I imagine that, like me, you say that you never have enough time and that you just cannot cope with 60 dozen things all at once. How on earth do you get out of that spiral? Many people never sit down and look at how to work smarter, rather than harder and even longer hours. Here are 12 tips you should be following:

1. Improve your time management skills

Easier said than done? Well, no actually, because there are a few simple rules that can really help you to manage time better. For example, when setting up a top priority task, you need to switch off the phone and ignore your email first. Then you need to abandon any ideas of multitasking as that will slow you down and ruin your focus. Finally, set a reasonable deadline and do everything in your power to meet it.

“When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.” -Sir Ray Avery

2. Speed up your typing and use shortcuts

These days we’re all keyboard slaves. So, why not speed up your typing and try to get rid of the two finger syndrome. This is exactly what I am doing now, so I cannot honestly say I am practicing what I preach! But help is at hand. One of the best sites is Typing.com, which gets you going with free tutorials.

Using shortcuts on the keyboard is another time saver and can speed up your work. For example, press F2 to rename a selected file, while CTRL + I will put selected text in italics. There are so many of these; if you make the effort to learn them, they really can be helpful.

3. Learn how to use MACROS

It is well worth downloading this program because when you have to do a long series of boring repetitive tasks (especially with programs like Excel), a MACRO will do it with one click. Now that is really a great way of working smarter, not harder.

4. Use the phone more often

Instead of writing emails, it is often much better to pick up the phone and talk to the person responsible. It saves time. If that colleague works in the same office, it is even better to go and talk to him or her. It gives you a break, you get some exercise and you actually make human contact which is becoming quite rare in this electronic world.

5. Keep a tab on your tabs

If you are like me, you might well find that you have a ton of tabs open at the top of your browser. In order to find the one you want, you have to search for them as they are off screen. Having all these tabs open slows down your browser too. One solution is to use OneTab which can keep a neat list on the screen of all these tabs when you want to quickly get to one of them or you want to remind yourself which ones you have open.

6. Use a “to don’t” list

We all know about to do lists and I find that they are generally great. They give me a great sense of achievement as I cross off the tasks done. But often we find that we are doing nonessential tasks or ones that can easily be postponed. That is why many people recommend the to don’t list. Some people prefer to savagely prune the to do list while others prefer to have two separate lists, to do and to don’t. You just have to work out what works best for you when you are trying to save precious time to become more productive.

7. Expect failure and fight paranoia

When failure rears its ugly head, some people get a bit paranoid and fear that this may become a trend. Projects will go wrong and failure should be expected rather than feared. Learning lessons from failure and analyzing what went wrong is the best way forward.

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” -Richard Branson

8. Be concise

Rambling on at meetings, in emails and even when introducing yourself to new clients can waste a lot of people’s time. One way is to practice and sharpen your “elevator speech,” which tells people in 30 seconds or less why they need your skills and how they can benefit from doing business with you. Just think of the many situations where this could be useful:

  • Making new contacts
  • Talking about yourself at a job interview
  • Meeting people at conferences or parties
  • Phone calls to new clients

9. Ask the right questions

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” -Naguib Mahfouz

How do you get feedback? The secret is to ask the right questions at the right time. When you do this, you are gathering the information you need to help in decision making. This will save you time and you will be able to cut meetings to a minimum.

Forbes magazine reports on research that they carried out on asking the right questions. When that happens, the positive effects are increased by 400%. There are also other benefits in staff motivation and a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” -Albert Einstein

10. Learn as much as you can

You should always be on a steep learning curve. Look at your skills profile and determine where you need to fill a gap. Talk to important connections and network in your niche. Keep up to date on trends and developments. It is a fact-changing world. When an opportunity arises, you will be the best equipped to seize it because you have never stopped learning. Just another way of working smarter.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” -Mahatma Gandhi

11. Look after your greatest resource

No, your greatest resource is not time. It is YOU. If you do not get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation, you find that you become less and less productive. You begin to work longer and longer hours, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

What you should be doing is making sure you are in the best shape. It is useful to remember that you need a break of 15 minutes after every one and a half hours of work. Taking breaks and getting fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways of working smarter, not harder.

12. Don’t fall into the trap of working smarter and harder

As a society we are obsessed with doing everything smarter so we are more efficient and we save time all around. Great! The most important thing to remember is to accept when we are ready to switch off that computer and not fill up the time with even more work.

Let us know in the comments how you have managed to work smarter, not harder.

Featured photo credit: Rio the Black Mixed-Breed Dog with Newspaper/Found Animals Foundation via flickr.com

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