20 Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder (with Real-life Examples)

Every day, people are working harder and harder to get the same result. They feel like they’re not measuring up to their peers, while simultaneously working more hours than they want to.

Working hard is necessary but it’s not enough. Working smart is the key to creating amazing results.

This article shows you 20 practical examples and tips you can use to work smarter not harder—and come up with better ideas in less time. With just a little bit of effort, you can have a much more fulfilling career and experience life a lot more.

But first, let’s learn why “work smart not hard” should be your mantra.

Detriments of Working Too Hard

Many people (bosses included) equate hard work with working long hours, coming in early, staying late, working through lunch, coming in on weekends.

This willingness to put in more time is often seen as a strong work ethic. In reality, working longer hours doesn’t automatically equate to getting more done, or producing better quality results. It can actually be detrimental to your health and wellbeing, which results in poorer productivity and results.

Mental Health

Kathleen Doheny, writing for WebMD, says studies show that putting in long work hours raises the risk of not only diabetes, abnormal heart rhythm, heart disease and stroke, but also psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression.

PhD psychologist Bryan Robinson says work can grip you and take over your life, with debilitating effects similar to addiction. When you can’t turn off from work, it can lead to health and relationship issues.

Heart Health

How high are the risks of working hard with long hours? A recent French study of almost 150,000 participants showed a 29% greater risk of stroke from working ten hours or more for 50 days a year – not even full time, just one fifth of your annual work hours.

An even bigger study of more than 600,000 found similar results. Disruption of sleep, higher incident of accidents, mental health issues, poor work-life balance, lower work productivity and job satisfaction are other difficulties stemming from working long hours associated with “working harder.”

20 Practical Work Smarter Not Harder Examples and Tips

1. Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time

work smarter not harder examples stop multitasking

Why you should stop multitasking:

  • Splitting your attention over many tasks leads to ineffective work
  • If you are in meeting or in conversation, you may miss the important points
  • You are more likely to make errors while multitasking

Benefits of focusing on one thing at a time:

  • You process your task at hand much faster, since you are giving it 100% of your focus
  • As you focus on only one thing, the probability of errors decreases as well.

2. Take more breaks

work smarter not harder examples

When we are too focused on a task, we tend to forget to take breaks. Our brains get tired and distracted without real breaks. 

If the task is large, try to split it into smaller, manageable subtasks. By doing so, you can take breaks after each subtask is completed instead of working non-stop to complete a large task.

Pomodoro Technique and Flowtime are great ways to remind yourself to take breaks. 

3. Never start your day without a plan

work smarter not harder examples

One of the productivity techniques that works extremely well for me is to plan what I want to complete for each day. I start the day by putting 3-5 most important tasks on my to-do list. 

By doing so, I will know what I need to complete within that day and less likely to get distracted on other things. Sometimes, unexpected and unplanned tasks will show up and throw you off your schedule. Make sure that you complete at least 3 most important tasks while bringing forward the rest for the following day. 

4. Batch similar tasks together

Whether you are writing a report or compiling your expenses, there’s a certain set-up time required to get into the mindset of writing a report or compiling your expenses. You need to remind yourself how the systems work, line up the right documents on your screen or get the paperwork in front of you. This set-up time can hinder your productivity or even result in procrastination.

There are many ways to work in batches. Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Put all the documents you need to file into a tray on your desk. Do your filing only when that tray is full. 
  • Save up invoices that you need to pay and do them once a week or once a month rather than as they arrive.
  • Turn on your email, process it to zero, then turn it off again. 
  • Buy things in bulk
  • Set up meetings and schedule travel at the same time each day.

5. Track Your Energy & Find Your Most Productive Time of Day

There’s a specific time of the day when you have the highest levels of energy, focus and motivation, and that will enable you to perform at your best. If you’re trying to work against your body, when your energy levels are low, then any task will take double the time to complete.

So the next question is: how do you identify your biological prime time so that you can reap the benefits of it?

