10 Best Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder
It’s the third straight week you’ve been working flat out on that one work project, yet the end still isn’t in sight. You’re starting to feel exhausted when you wake up in the mornings at the thought of exerting more energy into the project. You’ve given it your all, and it’s shaping up to exceed expectations, but at what cost?
Working hard underpins many company cultures and often infiltrates our personal lives. If we aren’t meeting our goals, it’s because “we’re not pushing hard enough.” The trouble is, this approach of giving your all to everything you do often isn’t sustainable. You end up burning out and needing to take time to rest.
What if there were another way? Newsflash: there is.
In this article, we’ll cover our top 10 tips for helping you work smarter, not harder.
What does it mean to work smarter?
Fortunately, working yourself into an early grave isn’t the only option for living a productive life. It’s easy to get your personal identity wrapped up in your work life and relate how hard you work to your sense of self-worth.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
Have some compassion for yourself; you’re human, after all, not a robot engineered to work around the clock. We’re here to tell you that you can be productive without resorting to putting your nose to the grindstone, bending over backward, or burning your candle at both ends.
Working smarter is about leveraging the hard work of others to create shortcuts and hacks for productivity in your life.
There’s an awful lot of wisdom out there, so you don’t have to become wise to work smarter — you just need to know the most effective tips and tricks for getting ahead without burning out.
When you work smarter, you can:
- Save energy to bring your best self to everything you do
- Boost your productivity levels to new heights so you can fly through your to-do lists
- Become a better employee, employer, or freelancer so you can increase your output, impress the right people, and ultimately rise up through the ranks
You’re here for actionable advice, and that’s what we’re going to deliver. Here are 10 of the best tips and tricks for how to work smarter, not harder:
1. Sharpen your focus
Switching tasks is an inevitability, as it’s rare that you’ll be engaged in a single activity for a long time. Yet, even when you have to switch tasks, it’s important that you apply yourself and give 100% to the task at hand.
Developing a keen sense of focus and heightened concentration levels isn’t easy, but if there’s one hack to sharpen your focus, it’s blocking out distractions. When there’s nothing to give your attention to other than the task in front of you, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.
Often, it isn’t the case that we’re working hard and not getting much done — it’s that we’re only able to work hard in 5–10 minute blocks of time. At regular intervals, the phone goes off, our browser hits us with an unwanted notification, and we’re back to square one as we try to recover where we were and lose valuable time.
Fortunately, there’s a solution: a tool that wraps up the answers to all of these problems in a single, shiny interface. The Stack spatial browser is built for productive people like you. This is a browser that supports you in your quest to reach a flow state by swatting away unwanted distractions and allowing you to truly focus on the task in front of you.
There’s Focus mode which lets you put up blinders and mute online notifications in an instant. Switch mode matches your online activity to the speed of your thoughts with convenient shortcuts. Dark mode is for those evening productivity sessions when you need to dim the bright glare of the screen that can jolt you out of your productive state.
2. Block your time
Time-blocking is a popular strategy for managing your time effectively.
Cal Newport, author of the bestselling book ‘Deep Work,’ advocates for blocking out your time to the minute. This might not be for everyone, but if you find that you often reach the end of the day and still have a laundry list of tasks to tackle, this detail-focused time management system could help you stay on track.
Simply block out your time and enter that information into your calendar, color-coding different activities. This will free up mental space because you no longer have to spend time thinking about what tasks you’ve forgotten and what you need to work on today.
While it might not be romantic to plan out your days and weeks in advance, systematizing your life this way can help you stick to a game plan and hit your goals. What’s more, you can even factor in those free-time activities that you never seem to have time for.
Wouldn’t you prefer to block out 30 minutes of time for reading in the evening and follow through with it rather than just think you’d like to read sometime but never actually get around it?
‘One day’ or ‘I’ll get round to it tomorrow’ thinking won’t cut it if you truly want to make progress toward your goals. Clarify when you’ll spend time on different activities, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to show up and do the work.
3. Find a system that works for you
When you have a system for working, it can relieve you of some of the burden of planning and execution. With a system in place, you can start work on a project confident that you’ll make progress, rather than going in blind and hoping for the best.
For some, a productivity system means using the GTD (getting things done) methodology or another comprehensive framework for making the most of your time. For others, it can be as simple as defining the parameters for work.
Say you use the Pomodoro Technique. You know that every time you sit down to work on a project, you’re going to apply yourself for 30 minutes and then pause for 5 minutes and continue with this rhythm until you fulfill your quota of work for the day. Using a system like this, you can work to your personal rhythm and find what works best for you.
It could be that 40 minutes is the sweet spot for you, and anything after that, you drop below your best. With that information, you can set up your timer accordingly and make sure that each work session is as productive as the last.
4. Win the morning battle
Every day when you wake up, you find yourself in a morning battle, fighting on multiple fronts.
On one front, you have to beat exhaustion and get up. On another front, you have to stick to a routine so as not to stray and get caught up in mindless scrolling. Finally, you have to fight not to slump into the couch with your morning coffee and spurn opportunities for productivity.
Just about every successful person you meet has a morning routine that sets them up for victory the moment they wake up. Tim Ferriss’ bestseller ‘Tools of Titans’ outlines in meticulous detail the schedules and routines of some of the world’s best performers in various disciplines.
