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 smarter is the key to creating amazing results.
This article shows you 15 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.
15 Practical Work Smarter Not Harder Examples and Tips
1. Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time
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
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
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
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.
8. Set up a Pomodoro timer
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
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:
- Automatically fill in forms or login to a frequent website using LastPass and RoboForm.
- Scan documents using Scanbot or CamScanner
- Proofread your documents using Grammarly
- Send out mass emails using Merge Tools
And many other tasks!
10. Build a good morning routine
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 Sleepyti.me 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
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:
- Keep your back and neck up straight that don’t just hunch over the keyboard
- 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.
- Don’t look down your hands
- Find a comfortable position for your hands
- Use Shortcuts – You can find a great general list of up-to-date PC and Mac shortcuts at www.shortcutworld.com. 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
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.
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.