The best approach is to track your energy levels for a certain period of time to identify the peaks and lows. You can use Excel or Google spreadsheet to record all the data every hour.

You’ll rate your energy levels from one to ten, with one being low and ten being high with regards duration. It’s up to you, but it’s probably worth doing it for at least a week or two if you want to get the accurate data.

Once you have done this, you will know when to schedule your most important tasks around your peak hours to improve your productivity and performance. 

6. Shorten your to-do list

work smarter not harder examples

Everybody is over-optimistic about their productivity at the beginning of the day and tends to have the to-do list as long as possible. Long to-do list is intimidating. If you cannot complete all of them, you will feel demoralized. 

So keep your list as short as possible. The best is to have 3 most important tasks in your to-do list. Will you complete them all within a day? Most likely. In addition to completing these three important  tasks, you may still have spare time for other tasks – and other tasks are your bonus. 

7. Turn off notifications

You know notifications are very distracting but you still keep them on. Why? You don’t want to miss the important news or emails. It’s good that you keep yourself abreast of what is happening. However, most notifications are useless and only serve as distractions.

If you cannot turn off notifications completely, you can try the options below:

  • Only turn off notifications when you need to be the most focused
  • Set a different tone for different app notifications. That way, you don’t need to look at your phone and still know what notifications are coming.

You also can use apps to block notifications such as Freedom and AppBlock. 

8. Set up a Pomodoro timer

work smarter not harder examples

This is the technique that has been mentioned over and over by popular productivity gurus. You set a Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes for each task and take a 5 minutes break after completing each task. If the task is big, break it into smaller chunks and complete each chunk in a block of 25 minutes until you complete the task. 

Pomodoro technique may damage your productivity in the way that the timer can interrupt you when you are very engaged in the task. If you find Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for you, you can use Flowtime technique instead.

With the Flowtime Technique, you focus on one task at a time and then take breaks when necessary so you achieve a balanced workflow.

Use a stopwatch to keep track of how long you work on each task and take breaks accordingly. For example, if you work for 25 minutes, take 3 minutes break, if you work for 40 minutes, take 5 minutes break, if you work for 80 minutes, take 10 minutes break. The duration of break is up to you. 

If you want to learn more about Flowtime technique, Zapier has a very good article about this subject here.

9. Whenever possible, automate

work smarter not harder examples

Find out repetitive tasks that you have to do over and over and see whether you can automate those tasks. The following simple tasks can be automated by using tools and apps:

  1. Automatically fill in forms or login to a frequent website using LastPass and RoboForm.
  2. Scan documents using Scanbot or CamScanner
  3. Proofread your documents using Grammarly
  4. Send out mass emails using Merge Tools

And many other tasks!

10. Build a good morning routine

work smarter not harder examples

Every successful person has a successful morning routine. They know how to optimize their morning routine to maximize productivity, efficiency and ultimately happiness. The good news is, it is not hard to follow. Put in some effort and you can build your own successful morning routine. 

You can start your simple morning routines as follows:

  • Wake up early (this is the hardest part!)
  • Have a warm glass of water right after you wake up
  • Meditate for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Do some workout
  • Cook a good and healthy breakfast

Remember to leave out your phone – unless you use it for timer or listen to music/ podcast/audio books

Developing habits does not happen overnight. These things take time. One study in the UK found that it typically takes 66 days for a new habit to form and solidify. If you simply copy someone’s morning routine, like Elon Musk or the blogger you read last week, the novelty may last for a couple of days, but you’re far from making it a habit. Building territory and you’re probably going to derail. So, start small and track your progress. 

There are also some apps you can use to build routine such as Habitica, Today on IOS and HabitBull on Android.

11. Establish an evening routine

If you want to stick to your morning routine for a long period of time, then you need to put some thought into your evening routine as well.

When I’ve been derailed from my routine in the past, two of the most likely culprits have been a lack of sleep and a lack of organization and preparation for each habit and an evening routine can make both less likely to happen. 

