Wouldn’t it be great if we could be as productive as possible without causing burnout?
We call it “working smarter, not harder.” Among many working professionals, working smart is a key to greater productivity. It can save you time and energy for the things that matter, like your life goals, personal growth and health, and relationships. The fact applies at work, too: Working smarter at the office keeps team members engaged and less overwhelmed.
This article will dive into what it means to work smarter (not harder) and give you 15 actionable tips you can use today.
What does it mean to work smarter, not harder?
Working smarter can help you be more productive without wasting valuable time and energy. In practice, this usually means employing a clear strategy to prioritize important activities and goals. This lets you tend to what matters most and prevents you from spending time on less important tasks.
Depending on your career, working smarter could mean implementing certain tools to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks or hiring additional team members to split up work.
Why is it better to work smarter, not harder?
We live in a society that places a high value on productivity — for better or worse — so working smarter can improve your productivity and performance in various aspects of your life. This can help increase overall job satisfaction, health, and happiness because you'll feel less stressed about managing everything.
Higher productivity at work, coupled with greater job satisfaction, can make you a more valuable asset to your company. This can increase your job security and put you in a position for raises and promotions.
Work smarter, not harder: 15 tips for success
Here are 15 tips you can employ today to help you build a happier and more productive professional life.
1) Plan ahead
By planning ahead, you can jump right into the most pressing projects rather than spending valuable time trying to prioritize everything the day of. Planning ahead for your next day (or week) can be a great thing to do at the end of the day when you’ve accomplished all tasks for that day but are still in work mode.
Read more about how planning ahead is key in the age of working from home.
2) Minimize your to-do list
We all can only do so much in one day. If your to-do list is miles long, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. We suggest keeping a to-do list short, concise, and realistic. Achieving small goals not only moves you forward, but can also help improve your sense of accomplishment.
3) Quit multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, when we try to multitask, we actually accomplish less because we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn, according to neuropsychologist Dr. Cynthia Kubu. So, rather than trying to work on multiple different tasks at once, try focusing on one at a time — you'll see better work quality and higher productivity overall.
4) Limit notifications
Whether you are getting a push notification on your phone or a chat notification on your computer from a co-worker, a single notification has the ability to derail your productivity for several minutes.
Think about the number of notifications you have set up on your devices. It's not hard to imagine how you can easily be distracted and spend several hours per week getting back on track. To help combat this, silence all notifications for blocks of time throughout your day to ensure you are distraction-free.
5) Take breaks
Building breaks into your day may sound counterintuitive to productivity, but if you schedule breaks with intention, they can actually ensure you get even more done. Giving your brain a break can help you focus most efficiently on the task right in front of you.
One break technique is called the Pomodoro technique. This time-blocking technique suggests taking frequent short breaks to promote sustained concentration. For example, you could set your timer for 25 minutes and focus on one task from your to-do list. After 25 minutes, you get a five-minute break. You do this four times, and then you can take a longer break (15 to 30 minutes).
6) Complete tasks in chunks
You can also combine taking breaks with completing tasks in chunks. Combining these two tips is a great way to ensure you’re working smarter, not harder.
Think about separating tasks by type when making your to-do list. For example, it may be more beneficial to complete tasks requiring creativity within the same chunk of time (even if you take short breaks between each). This is helpful because you are flexing certain parts of the brain. Then, when you need to switch to tasks requiring hard numbers and analytical thinking, for example, you can switch gears to focus solely on those activities versus trying to ping back and forth between creative and analytical thinking.
7) Use productivity and automation tools
Software designed for productivity and automation can be a helpful shortcut to simplify tasks, streamline your workflow, and make collaborating with others a breeze. Productivity tools can benefit individuals and large teams working on projects with lots of moving parts.
The best way to identify which productivity tools will be best for you is to track what your team spends extra time on during an average week. After you have a few weeks of data, look at what comes up the most and identify if there is a tool out there that could help you cut those hours down. For example, if you see repetitive tasks, automation tools are a great way to take those items off your team's plate, reducing team member workload in the process.