Here are some of the activities that consistently come up:
Morning pages is an activity for getting your scrambled morning thoughts onto paper, clearing up your mental clutter for the day ahead.
It’s a simple exercise but a powerful one. Writing, for many, leads to clear thinking, as you’re forced to work your way through the weeds and get to the good stuff.
Morning pages are not only a decluttering activity, as they can also lead to inspiration, insights, and ideas.
The evidence for meditation is compelling: it can bring out structural and functional changes in the brain, improving your ability to focus and access a relaxed state of mind.
Sparing a few minutes to focus on breathing and nothing else can improve your well-being and put you in a relaxed state.
Meditating first thing in the morning can help put you in a good mood, and when you’re feeling positive, you’ll have a much easier time focusing and feeling motivated.
Some form of exercise in the morning is the perfect primer activity to set the tone for the rest of the day, allowing you to tackle the day proactively. Take the fight to the enemy with a preemptive strike, boosting your energy levels in the process.
It could be a brisk morning walk or commute, some jumping jacks, or a workout with weights. It doesn’t matter — so long as you get your body moving and your blood pumping, you’ll reap the rewards throughout the day.
5. Prioritize and execute
If you want to work smarter, not harder, you need to know how to prioritize tasks so that you aren’t wasting time on the small things.
The tendency to procrastinate on the most important tasks and projects in life is inevitable for many of us. In a study on procrastination in university students, the negative effects of procrastination are most often seen in the realms of work and studies.
Knowing that, we need to come up with an approach for establishing what our priorities are, so we can knock the big things off our to-do list consistently before they add up and threaten to overwhelm us.
It isn’t putting the laundry on that stops us from sleeping at night; it’s pushing back filing taxes until the next day or failing to work on that important assignment that’s due soon.
The best way to make sure you’re always working on the most important tasks is to use a digital to-do list tool. Apps like Todoist, Things, and even project management tools like Asana allow us to systematically work through tasks on our to-do list and assign a priority level to each.
When you can color-code your tasks according to priority and set recurring reminders or due dates, it becomes much easier to manage them and execute them consistently.
6. Outsource energy drains and time sinks
Energy drains and time sinks can be the bane of your productivity — if you let them.
Delegation and outsourcing can relieve you of the tasks that sap your energy and eat up your time, but automation is another strategy for lightening your workload.
Delegate all tasks that aren’t cognitively demanding to free up your brain to focus on more important activities.
For example, if you’re a writer, you can hire an editor or proofreader to go over your work with a fine-tooth comb, identifying and correcting any errors. If you’re a freelancer with a lot of client information to manage, you could hire a virtual assistant to take care of data management and client liaison.
You can automate repetitive tasks that don’t require your full attention using tools such as Zapier, which lets you share information between apps with ease and create automated processes that work for you.
7. Use metrics to inform your decisions
Without clear indicators that you’re making progress, how will you know that all the energy and time you’ve spent on a project has been worth it?
Metrics allow you to measure your productivity, and with the information you gather, you can make informed decisions as to how you structure your time going forward.
For example, let’s say you use a to-do list system, and you use the metric of tasks completed to evaluate the day’s work. You complete five tasks a day on average over the course of a week, so this tells you that if you’re unsatisfied with your current levels of productivity, you should shoot for six or seven tasks a day.
Over time, you’ll be able to see, using this metric, if you’ve made progress on a day-by-day and week-by-week basis.
You could also use time as a metric, noting how much time you dedicate to specific tasks and projects. This is easy to do using a time tracker or a Pomodoro Technique app. The tool will store all the relevant time data and often generate reports that you can use to track your productivity over time.
8. Batch activities
Batching is all about grouping similar activities together.
In essence, this will save you time and prevent context-shifting, which can drain your time and energy and lead to faster burnout.
To batch an activity, simply assign a block of time for it and complete everything all in one go. For example, instead of responding to emails as and when you receive them, resolve to tackle all emails at 3 p.m.
9. Learn to touch type
Touch typing is a skill that some people learn early on in life, and others don’t.
It can make the difference between an hour spent typing out a report and 30 minutes on the same task.
To touch type, you have to feel comfortable using all of your fingers to type on both hands and know where the home bar is so you can return to it by default (spoiler: it’s where the ridges are over the ‘f’ and ‘j’ keys).
There are many excellent courses online that teach touch typing through interactive stories, games, and exercises.
Typing with your two index fingers or every finger other than your pinkies is a recipe for slow typing, which can ultimately affect your overall output.
10. Communicate effectively
Regardless of the fact that most people understand the importance of quick and effective communication, it’s a skill few actively try to develop.
This is a mistake if you want to reach higher levels of productivity.
For most work-related activities, communication is the lynchpin that holds everything together and can determine how well people can work together and how quickly the task or project is completed.
As part of the transition to remote work, communication and collaboration have taken a hit, and 56% of employees say that these processes have changed.
The good news?
Communication has been made easy with a wealth of tools such as Slack, Zoom, and others that facilitate easy communication via several mediums.
Using these tips and tricks, you might still find that you’re working a lot, but we’re willing to bet you’re getting a lot more done and not at the expense of your health.
Setting up systems and metrics for productivity can help you make the most of your time and work through activities much more efficiently.
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