4 Ways To Work Smarter, Not Harder (While Getting More Things Done)


    In today’s fast paced and competitive business world, many professionals are feeling the stress of meeting management expectations. This often translates to heavy workloads and overtime hours, all in the name of getting things done and achieving results.

    But while busy is good on a certain level, it’s important to ask ourselves whether we’re being smart and efficient in how we’re getting things done. If you’re looking to get more out of your workday, while accomplishing more stuff at the same time, here are four important tips for you to consider.

    1) Make Your To-Do List Work For You

    Start by making a list of pending tasks and divide it into 3 sections according to their importance – high, medium and low priority. This is especially useful as it forces you to consider the timeliness of each task before attempting it.

    The next step is to take a look at your high priority list and extract the five most important. These items are tasks that will keep you in the office till you’ve completed them. Therefore, you should always schedule these tasks first to ensure that you have allotted time to complete them before populating the rest of your day with other tasks.

    Once you are done with Monday’s plan, you should attempt to plan the rest of the week as much as you can. This will give you an overview of how heavy your week is going to be and how you can better manage surprise assignments that may fall into your lap.

    Knowing what your tasks are helps give you the added confidence to decline certain unnecessary meetings and mundane tasks that can be outsourced to a junior staff on the team. Empowering juniors to do some work builds their work experience and reduces your workload too.

    It’s a win-win situation!

    2) Identify Distractions At Work And Ruthlessly Eliminate Them

    A little chat with colleagues here, a browse on ecommerce websites there, and replying to friends on Facebook with your mobile. While all of this may seem like harmless distractions to break the monotony of the workday, the truth is that they all add up. In fact, they could be the reason what you’re not getting things done as fast as you should and end up staying back in the office.

    If the thought of giving up these small pleasures at work seems difficult, then think of it this way. Exercising more self-discipline at work and ruthlessly eliminating any distractions, means that you get to knock off on time and spend quality time with your friends and family.

    Start tracking everything you do over the next couple of days and you will be able to identify these time wasters in your schedule.

    If your phone is the key distraction, turn it to silent mode and pop it into the drawer before starting on any work task. Open up all the windows that you require for the task at hand and resist opening new windows to browse non-work related sites till you are done.

    3) Take More Breaks (Yes, Really!)

    If you think taking breaks slows you down, think again.

    Researchers from the University of Illinois conducted studies in which groups were tasked to work on a mentally intensive assignment for 50 minutes. It was found that the group, which took more breaks, had the highest mental stamina at the end of the period. This underlines the point that periodic breaks are actually helping you recharge and resetting your attention span.

    In terms of the how long a break should be, much of it really depends on the type of task you’re working on and how mentally intensive it is. Based on the popular Pomodoro technique, you should be taking a 5 minute break for every 25 minutes of work completed. And after completing four 25-minute Pomodoros, you should take a 15-minute break.

    So don’t feel guilty about scheduling breaks throughout the day. You’ll need it to prevent burning out.

    4) Accepting That Multitasking Is A Myth

    The ability to multitask is often seen as a desirable trait in working professionals. But the reality is that our brains aren’t really meant to be doing multiple things at the same time. What many describe as multitasking is actually the ability to quickly switch between different tasks.

    However, anyone who has had to ‘multitask’ in such a manner will tell you that it can be quite exhausting and unproductive, as the mind is constantly in a state of stopping and starting on different tasks. The end result is that while we might be able to juggle several tasks at the same time, the amount of mental energy and resources we need for each task is higher. There’s also the drawback that we become less efficient at completing each task, while being more prone to mistakes.

    The best way to manage multiple assignments at the same time is to consciously set blocks of time for you to complete each task (while scheduling some rest time between each block). When working during each time block, try and give the task at hand your full and undivided attention. You’ll find that this will help you get things done faster, compared to constantly flitting from task to task.

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