Our team has been learning a lot about animation this year, especially how to animate clean and quick in Maya. But knowing how to animate clean and quick isn't enough to get you all the way there. I have found that planning, knowing what you're going to do before you even touch the computer, is key. For some people thumbnailing their acting beats works best, while others like to shoot reference and study their timing, posing and acting choices, picking and choosing what works and what doesn't work. Which ever way helps you visualize your animation before you start in the computer, go for it. The important part is that you take the time to think before you act, that way you won't get lost in between planning and polish.