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6 Shortcuts to Work Smarter Not Harder

Do you work your butt off, hoping to achieve everything on your to-do list daily? Do you  believe in the “no pain no gain” saying? Those are all fine… if you’re working smart. One of the keys to performing in the workplace is to work smarter not harder. Be someone who lives a fulfilling, balanced life, not one who uses their whole day trying to tick things off their to-do list.

As I entered the world of entrepreneurship nearly 1.5 years ago with Happyologist, I naively thought it would be easier to set myself a better work-life balance. How wrong was I! I wasn’t only delivering client work, I also became my own accountant, marketeer, designer and so much more – it’s quite a pickle to try to fit everything into a normal working week! Another surprising challenge was the actual desire to work longer hours because I was so passionate about the business I was building. Quickly I discovered this wasn’t a sustainable way to go, and truly understood the value of creating efficient working habits, especially when I was working on something I truly loved.

Learn to work smarter not harder

Since the start of my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve taught myself new positive entrepreneurial habits which have helped me create a healthy balanced lifestyle, one that I hope to inspire and encourage in you too! I hope the tips below will help you create a routine that helps you work smarter not harder, regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur, working for a corporate, or in a different working environment. If you commit to embedding these habits into your life, they will enable you to perform at your best.

6 Shortcuts to Work Smarter Not Harder

1. Tackle the big rock first.

When you start your day, or you’ve got a big project to deal with, it’s easy to try and justify to yourself to get all the small, quick stuff out of the way. But actually, you’re just procrastinating to delay the big challenge. This is not an efficient strategy. As Steven Covey points out in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly  Effective People, you’ve got to tackle the big rock (i.e. the biggest challenge) first.

He uses the example of filling a bucket with big rocks and small rocks. Which do you put in first? If you put in the big rocks first, you can always fill the small gaps with the smaller rocks. Hence start with your biggest challenge, keep your focus on that to get it finished, and then you have the rest of the time to do smaller tasks when you’re mind is freed up from the worry of the big task. It’s a more efficient, focused way of dealing with your various tasks.

2. Create a space where you won’t be interrupted. 

You need the time and space to focus on these big rocks (and smaller rocks too). Make sure you have designed your working environment so you’re free of distractions and able to focus on the one task you’re doing. Got a big proposal to get out? Shut off email and all social media. Silence your phone. In the office and worried your co-workers might distract you in your burst of creativity? Put your headphones on when you don’t want to be interrupted. It’s a clear sign that you’re in your zone (or you can even communicate this to them i.e. “When I wear headphones I’d appreciate if you’d keep interruptions to the minimum as I will be in a creative thinking zone).

3. Feeling stuck? Walk away.

Sometimes it’s good to take a break if you’re stuck on a particular part of a project, or the creative juices have simply stopped flowing. Maybe you’re just feeling drained. Simply take a break. Step away from your desk, take some deep breaths, get some fresh air. Get some water, munch on some yummy healthy snacks, have a chat with some of your co-workers. Sometimes the solutions come into your mind when you’re away from the situation and talking about something completely different. It’s good to have a bit of space to open up your mind to new options and to get the creative juices flowing again.

P.S. You might also like my recent post on The Key to Getting Unstuck.

4. Create short term wins.

Break your massive projects into small actions. Instead of having a massive project plan to put together, or all the financial forecasts completed for the next 5 years, split each task into smaller tasks. This makes your to-dos more manageable and digestible. It means you can celebrate completing each task, reinforcing your motivation to keep going at the next tasks to meet the bigger objective.

5. Take breaks during your work day.

Some research has shown that sitting at your desk non-stop for 8 hours eliminates the positive effects your 1 hour morning workout could have created for you. It’s not enough to exercise once a day, you have to keep moving throughout the entire day. Human bodies were not designed to sit on chairs endlessly (no matter how ergonomically designed they are!). The recommendation is to do a 20 second stretch or moving around ever 20 minutes at your desk. How about implementing that into your future meetings? What about adding a game of musical chairs or some jumping jacks with some good music? I’m sure it would get people laughing too!

6. Set a deadline to leave work at a certain hour everyday.

And stick to it. Yes there will be days when you might not meet it as you have pressing client work or something’s come up, but you should meet it at least 80-90% of the time. Why? You need to detach from work to do other activities which fuel you. More importantly, if you think you have all the time in the world and no rush to get home, you will procrastinate throughout the day thinking you have all day. Choose to create a deadline of leaving at say 6 PM daily, and you’ll know you have to get everything done by then. Try it – and I guarantee you’ll find yourself becoming more productive!

Concluding remarks

There are quite a few tips and points to consider here, but the key is to start taking action with one of them.

Which of these shortcuts to working smarter not harder are you ready to build into your routine right away? I would love to hear your plans, challenges or successes in the comments section below!

This post was inspired by Matt Steel’s post on The abundance of slowness. Other useful resources which talk about building positive habits include Rework by Jason Friend and David Heinemeier Hansson, and as mentioned before, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Good luck in your adventure & until next week!

Happy Regards,

Susanna ;)

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  • Melissa says:

    Hi Susana, this is a very useful post. I think one of the common problems during my day is tackling the big rock first. I tend to get off all the small tasks or different things at the same time and let the big one for last which does not help me to be productive. So, I will commit with myself to start from the big rock from now on. Thanks for the advice!

    • Hi Melissa – thanks for sharing!
      Yes I can really relate to what you’re saying, I still have days in which I struggle with this!
      But the best way to realise its effectiveness is by trying it for a few days. Then when there are days when you’re tempted to do the little things first, you’ll remember how much more productive you are when the big thing is out of the way first – and hence you’ll be able to bounce your focus back on the big frog.
      Good luck & let me know if you have any questions on it! :)

  • Pete says:

    I’m surprised there’s nothing in here about e-mails. I find I can either spend my whole day reading and answering e-mails, or I can ignore my e-mails altogether and have pretty much the same results, communication wise. (Of course, I would antagonize a lot of people if I ignored my e-mails all the time). But when you want to get stuff done, forget about answering a few e-mails in the morning before getting to the big rocks because those pebbles are boomerangs, man!

    • Hi Pete,
      You’re spot on about getting to the big rocks first thing in the morning, glad to hear you agree with the approach :)
      The second shortcut on creating a space where you won’t be interrupted talks about how you should minimise distractions, and as I said in the post, if that’s email, then that’s what should be shut off.
      I completely agree that emails (and social media) have become a massive disruption to productivity so it’s important for you to learn the discipline to shut them off when you want to get things done.
      It sounds like you’re already on the right path – so good luck in staying productive! :)

  • Wan says:

    Setting a deadline is a MUST if you want to take care of your time and not let it disappear into oblivion. I love deadline because it gives me a good amount of pressure. The great thing is I am okay with the pressure because I set it myself.

    • Hi Wan,
      Thanks for your comment!
      I’m totally with you on the deadline part – I also work most effectively when I know when I need to be done by.
      Good luck with your work! :)

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