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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 June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More About Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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