02 Mar Stop wasting time: 8 ways to work smarter – not harder
Not getting enough done at work? Feeling sorely behind? Caught between wanting success and lacking work-life balance? Do you just want a little more time? One thing is true. We can’t manufacture more time. There are only 168 hours in a week and 24 hours a day.
But you CAN make way better use of the time you have. You don’t have to work long hours to be successful. You can get plenty done in fewer hours. Research suggests the average American work is productive a little less than three hours a day. Yes, you read that right. While many of us work long hours, it turns out that we are all wasting a lot of time. The time you fritter away is better spent on doing what is important to you like spending time with friends and family, exercise, or hobbies.
Saving time helps you make time for what matters
Working smarter is about applying some simple and proven time management and productivity techniques. When you do this, you might be able to save as much 1-3 hours at work every day. Then, you can take that “saved time” and spend it on what really matters – exercise, time with friends, time with family, or pursuing a passion project.
Here are some simple steps to work smarter, improve your productivity, and get more done. The key is to take this saved time and dedicate it to time for you!
It’s not how much you work, it’s HOW you work.
The average American worker only works productively for 2 hours and 53 minutes every day. And working long hours aren’t your key to success either. A study out of Stanford found that productivity sharply declines after work hours exceed 50 hours (and that after 55 hours, there no point in working). This means that people working 60-70 hours a week, get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours.
Time-saver #1: Shift your workload to real priorities
There are likely a lot of things on your to-do list. But truthfully, there is only a sub-set of that list that will propel you forward. Identify those things you truly need to get done and prioritize those tasks. In fact, focus on getting those priorities done at the beginning of your day.
One helpful tip is to identify and become laser focused on the 3 or 4 big milestones you want to achieve in the next quarter to move your career or business forward. From there, you can focus your weekly and daily plans around those big milestones.
Time-saver #2: Follow the 80-20 rule
As it turns out, 80 percent of our output comes from 20 percent of our effort. This is called the Pareto Principle which says that we can achieve a lot of our results without working insane hours.
Putting the Pareto Principle to work: Take a closer look at your daily activities. Pick those specific activities that actually move you forward. Drop (or at least diminish) the activities that are not proven to be effective. Be ruthless to focus on producing output. This article by Career Contessa sheds a little more light to this principle.
Time-saver #3: Create uninterrupted time and monotask
So much of our wasted time comes from interruptions. You can lose as much as 40 percent of your productive time switching between tasks. Throughout the day, our precious work hours are interrupted by email, social media, smartphone notifications, and unannounced visits from colleagues. The fix? Create time blocks in your day to get priority work done. This means turning off your email and notifications and resist switching between tasks at least for a chunk of time.
Monotasking is difficult in a society of multi-taskers. Too many wrongfully believe that multi-tasking is a productivity tool. I’m sorry to report this isn’t simply not true. Research has again and again found that monotasking is the productivity tool. When you pair time blocking with monotasking, you will see your productivity soar.
Time-saver #4: Take a break from work
Research also shows that creating frequent work breaks can boost your productivity. This mean taking lunch. It means taking a water of coffee break and walking around the office (or even around the block) after a focused work period of 30-60 minutes. One study found that employees with the highest productivity didn’t work 8-hour days but instead took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.
Time-saver #5: Plan your activities – not just meetings and calls
Take the time to map out exactly what you will do every hour of your day but not just your meetings and appointments. Create ‘appointments’ where you dedicate time to priority tasks. Too often, we are in a reactive mode focused on the urgent demands. This often comes in the form of demands from other people which may be less of a priority. If your day begins without a plan, then likely your day will unfold in a way you do not intend. If you schedule out where you are actually tackling your to-do list, you are likely going to get done what you want.
Time-saver #6: Identify and ditch time-wasters at work
Let’s be honest. Every day, you waste time at work. You might spend a bit too much time on email. You might sit on conference calls that are useless. You find yourself shuffling papers and reorganizing the files on your desktop.
One of the worst offenders is email. The average American work spends 28 percent of their work week (or 13 hours a week) reading and responding to email according to the McKinsey Global Institute. The average number of business emails sent/received each day is 122 and less than half of those emails deserve our attention.
Ditching time-wasters at work takes a little time but I suggest you start with email. Limit your email use. If possible, only check email for 3-4 times a day closing the program when it’s not in use.
Time-saver #7: Disconnect from work: When you create time to disconnect from work, you are refueling. Working smarter means creating uninterrupted time for work but it also means creating white space in your day to clear your mind. Plugging in 24/7 will bring about diminishing returns. A better balanced person can show up to work time with renewed energy and intention. What dooes this look like on a work day?
- This means taking a lunch out of the office (away from your computer) with a friend or colleague.
- Planning a personal day to take care of yourself, spend time with a friend, or even just get out of town.
Time-saver #8: Avoid negativity at work
A big part of working smarter is about getting focused. If you are consumed with overwhelm or obsessed with conflicts at work, then your mind is distracted. If you want to work smarter, you will want to clear out negative thinking. Come to work with a fresh attitude focused on what matters. Focus on your short list. Put whatever worries you aside (at least momentarily) so you can get things done.
These steps work: I promise you
Let me share a little secret. Success in your career does not mean long working hours. Sure, you can kill yourself working long hours. But if want better work-life balance, you don’t need to give up all that you want and need for your personal life.
I used to pull 60-hour weeks on a regular basis. This was long before I had a family. Back then, I prided myself on my long hours. But frankly, I now work a lot less and somehow get enough done. Through a long and bumpy road, I learned a few key tools but they are relate back to one simple thing: how I use my precious time.
Want to work smarter? Pick 1 time-saver from the list above and commit to trying it for one week. What do you have to lose?