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The concept of “work smart, not hard” is not new, but what does it actually mean?
In the spring, I wrote about my experience as a young millennial entering my first corporate role post-graduation. Since then I’ve been investigating working smarter versus working harder and finding the new strategy has provided me with the flexibility to be productive whilst surviving in a high-stress environment.
In this short time I’ve learned that by working smarter I can decrease my stress level and make it easier on myself to accomplish my tasks.
The reality is that our bodies can only handle so much of an overload before we burn out. Working smarter means instead of trying to impress your boss by staying until 9 pm every night, plan to get those same tasks flushed out before the end of the day. For example, I come in early if I need to get more tasks done. Once I get past the morning wake-up slump, I’m raring to go! Below I share my strategies for working smarter. Take into consideration that not everyone is the same and these are the tactics that work best for me, but I’d love for you to share your favourite tips for working smarter in the comments.
1. Establish a start of day ritual
It doesn’t matter if you’re the most organized person or the least organized person, the way you start your day will always affect your mood. So why not make it a good one? Grab a cup of coffee (or tea if you’re like me), go over the to-do list you wrote the day before (see step 2), and figure out how to prioritize your day’s tasks.
2. Figure out the next day’s tasks the night before
Have you ever spent the night lying awake because you’re creating lists about what needs to be done the following day? Or in general? You’re not alone. However, the best way to eliminate this is by writing down all of the tasks. Free up your mind for more fun, like memorizing difficult lyrics.
The work day doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact there are a lot of ways to counteract that very feeling – one of which includes prioritizing your day’s tasks. Split it up. What will take you 5 minutes to do versus what will take you 3 hours to do? What is due in 20 minutes versus what is due 4 weeks from now? Keep in mind, you are only human. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Delegate when you can
You are one person. One wonderful and ambitious person, but one person. This means that you need to learn how to ask for help. If someone is sitting around twiddling their thumbs while you’re pulling your hair out, reach out and ask if they can lend a hand. They will appear more productive to your boss and you’ll have a load off your shoulder. Trust me, it is well worth it.
5. Stay flexible
Get used to it. Things aren’t perfect and if you’re in the creative field, like I am, you know that you always need to leave wiggle room in your day to put out fires. Don’t worry about filling in every hour of your day with something. You’ll need the spare time regardless of if it’s for client issues or for yourself.
6. Check your email in chunks
A couple of years ago someone told me about a system where they checked their email 3 times a day only – once early in the morning, once right before lunch and once early afternoon. This left them open to focus on the work they needed to do without getting distracted by countless notifications. Sometimes it’s difficult to do, especially if you work in a field that has a lot of revisions (i.e. advertising and marketing), but it’s worth looking into, even if it is just once an hour.
7. Take a break
Why are we so afraid to step outside and take a walk? Get some coffee from the kitchen and sit for five minutes. Step away from the hustle and bustle of the work life and get a breath of fresh air. It’s not right. Taking a break has been proven to enhance your mental alertness and improve productivity, especially if you find yourself in a rut.
8. Be social
Being social isn’t code for hanging out at the watercooler and gossiping. Wait, does anyone do that anymore? Instead, talk to your co-workers about something other than the project you’re working on. Don’t forget that they are people too.
9. Take care of your calendar
Don’t let yourself be bullied into attending meeting after meeting. You are in charge of how your time is spent. How will you be most productive? 99.9% of the time it doesn’t involve sitting in a meeting.
10. Establish an end of day ritual
End your day the way you started it. Establish a routine that works for you to help yourself unwind and relax. Write out your to-do list for the next day and stick to it. If something pops into your head, write it down. Unless you’re saving babies or curing cancer, things can wait a minute or two. Learn to push back. You deserve to leave work at a reasonable hour.