“Work smarter, not harder,” is a phrase many workers have heard throughout their careers. A phrase that often conjures the image of a high-level executive on a beach with a smart phone and cocktail in hand. The phrase touches on an individual’s emotional and intellectual desire to “have it all,” but doesn’t really tell anyone how to go about working smart, not hard.
What does it mean to work smart?
The phrase “work smart” is different for every person depending on their unique personal mission statement and definition of success. One personal development expert shares 30 elements of “smart work,” including leveraging other people’s time and money and having an immense amount of self-awareness. Having self-awareness allows an individual to prioritize his or her own needs, ask for help, cut losses, and build upon strengths in an intentional manner. In other words, working smart essentially means figuring out what your strengths are and building a network around you to build upon those in order to reach goals in the quickest and most efficient way possible.
Here are 6 tips for working smart from productivity experts:
Time Yourself. Jami Novak, author and time management coach, points out that few people actually assign a time limit to a task. “Sure, to-do lists make us more productive, so does grouping the tasks into batches and prioritizing them,” but that does not mean you will get them done to completion in the time frame you allotted or that whatever you are batching won’t end up taking over your day. The more you time yourself, and gain more self-awareness into how long a particular type of task takes you, the more time you will be able to actually identify and re-purpose in your schedule.
Use GPS. Not your global positioning system, rather goal, purpose, scope. Mitzi Weinman, founder of TimeFinder and author of It’s AboutTime! Transforming Chaos into Calm, A to Z, explains GPS is “the navigation system that gets us from one place to another,” but when delegating, “GPS [goal, purpose, scope] helps you and the person to whom you are delegating stay on track.” Weinman recommends beginning by determining the objectives and setting goals by really asking, “what does the work look like when completed?” Weinman says the next step is understanding the purpose, or the “why,” so you can explain how the work fits into a project or bigger picture, “that’s how you get buy-in to a project.” Lastly, provide the person you are delegating the task to the full scope of the project. This could include “deadline, format, who will see it (audience), budget, available resources (people or information), and your involvement.”
Time Theming. Mike Vardy, a productivity coach and founder of Productivityist, says time theming “frees one’s mind to focus on the tasks that are critical to making progress in all areas of life.” Time theming is a great way to avoid decision fatigue. Vardy reports that “theming your months, weeks and days gives you less to think about when you’re trying to decide what to do because that given time has already been given some sort of thematic value.” Time theming can also be used to help ensure work-life balance. For instance, every Friday could be themed “friends day” and every Saturday could be themed “family day.” By theming the different priorities into your weeks or months, people can have more freedom and flexibility to finally start creating a work-life balance that fulfills them.
Create A New Email Strategy. E-mail is one of the largest productivity killers that often leads to people working hard not smart. Too often people are multitasking and don’t even realize it because of technology notifications. For instance, you get a notification regarding a new e-mail, you click on it without thinking and in turn stop what you are doing, you then read through the email and decide either to respond to it or revisit it later, and eventually need to revisit your original task and remember where you left off. This type of multitasking can leave a person feeling like they are working hard and constantly busy because they are constantly shifting tasks and harming their overall productivity and focus. The 3Mail Workflow email strategy can help you free and clear up your inbox according to Vardy. Start by creating a folder for every day of the week. During the designated time frames in your day for checking emails, either delete new e-mails or place them in the day of the week folder in which you plan to respond. The goal is to never have any emails in your inbox, but have them all delegated to a specific day of the week.
Don’t Start From Scratch. “Don’t continue to re-invent the wheel… starting from scratch each time is a big time waster,” says Novak. Instead, she recommends finding and modifying templates you’ve utilized in the past or finding someone who has already done what you need to do and take a cue from them on how to proceed. This allows you to leverage other people or other resources to reach your goal as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Leave Yourself A Note. Interruptions or time constraints can’t be avoided sometimes. Whenever you need to stop a task before its completion, Novak recommends, “leaving yourself a note.” The note should detail where you stopped, so you “can jump back in without wasting time backtracking to remind yourself where you left off and what you planned your next step to be.”
Keep in mind, that working smart comes down to finding the most efficient and effective way to reach goals. This often includes leveraging other people or resources and utilizing self-awareness to build on strengths and delegate when appropriate. The more self-awareness you gain about your work style, the more you can find ways to work smarter, not harder and finally achieve the work-life balance you desire.