People are busier than ever these days. And, most of us are looking for ways to maximize our productivity. Well, being more productive doesn’t mean cramming more things into your day. It means taking the finite amount of time that you have each day and using it to your advantage.
I’m one of those people who is insufferably busy. It’s a state of being that I enjoy and need, almost as much as I need food and sleep. But, there are times that I find myself working in what feels like circles, doing much but accomplishing little.
When I find myself at the crossroads of crazy-busy and chaos, I know it’s time to regroup and take steps to work smarter – not harder.
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There are plenty of articles out there about how to work smarter. Do this – don’t do that. What makes this one different is that it’s filled with actionable steps that will actually make a difference in how you approach your time and efforts. Let’s dive right in.
Set Clear Goals
Goals are the cornerstone of working smarter. And, not just any goals, but clear goals. Ones that make sense and can actually be achieved.
I’m a fan of the SMART goals approach. Simply put, SMART goals focus on goals that are – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive. I like and use this framework with my own goals because it’s a straightforward way to set goals. It also creates a built-in way to measure your progress.
So, to work smarter, start by creating SMART goals. (If you’re struggling with how to set effective goals, be sure to check out my FREE course – Create Your Best SMART Goals.)
And Time Limits
To be successful at working smarter, you must set time limits for tasks you’re working on. Skeptical about this? Let’s take a look at Parkinson’s Law.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, if you give yourself all day to write that blog post, it’s going to take . . . all day.
When you’re planning tasks that you need to work on, attach specific time limits to them. You can either give them a specific amount of time like “I’ll spend two hours on Saturday working on my blog”. Or, you can apply a time frame such as “I’ll work on my blog from Noon until 2 p.m. on Saturday”. Whatever approach you settle on, the point is to be specific with the amount of time you’ll spend on a given task.
Focus on Results
Being busy feels good. It feels like I’m really getting some where, even when I’m not sometimes. If this sounds familiar, shift your focus from task-driven to results-driven.
When you’re setting your goals, consider the result you want to achieve with the task at hand. As Stephen Covey is famous for saying, “Begin with the end in mind”.
By focusing on the desired result or outcome, you can narrow down what you need to do to accomplish it. This cuts out a lot of the “fluff”, and let’s you hone in on those things that will drive you toward successful results.
Automate Some Tasks
Technology is your friend when it comes to working smarter. Identify what tasks you can automate. Then, look for programs, platforms or apps that will help you do that.
An example I’ll use with my blog is pinning on Pinterest. Pinterest drives a big chunk of the traffic my blog gets. However, I don’t have the time or interest to stay on Pinterest all day, pinning and re-pinning. Enter Tailwind!
Tailwind let’s me schedule multiple pins over multiple days. That means that I can schedule a week’s worth of pins in one sitting, freeing up my time to work on other things that need my attention.
Whatever task you need to automate, there is likely an app or platform that will help you. Find it and use it.
Separate Needs and Wants
Several years ago, I owned an event production business. After I produced my first event, I found myself exhausted and sick. I had literally worked myself into a state of exhaustion trying to do almost everything myself. Crazy, right?
Fortunately, I talked with a friend a few weeks after the event to debrief about how things went. She had been on hand to help out, although I didn’t let her or anyone else help much. My big takeaway from the conversation was that I needed to let go a little – to let others help. In other words, I needed to work smarter.
Ouch! I knew that she was right. I couldn’t continue to do almost everything myself and be successful. This meant that I had to learn how to prioritize and delegate the different tasks that needed to be done.
What helped me was separating the needs from the wants. I wanted to do everything myself, but I didn’t really need to. I had to think about what tasks I really needed to do myself. The rest could be delegated to others who were willing and totally capable of helping. The next event was just as successful, except I wasn’t exhausted and sick when it wrapped up.
Prioritize and delegate tasks when and where you can to manage what needs to be done.
This is the most counter intuitive advice ever when it comes to productivity. Can’t you just picture someone doing 80 things at once in order to be productive? You have to multitask to work smarter, right? Wrong!
Multitasking waters down your efforts. Period. You cannot devote the same amount of attention to multiple things without something suffering. And, that’s coming from someone who is an avowed multi-tasker.
When I was in elementary school, I used to get the best marks on everything . . . except “Uses Time Wisely”. I could never get a “+”, which was the best mark. For that one, I could only get an “S+” at most. It was frustrating for this neurotic little goal getter.
The problem was that I had no clue what was meant by “Uses Time Wisely”. And, I was really shy and quiet, so I was reluctant to ask anyone. But, finally, I summoned the courage and asked my teacher. She explained that it meant that while I was waiting to do one thing, I could be doing something else while I waited, instead of just waiting. Light bulb moment! And, also the birth of an obsessive multi-tasker!
For years, I honed my multitasking skills and took pride in being able to do lots of things simultaneously. It’s a good skill, and is still useful at times. However, working smarter isn’t about multitasking to the highest order.
Instead, work smarter by focusing on one task at a time. Do it well, complete it, and move on.
Learn to Say No
A people-pleasing multi-tasker is an exhausting combination. At least for the people-pleasing multi-tasker. You’ll say yes to too much, and try to get it all done – probably all at once. It’s a recipe for frustration and disappointment in both results and output.
Instead, follow the advice of Warren Buffet. You know, the super-investor. He says that the one thing that separates the highly successful from everyone else is that highly successful people say no to most everything.
All day, every day, the big decision we’re faced with is how we’ll spend the 24 hours we’ve been given that day. Distractions are everywhere and shiny object syndrome is real. Covet your time like the valuable and limited commodity it is. Decide what really matters and spend your time and efforts on those things.
Why Goals Matter
How to Improve Your Productivity