The expression “work smarter… not harder” has been knocking around since the 1930’s. Allen F. Morgenstern, an industrial engineer, created a work simplification program designed to increase the ability of people to produce more with less effort. He proposed a new way of approaching tasks not by being robotic or by squeezing as many tasks into a day as possible. Rather, he suggested simplifying the way people work by doing things faster in a more efficient way while relieving stress.
But what exactly does it mean to work smarter?
It means figuring out better, faster ways to work. It means finding shortcuts. It means discovering ways to work more efficiently and productively without expending any additional effort. Here are 6 tips from productivity experts who can help.
Know when to delegate
Working smarter means focusing on the areas in which you’re strongest – and letting go of things you’re doing even though you’re not particularly proficient in them. Most people tend to think it’s easier to do things themselves, but when it comes to working smarter, they sometimes spend a lot of effort on trying to fix the problems that they themselves created. To be more effective, you’ve got to know your strengths and weaknesses and be able to ask for help from people who are better at certain tasks and functions than you are. By delegating those tasks, you free up precious time to do the work you excel at.
Recognize and remove distractions
The most pervasive distractions are the ones you don’t even think about. Say you’re working on a new event rollout with several windows open on your PC… but one of them is Facebook. Out of pure habit, you check your news feed… and end up spending a minute or two reading your latest posts. A few minutes isn’t a long time, but it’s enough to break your focus and force you to restart your train of thought. A break like that can cost you up to ten minutes. Compound that happening several times a day, and you’ve instantly reduced your overall productivity. Shut that window!
Read (and save!) the manual
How many times have you read the instructions that come with your new phone, tablet, or other device? How much time do you spend looking up hacks and time-saving measures for the platforms you use? If you’re like most people, you dive right in and try to figure it out yourself – and may never learn the full power of the technology you use. Investing time in reading instruction manuals and getting appropriate training can yield many hours of return on investment. Macros, shortcuts, and other time-savers may not be immediately apparent, but can simplify your work.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
When low-priority tasks mount up on you, they artificially increase the length of your to-do list and distract you from more important work. One thing you can practice is “workload triage”: just as doctors as nurses do, decide what’s urgent and what’s important, and do those tasks, but also decide what’s not important or urgent and… ignore those tasks. They are simply not worthy of your time or attention. The bottom line here is that you must learn to say “no” to the unimportant tasks, in order to say “yes” to the important tasks and actually get them done.
Work when you feel like it
It may seem like working smarter means cramming your morning with tasks so you get more done sooner. But that’s ignoring your ultradian rhythm – the 90- to 120-minute pattern found in our sleep and waking hours. By taking more breaks and carving up your day into 90-minute segments, you can capitalize on your natural periods of focus, which can help you get more done.
Respecting your energy cycles is critical to working smarter, says performance consultant Heidi Pozzo. When you’re feeling focused and energetic, you get more work done in a shorter period of time. “A lot of people are really good at high concentration work in the morning. So, if you can, block your day in a way that the first thing you work on is the most impactful,” she says. And if you’re not a morning person, shift your schedule to suit your energy cycles.
Just walk away
Walking away from a complex task might seem counterintuitive, but breaks can literally make you more productive. Removing yourself from the work environment immediately reduces stress and gives your brain a chance to “catch up.” If you’re working on a hard problem, your subconscious mind will continue working on it even if your conscious mind is trying to relax – which is why solutions sometimes pop into your mind when you aren’t even thinking about the problem. Either way, you’ll come back refreshed and in a healthier, more focused mental state for work.