways to Maximize Efficiency

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Someday Is Today" by Matthew Dicks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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When should you delegate tasks? How can you streamline your decision-making process? Who should go on your “adversaries list”?

To reach your full potential and accomplish extraordinary things, Matthew Dicks says you must first learn how to make the most of your time. Stop wasting time on unnecessary tasks, accomplish necessary tasks as quickly as possible, and reap the most benefits from the tasks you spend time on.

Keep reading to explore Dicks’s five main principles for maximizing efficiency.

Principle #1: Differentiate Between Important and Irrelevant Tasks

To make the most of your time, Dicks says that you first have to disregard irrelevant tasks. Only then can you focus on things that are truly important to you—not to your boss, your friends, or any other outside entity. He explains that we waste time on irrelevant tasks because we make decisions based on our current thoughts and feelings, which are largely influenced by our environments (like the people around us), not what we truly want or what’s best for us long term.

To maximize efficiency and avoid wasting time on tasks that feel important but are actually irrelevant, Dicks recommends performing only tasks that would matter to your future self. This will ensure you’re spending time on things that truly matter to you (not someone else) and benefit you in the long term. To enlarge your perspective ask yourself: Would the task at hand be important to your 100-year-old self? Would they want you to do it? Or, would they recommend that you spend that time doing something else?

Recruit Others to Handle Necessary But Unimportant Tasks

Dicks recognizes that certain tasks must get done even if they’re not important to you. For example, repainting the house might not be important, but it must be done to prevent home damage. To manage necessary but unimportant tasks, recruit others to help you. You can do this in one of three ways: 

  • Pay someone to do the task for you.
  • Assign the tasks to a subordinate or willing party—for example, an employee, apprentice, or friend.
  • Ask someone to help you complete the task so you accomplish it faster.

Principle #2: Minimize the Duration of Routine Tasks

Second, Dicks recommends minimizing the amount of time you spend on recurring, routine tasks—such as doing laundry or cleaning the dishes—regardless of whether they’re subjectively important or not. Dicks explains that, since you perform these tasks repeatedly, they could take up large portions of your life. Getting them done faster will create more free time that you can devote to pursuing your goals.

Dicks presents three main tips to minimize the time you spend on routine tasks:

Tip #1: Create Efficient Systems and Routines for Completing Tasks

Dicks notes that using systems and routines to complete tasks will help you streamline the process and save time. For example, reduce the time it takes to dress your child in the morning by creating an organization system for their clothing—that way, you won’t have to waste time looking for certain items. Further, create a dressing routine that streamlines the process and ensures you don’t forget anything—brush their teeth, comb their hair, put on their socks, underwear, pants, and shirt, and then put on their shoes.

Tip #2: Minimize Decision-Making

Minimize time-consuming decision-making by planning choices in advance and limiting your options, Dicks recommends. For example, you might currently spend 30 minutes every night rummaging through the cabinets and deciding what to make for dinner. Instead, pick three starches, three vegetables, and three proteins for the week and eat them in different combinations so you don’t spend time coming up with and preparing complex meals.

Tip #3: Multitask When Possible

Dicks notes that multitasking will help you get more things done at once so you have more free time to dedicate toward your goals. For example, instead of taking 10 minutes to eat dinner and then another 10 minutes to review tomorrow’s schedule, review the schedule while you eat dinner.

Principle #3: Focus on the Macro Rather Than the Micro

Third, Dicks suggests focusing on the big picture rather than a task’s details. He explains that people waste time by focusing on small details that they think are important but that don’t really matter. They do so because they desire perfection—they think every small detail needs to be immaculate. However, this wastes time because most tasks and projects don’t need to be perfect—they just need to get done.

To avoid the trap of perfectionism and micro-analyzing, Dicks offers two tips:

Tip #1: Stop Worrying About What Others Think

Dicks explains that people often focus on unimportant details—like whether they should wear red lipstick or clear lip gloss—because they’re concerned about how others will perceive them based on their appearance, level of effort, and so on. Realistically, this is a waste of time because people don’t pay attention to these things.

