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7 Ways To Work Smarter, Not Harder

7 Ways To Work Smarter, Not Harder

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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