What actions or activities have you discovered help you do more but with less effort?
Here’s mine. Previously I sent out hand written cards. Last year I sent a simple holiday email (in bulk) to my clients wishing them happy holidays, expressing appreciation and gratitude for their business and support and that I was looking forward to working with them in 2010. My purpose was to send holiday greetings.
To my surprise I received back many thanks for good customer service and great products. Some customers promised orders soon. I also received some nice rush orders that needed to be completed by year end.
Before I answer your question, I just have to make a remark. Unless you want to become just another low-margin commodity, getting more efficient in some areas may not be the right choice.
Personally, I highly value getting a handwritten thank you note from my vendors and service providers. That to me shows real effort and puts you in a better category. Every "Happy Holidays" e-mail I got this year I actually filtered out, because I was getting too many of them and did not want my mailbox clogged. And because ut is so cheap to send out customized e-mails, everyone is doing it. Why be like everyone else and turn into just another commodity business? When it comes to customers, more attention and better "touch" is more important than efficiency.
Now to answer your original question, technique I use is to have every task pass a "money test". How will whatever I am going to make or save money for me (my client, my company)?
If you want to really learn efficiency, find an entrepreneur who is a mother of multiple school age kids and shadow her for a day. Those ladies are amazing! There is zero waste in their day.
The above techniques are good, but I think there's something more fundamental at work now: between the web, mobile and your desktop, nearly everything you do in your business can go - and should go for the sake of effectiveness - be digital. Three examples.
Look for opportunities to replace assumptions with better ways to do the same online. And, by the way, you might want to "upgrade" your ecards to Jacquie Lawson - awesome cards, $12/yr and well worth it. http://www.jacquielawson.com/
Being able to say no keeps good activities from stealing my time from great activities. I end up staying focused more and getting more done with less effort.
Automation. Anything you do more than a few times can be automated.
As a developer this comes naturally and I write programs to do all sorts of things. One additional brain cell freed up to think and reflect on my business ideas.
For the non-developers there are plenty of opportunities with all the software out there. Lifehacker.com is a good resource.
Rather than search for reading, I use Google Reader to organize my feeds, and check it twice a day. This reduces the time I spend daily just reading posts (although they are important to my work).
I use an online notebook (http://www.evernote.com ) instead of a paper one, which ensures that I don't lose my notes, and can organize them better than slips of paper.