Tip #2: Consider the Impact of the Task

Second, Dicks recommends, consider whether doing something will actually impact the end result—if it wouldn’t, don’t do it. For example, adding a fancy border to your work report might make it look nice, but it won’t change the content of the report or whether your boss will understand it. Spending time on this detail is wasteful—disregard it and move on to something that actually matters.

Principle #4: Optimize Sleep

Next, Dicks advises minimizing the time you spend sleeping while maximizing the amount of rest you get. Sleeping takes up more time than any other routine task—therefore, optimizing your sleep will save you the most time. 

Unoptimized sleep wastes time in two ways:

  1. We spend more time in bed than necessary—either because we sleep for too long or spend time in bed doing things other than sleeping, like using our phones.
  2. We do things that disrupt our sleep schedule, and therefore, our sleep quality—like going to bed and waking up at different times every day. This wastes time by making us sleepy and causing brain fog at times when we should be awake and productive.

Dicks recommends two tips to ensure you get the most rest in the least amount of time.

Tip #1: Create a Sleep Schedule and Stick to It

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day without fail. Sleeping and waking at different times each day confuses your body and reduces your sleep quality. If there are times when you have to go to sleep later or wake up earlier, Dicks says to stick to your schedule as much as you can—even if you go to bed late, wake up at your designated time, and if you need to wake up early, go to bed at your designated time.

Tip #2: Take Precautions to Get Good Sleep

Second, Dicks recommends engaging in behaviors that promote good sleep—exercise during the day to release energy, create a wind-down routine before bed to prepare your body for rest, sleep with white noise, and make sure the room’s a comfortable temperature at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body and mind will be ready to fall asleep as soon as you get into bed, so you won’t waste any time.

Tip #3: Sleep Less

Dicks contends that many people think they need more sleep than they actually do. After following the aforementioned suggestions to ensure your sleep is productive, he suggests reducing the time you spend sleeping to see if you wake up well-rested. For example, cut your sleep time by 30 minutes one week, then an hour the next—you might even be able to sleep as little as five and a half hours per night, as Dicks does.

Principle #5: Stop Spending Time on Negative People

Finally, minimize the time you spend engaging with and thinking about negative people, Dicks recommends. When you do spend time with them, you waste time thinking about things that don’t matter, like what caused their harmful behavior or whether you deserved it. Further, their negative behavior can rub off on you and cause you to be more negative—more self-doubting, more unmotivated, and so on—which sabotages your productivity.

Dicks presents three main tips for managing negative people so you don’t waste time thinking about them.

Tip #1: Try To Understand Them

Dicks explains that understanding why someone acted negatively will make it easier for you to forgive them and stop thinking about the situation. Further, even if you can’t forgive them, understanding them will put the issue to rest in your mind. This technique is most helpful when the offender is someone you have to remain in contact with. 

Tip #2: Avoid Them

If you can’t understand the other person, Dicks recommends avoiding them. Do this by either removing them from your life or creating boundaries to minimize your exposure to them. For example, if your parents frequently invite themselves over for dinner just to criticize your home and your cooking, create a boundary where they can’t come over anymore—you’ll go to them. This will prevent further criticisms that will plague your thoughts.

Tip #3: Add Them to an Adversaries List

If someone did something so horrible to you that you can’t understand them and avoiding them doesn’t prevent you from thinking about them, Dicks recommends adding them to a list of adversaries. This will help you put your thoughts about them aside for now. In the future, you can try again to understand them, or you can plan your revenge.

Making the Most of Your Time: 5 Ways to Maximize Efficiency

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Here's what you'll find in our full Someday Is Today summary:

  • Why most people delay taking action toward their dreams and goals
  • Tips for accomplishing extraordinary things in life
  • How to maximize your time, efficiency, productivity, and creative potential

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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