For example, because I go to the gym every single morning, I always make sure to have my water bottle filled, my gym bag packed and my headphones charged before I go to bed.  Because I do these things at a specific time, each night, I’m also less likely to stay up too late, and that gets me into bed at the correct time for when I want to get up. If you don’t know when you should be going to bed, you can use a site like to set when you want to wake up and it’ll tell you when you should go to bed based on the science of sleep cycles.

12. Make meetings productive

work smarter not harder examples

Have a clear Meeting Objective, and write an Agenda. Nothing’s worse than sitting in a meeting and having no idea why you’re there. So when you’re leading a meeting, make sure that you are really clear on why you’re all there. What’s your objective? What do you want to focus on?

What do you want your participants to take away with them? And make sure that you have all of that set up before you go in there, so you don’t forget anything along the way.

Having an agenda will really help, because everyone will know what you want to cover, and in what order. It also makes the entire group feel like they’re included in the decision-making process of how the agenda or the meeting is going to run. And, if they have any preliminary questions that might have been interruptions, now they’ll know what you’re going to cover, or to save their questions until the end.

13. Set short deadlines (Parkinson’s law)

According to Parkinson’s law, our work will expand according to the time you allow it to be completed. For example: if you give yourself two weeks to complete something, it will take two weeks to do it.

 If you give yourself two years to do the same exact thing, then that work will expand to fill up that two years of time to complete.

The lesson here is: set strict deadlines, set a specific timeline for yourself to get things done.

14. Speed up Your Typing and Use Shortcuts

If you are working in an office, you always have to type. Whether you are an assistant, accountant, doctor, programmer, CEO, there’s a lot of benefits and abilities that you can unlock for yourself if you’re able to type fast. Here are some tips for typing faster:

  1. Keep your back and neck up straight that don’t just hunch over the keyboard
  1. Check the room temperature actually in the colder months. If the room temperature gets too cold, then your fingers will start to stiffen up. Make your room a bit warmer, and not only will you type faster, but you will also be more productive. 
  1. Don’t look down your hands
  1. Find a comfortable position for your hands
  1. Use Shortcuts – You can find a great general list of up-to-date PC and Mac shortcuts at It’s worth spending a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the best shortcuts for your computer and the programs you use most, as once you’ve mastered them they can be a great time-saver.

15. Urgent vs Important

work smarter not harder examples

This is old advice but it is always applicable:

 (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and 

(b) you must do what’s important first.

Urgent things include: checking email, answering calls or texts, even from clients, and social media. 

Things that are urgent often relate to other people’s goals, not our own. But important things are different. Important things are quiet. There’s no alarms, there’s no drama. Important things often relate to our own goals and dreams, not other people. And, unfortunately, it requires us to be self starters and important things are often easy to blow off.

Everyone has enough time to work on your tasks and reach your goals as long as you work on what’s important first and save what’s urgent for a little bit later.

And unless somebody is seriously hurt or your house is on fire, if something urgent tries to take your attention, ignore it until your important work is done for the day.

16. Learn How to Say “No”

work smarter not harder examples

Learning how to say “no” is an essential skill that can help you work smarter, not harder. Saying “yes” to everything can quickly lead to burnout, exhaustion, and a decrease in productivity. Here are some tips to help you say “no” effectively:

  • Be honest: When someone asks you to take on a new task or project, be honest about your workload and availability. Explain that you don’t have the bandwidth to take on any more work at the moment.
  • Offer an alternative: If you can’t say “yes” to a request, offer an alternative solution. For example, you could suggest someone else who may be better suited for the task or offer to help at a later time.
  • Practice saying “no”: Saying “no” can be challenging, especially if you’re a people-pleaser. Practice saying “no” in a polite and respectful manner to build your confidence.

Saying “no” can help you get more done by allowing you to focus on tasks that are essential to your job. It can also give you extra time to recharge and avoid reaching a point of exhaustion where your productivity plummets. Remember that it’s okay to say “no” and prioritize your workload to work smarter, not harder.