8) Ask questions early
Asking questions early in the process for any given project can help you work smarter, not harder. Rather than waiting for one-off questions as they come up, set aside some time to think critically about the project at its beginning stages:
What tools or resources will your team need to complete the project?
Does everyone have a clear understanding of what the end product should be?
Is there anything that anyone is unclear about?
Asking these questions early on can help you get ahead of potential issues and address them before they send the project off the rails. It can also help you modify the project's direction if necessary and keep everyone on the same page from the start.
9) Aim for results, not time spent
When more people began working from home during the pandemic, one thing became very clear: The time it takes to do a task does not equate to the quality of the finished product.
Some companies knew this before the pandemic, of course, but many were still of the mindset that if someone works less hours, it automatically meant their work wasn't getting done — or not getting done well. However, this is far from the truth. If team members work efficiently and manage their time well, they can accomplish their tasks in less time with the same quality standard. Rather than focusing on logging longer hours, focus on end results.
10) Strengthen your communication skills
We cannot overstate communication skills when it comes to working more efficiently. If you communicate effectively, your tasks and projects flow more seamlessly. Project managers and team members should have open, two-way communication to ensure everyone stays on the same page and is accountable for their part of the project.
11) Expedite your meetings
If you’ve ever worked as part of a team, you know what a time-suck that meetings can be. Meetings are necessary and unavoidable, but you can make them more efficient in most cases. The average professional spends about 21.5 hours in meetings per week. So, start by cutting down meetings and getting hyper-focused when deciding what to discuss in meetings — and what can simply be an email.
12) Set short deadlines
If you set short deadlines for yourself or your team, you will likely feel more accomplished. Short deadlines also help folks stay focused on the task at hand. If you have a deadline that is weeks or even months away, you’ll likely forget some key aspects of the project and even lose momentum and excitement.
Setting short deadlines can be a great project management technique to keep in mind if you’re trying to work smarter. Check out our project management guide for additional tips, or add these awesome project management books to your list!
13) Match tasks with your energy levels
Thinking about your to-do list as it correlates to how you’re feeling can also be a great way to check in with yourself, as reflecting on your mood of the day can benefit your overall well-being and productivity. Whenever possible, try to match your tasks for the day to how energized you feel. For example, if you wake up feeling energized and excited, you may feel more ready to take on a mentally-challenging task. Likewise, if you feel down or tired, you may want to work on more mundane tasks that don’t require as much mental bandwidth and that you can take your time with.
14) Use stress management techniques
Stress among workers around the world hit an all-time high in 2021, with 44% of employees reporting that they experience stress on any given day. When stress is high, productivity plummets. To combat this, we recommend using stress management techniques proactively. Some of these techniques related to your work life could include:
Establishing strong boundaries to protect your work-life balance, such as not answering emails after working hours
Taking breaks throughout your day to have proper meals
Move your body throughout the day (walking, stretching, running, biking, etc.)
Practice mindfulness and breathing exercises
Support your mental health by finding a therapist or support group
Beyond helping your productivity, managing your stress will help you become more resilient in all areas of your life.
15) Manage your time wisely
Lastly, time management skills are vital when trying to work smarter. When you combine this tip with our first tip on planning ahead, you can schedule your day to help support productivity and efficiency without feeling stressed.
And remember, managing time also includes making time for rest. You can’t work hard without rest — you’re not a robot. Relaxation is vital to ensuring long-term productivity, so encourage your team to take breaks and offer advice if they struggle to manage their time effectively,
Start working smarter with Teamwork
People change, and your team members are no different: Approach your "work smarter, not harder" journey with this in mind. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to working smarter. Even when you find a process that works for you and your team, you may need to modify it over time.
Be aware of how you (or you and your team) work best, and apply the tips above thoughtfully to see the most productive results.
Looking for a tool to jumpstart the process? Check out our free project management plan template (that actually works!).