02 Mar Stop wasting time: 8 ways to work smarter – not harder
Not getting enough done at work? Feeling behind? Overwhelmed? Caught between wanting success and lacking work-life balance?
The bad news is we can’t manufacture more time. There are only 168 hours in a week and 24 hours a day.
Here is the good news. Not all time is created equal. One hour of your day can be highly productive while the next is wasted.You want more time.
You want to be able to get more done. Yes, there are ways you can get more done by add 1-3 more productive hours to your work day.
How? 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 more 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.
Before we dive in there are two important reminders to make these time tips work for you.
Reminder #1: 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.
This means you want to make your work hours (or a good chunk of your work hours) more productive. 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.
Principle #2: Think about the big goals but focus your action on the steps to get there.
Our minds are often the main saboteurs of our productivity. We are thinking about all that need to get done. We feel overwhelm. We feel behind. Our minds serve up thoughts that remind us how far we are from where we want to be.
This kind of thinking keeps us stuck. And it doesn’t make us productive.
Take the time to outline where you want to end up (your goals) because that becomes a driver for action. That can be done very simply by writing out the goals where you want to end up.
But focus your actual time – the hours in your day – on the very specific and bite-sized tasks in front of you. You will need to remind yourself that your day-to-day actions are the stepping stones to achieving the long-term goals. Remind your mind, it will need to just be patient!
Time-saver #1: Identify your top three priorities
Every day, focus on your three top 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. Each and every day identify three very specific tasks you truly need to get done. Focus and prioritize those tasks. And make them bite-sized so they can be completed in a day.
Become laser focused on those priorities.
When you focus on the 3 or 4 big milestones every day, you will see weekly or even long-term priorities start to move forward.
Time-saver #2: Follow the 80-20 rule
Pick those activities that have the greatest impact on your results.
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 and actions that are likely to propel you forward more than anything else. 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 by monotasking
Drop multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time.
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
Take breaks to refresh so you can return to be more productive.
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 all of your tasks – not just meetings and calls
Map out exactly what you will do every hour of your day.
We often will just schedule our meetings and appointments. The ‘open’ time then gets ‘scheduled’ for you with other tasks. Create specific ‘appointments’ on your calendar where you dedicate time to your 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
Intentionally drop those activities where you waste time.
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
Dedicate time to refuel after work ends.
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: Turn off negative thinking and embrace productivity thinking
Tap into positive thinking at work.
Your mind has an enormous influence over your actions. If you walk into work thinking, “I’m not going to get much done again today.” Guess what? You won’t be getting much time.
If you want to work smarter, you will want to clear out negative thinking. An easy way to start is to replace the negative thinking with an alternative and more helpful thought. Something like: “Today, I am going to nail my priority list, focus, and move forward.” 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.
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. I use to pride myself on long hours. But frankly, I now work a lot less and somehow get more done.
Are you inspired to become a productivity geek? Want to work smarter? Pick 1 or 2 hacks from the list above and commit to trying it for two weeks. What do you have to lose?