17. Delegate Tasks

work smarter not harder examples

One of the most effective ways to work smarter instead of harder is to delegate tasks. By delegating, you can free up your time to focus on more important tasks, reduce your workload, and prevent burnout.

Start by identifying tasks that can be delegated to others, such as administrative tasks or tasks that are not in your area of expertise. You can delegate tasks to team members, freelancers, or even automation tools.

When delegating tasks, it’s important to communicate clearly and provide all the necessary information to ensure that the task is completed successfully. Make sure to establish clear expectations, deadlines, and provide any resources or training needed.

Delegating tasks not only helps you work smarter, but it also empowers your team members. By delegating tasks, you can help them develop new skills and take on more responsibility. This can lead to a more productive and motivated team.

Remember, delegating tasks is not about passing off unnecessary tasks to others. It’s about leveraging your team’s strengths and skills to achieve better results. By delegating tasks effectively, you can reduce your workload, prevent burnout, and achieve better results.

18. Spend Time Outdoors

Spending time outdoors can be a great way to work smarter, not harder. According to a study, people who spend at least 120 minutes a week in nature are healthier and have a greater sense of well-being. Here are some ways spending time outdoors can positively impact your work-life balance and energy for the things outside of work.

Refresh Your Mind

Taking a break from work and spending time outdoors can help refresh your mind and reduce stress. It can help you come back to work with a fresh perspective and renewed energy. Even a short walk outside during your lunch break can make a big difference in your productivity and overall well-being.

Boost Creativity

Spending time outdoors can also boost creativity. Being surrounded by nature can stimulate the brain and help generate new ideas. If you’re feeling stuck on a project, taking a break and spending some time outside can help you come up with fresh solutions and approaches.

Improve Physical Health

Spending time outdoors can also improve your physical health. Walking, hiking, or even just sitting outside can help improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, and boost the immune system. By taking care of your physical health, you’ll have more energy for the things outside of work.

19. Use Templates

One way to work smarter, not harder is to use templates. Templates can save you time and allow you to focus on the important aspects of your work. Instead of wasting time creating the same document or presentation from scratch every time, you can use a template that has already been created and customize it to fit your needs.

Templates can be used for a variety of daily tasks, such as email responses, project plans, and social media posts. By using a template, you can ensure that your work is consistent and professional. Additionally, templates can help you save time by eliminating the need to start from scratch each time.

There are many resources available for finding templates, including online marketplaces, productivity tools, and software programs. Websites that provides great templates include Typeform and Paperform.

work smarter not harder examples
Typeform has many templates to choose from

You can also create your own templates by saving a copy of a document or presentation that you have created in the past.

When using templates, it is important to make sure that they are relevant to your needs and that you customize them appropriately. Templates should be used as a starting point, not a final product. By using templates effectively, you can work smarter and save time on your daily tasks.

20. Ask the Right Questions, Early

Asking the right questions early in the process can help you work smarter, not harder. By doing this, you can avoid potential roadblocks and misunderstandings down the line. Here are a few tips to help you ask the right questions:

Start with the end in mind: Before starting a project, make sure you understand the end goal and what success looks like. This will help you ask more targeted questions and avoid wasting time on irrelevant details.

  • Be specific: Ask specific questions that require specific answers. Avoid asking open-ended questions that can lead to vague or incomplete responses.
  • Clarify assumptions: Don’t assume you know everything about a project or task. Ask questions to clarify any assumptions you may have and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Communicate effectively: Make sure you are communicating clearly and effectively. Use simple language and avoid technical jargon that may confuse others.
  • Use visual aids: Sometimes, it can be helpful to use visual aids such as diagrams or flowcharts to help clarify complex ideas or processes.

Asking the right questions early on can save you time and effort in the long run. By doing so, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Let’s get these under your belts!

It will take a long time to master the habits and find the motivation to work smarter and not harder. But don’t wait until you’re drowning in a to-do list and days away from a mental breakdown to try these tips. The sooner you start, the sooner you can stop wearing yourself down and start working smarter and not harder.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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