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How To Work Faster And Smarter

How To Work Faster And Smarter

As the old saying goes, “work smarter, not harder.” But what does that really mean? When there are deadlines looming, bosses looking over your shoulder, and clients ready to launch, how do you stay focused, and get everything done efficiently? How do you produce effective results, even when you’re under the gun?

Sometimes we know what to do, but we get distracted, or over-commit, only adding more onto our already full to-do lists. Everything soon feels like a priority, and it is unclear where to start and when to take a break. Going at that rate, burnout, sickness, and exhaustion occur, and then we are useless and can’t get anything done.

It will take will power, fortitude, and laser sharp focus to work more efficiently, but avoiding time-wasters can leave you with more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. These 10 things will help you to work faster AND smarter:

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1. Structure

Planning, using productivity tools, and scheduling tasks on your calendar can help. Set yourself up to win by breaking tasks down into manageable chunks, so you can know what is most important to do first, and still have time to take care of yourself, such as eating well, exercising, relaxing, etc. Without self-care, you lose efficiency due to being overworked.

2. Don’t multi-task

There is an illusion that doing many things at once is productive. Instead, it leaves you half-focused, and constantly switching gears. You may have a sense that nothing ever really gets complete this way. Set a timer, and work in 90-minute increments. Focus on that one task either for 90 minutes, or until it is complete. Then, take a break, and move on.

3. Urgent doesn’t necessarily mean important

What someone else thinks is urgent can create a sense of people-pleasing induced panic. If you know it is not important, then prioritize, and do what is most important first instead. You know best how to set your priorities and get your work done. So listen to yourself.

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4. Turn it off

Power down those phones, turn off notifications. Set up an autoresponder if you need to, but disconnect in order to avoid distractions. You will get more done, if you focus only at the task at hand and answer to all missd calls and notifications once you’re done.

5. Take breaks

Get up. Move around. Shake it out. Eyestrain and headaches can happen if you look at a computer screen for too long. Get outside for a quick stroll and come back feeling refreshed and energized.

6. Closed door policy

Hunker down and hibernate. People popping in and out of your office creates stops and starts in your productivity and you have to keep starting over again each time. Create true office hours and stick to them.

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7. The eye is on the prize

Keep the end in mind – the big picture. Focus on how great it will feel to accomplish the task. You are on your way if you are taking action. Staying focused on the end result can remind you of the big picture, so that unimportant pieces, or your perfectionism, can’t stop you from getting it done.

8. Celebrate the little victories

Projects take many steps until completion. Break down your project into these steps, and then do a little happy dance each time you complete a step. Rather than beating yourself up for what you haven’t done yet, taking time to pat yourself on the back as you go along, can give you the confidence to see it through to the end.

9. Say “no”

Don’t over-commit: When you are already on a tight deadline, don’t take on anything else. Put a moratorium on saying “yes,” to anything new until you complete this project. Don’t leave people hanging, but say you will contact them when you are finished. Stepping outside of the task at hand has you lose focus, and makes you feel overwhelmed and scattered.

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10. Stop saying “I’m so busy”

It is complaining, and complaining only makes you  – and everyone around you – feel worse. Instead of saying “I’m so busy”, say “I have already come so much closer to my goal”. This will encourage you to keep going.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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Bridget Baker

Web Presence Sherpa

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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