Whether in work or life, most of us strive to accomplish more in less time. Wouldn’t it be nice to do in a few hours what it used to take you half a day? By concentrating and minimizing distractions, you can. Let’s have a look at ten effective tips that will help you work smarter, not harder.
Work smarter by delegating more
Mastering the art of delegation is an essential skill. But if you’re a control freak, perfectionist or micromanager, it can be difficult. The key is understanding that the ability to delegate will make you more productive. One study even showed that CEOs who delegate experience lower levels of decision fatigue, fewer instances of burnout and generate 33% more revenue than those with low delegation skills.
Focus on high-impact tasks
Chances are, you have a long-running to-do list. Instead of trying to accomplish everything or get to inbox zero, focus on tasks that will have the greatest long-term impact. Work smarter by concentrating on the things that are most critical to your job performance and the company’s success.
Know when to quit
While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s essential to know when to shut down your computer for the day. You know the signs—your mind wanders, and you keep rereading the same sentence over and over. Or maybe you feel stuck, and it’s taking you half an hour to write a simple email. As tempting as it might be to burn the midnight oil, by stopping and picking up projects the next day, you’ll accomplish more in the long run.
Work smarter by batching activities
The idea behind this strategy is to tackle tasks in chunks to improve productivity. For example, instead of answering every email as it comes in (reactive), schedule blocks of time throughout the day to check and respond to email (proactive). Another idea is to set meetings back-to-back or even block time on your calendar for activities that require thought and concentration like research, writing or brainstorming. The logic behind this is that it takes time for you to get into a rhythm. If you constantly start and stop that process, you’re wasting time catching up where you left off.
Leverage your internal clock
Have you heard the saying, “timing is everything?” The time of day you work on certain types of tasks impacts your productivity. But it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach because each person has a different internal clock. According to Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, everyone experiences three productivity phases over the course of a day: peak, trough and rebound. During the hours leading up to and at our peak (usually around midday), we’re the most focused. That makes it a perfect time for analytical tasks. Conversely, when we’re at our lowest point (the trough), it’s a good time to focus on creative tasks.
Cut down your to-do list
Starting the day with a massive unrealistic to-do list will not only make you unproductive, but you’ll also feel like you’re setting yourself up for failure. A smaller to-do list is less intimidating and more achievable. Begin with your most important tasks (MITs) and limit the list to three to five items. That way, you will probably get more done, but you will be sure to accomplish those top three.
Don’t wait for motivation
One of the simplest methods to work smarter is explained by a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect. The Zeigarnik Effect states that not completing a task creates mental tension, which keeps it top of mind. The only thing that will ease this tension is to complete the task. Starting a project is usually the hardest part. If you can start focusing on a project for a few minutes, the brain’s desire to complete it should then take over. So next time you feel like putting off a task, just take that first step, and the rest will follow.
Manage your surroundings
Another way to work smarter is to minimize distractions. Make sure to hide that cell phone! One study found that having your phone present, even if you are not using it, can make you perform 20% worse than if it was out of sight. You can also use apps like Rescuetime, StayFocusd, or Freedom to block distracting websites or the internet out altogether.
Work smarter by decluttering your office
Not only will decluttering your office help you work smarter, but it is also good for your health. A study conducted by researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) identified a direct link between the stress hormone cortisol and clutter. Organize your office by getting rid of paper, trash, and any other unnecessary items. Also, nonessential software on your computer can be considered digital clutter. Try organizing documents into folders and delete any unneeded files. Finally, go through your inbox and archive important emails to focus on the most critical messages.
Work smarter in 90-minute blocks
Nathaniel Kleitman, one of the early sleep researchers, discovered that we operate in 90 to 120-minute cycles called “basic rest-activity cycles.” Science has proven that our brain can last for about 90 minutes at optimal levels before losing steam, after which it needs a break. Riding that cyclical wave can help our brains operate at peak efficiency. By working in 90 to 120-minute blocks followed by a 20-30 minute break, you’ll be able to concentrate longer, avoid distractions, and maintain higher energy levels.
We all want to manage our time. But by learning how to manage your energy, in addition to your time, your productivity will skyrocket.