Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.

Work with how you spend your time in a day. Develop habits that can help you know what is important, what is not. With discipline, planning and organisation, eventually, you would find yourself working more effectively without wasting time.

1. Take breaks

It sounds counter-intuitive, but taking a regular break during your workday actually increases your productivity.

It’s also better for your health. Whether you work as a freelancer or work in an office environment, walking away from your desk will minimize eye fatigue and prevent blood-clots in your legs.

Research shows that even five minutes away from work is enough time to renew your focus. When the afternoon slump hits, take a break. For even more energy in the afternoon, skip the coffee and incorporate brain-boosting snacks like blueberries and walnuts. The healthy fats and antioxidants will give your tired brain a much-needed boost of energy and focus.

2. Make rituals a part of your day

Believe it or not, most of what we do everyday is actually habitual. So if we can develop healthy habits, then we can be moved to success with less pain and efforts. If we are used to doing the same thing at the same time in the same place, the environment and the habit itself can condition us and make us more efficient in what we want to do.

Start your day off right by using a morning ritual during the workweek. Incorporate ideas like morning pages, meditation, and exercise into your early hours to improve your focus. Great morning routines start the night before by prepping for the day.

End each workday the same way as well. Shut down your office. Clear off your desk of any clutter so that you can start each morning fresh. Whether working from home or an office, make a point to start a ritual that says it’s time to end the workday.

3. Have a “Do Not Disturb” block of time

The best part and worst part of working from home is that you work from home. People living with you can pop in and out of your office during working hours “just to chat” or discuss little things. Make it clear that between certain hours, you are not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency. Guard that time.

For working at the office, the same principle can be used. Inform co-workers that you don’t want to be disturbed.

4. Check email and social media at certain times only

It’s so easy to check email or social media several times a day. The problem is that quick looks derail your focus. It takes almost 25 minutes to return from a distraction. Shut off email notifications and stick to a regular email time—once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Do the same with social media. Everything will still be there when you’re ready for it.

5. Make a top 3 priority to-do list

Pre-planning your day is a must if you want to get things done. But instead of making a long to-do list, make a list of the three most important things you need to accomplish. By limiting your list to only three priorities, the list becomes manageable and not overwhelming.

6. Develop a time management system

Filofax, Erin Condren, and Franklin Covey are all very popular pen-and-paper planners. There’s something to writing things down. Evidence even shows that writing longhand improves memory. An added plus: decorating your daily pages can be inspirational.

If you aren’t into your own handwriting, there are apps and websites like Trello to help you out. Boards and cards can be broken up, labeled with colored tabs, and details can be added within each card. The possibilities are endless.

7. Organise your workspace

Make a regular effort to organize your cloud-based or desktop folders. This is a huge time saver. Use labels in Gmail or folders in Outlook for all your emails. Make everything clean and uncluttered. Learn to use shortcut keys instead of relying on your mouse.

Along with keeping your online workspace organized, keep your office organized too. Have a designated time (like Friday afternoon) to get rid of old papers. File receipts and invoices in a file cabinet or a portable file box. Having an uncluttered work area improves focus.

To work smarter, it isn’t just about having laser-focused attention and access to the latest apps and software. Know your limits and distractions and use that to develop a system that works for you. Keep yourself accountable. You’ll accomplish more without sacrificing all your time.

Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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