5 Ways to Work Smarter (& Not Harder)

Multitasking isN'T the answer.

I am the multitasking mater. I multitask my multitasking, but this is  a piece of professional advice that’s been circulated many times over. In workplace conversations, motivational speeches and all those pins you've accumulated on your Pinterest boards - we’ve been told to work smarter, not harder. But what does working smart actually mean? Donning thick, black-rimmed Chanel glasses? (Probably not, although that’s certainly a way to look chic in the process.)

Working smarter is a reference to how you spend time at your desk, not the number of hours you actually spend there. In other words, employing a "working smarter" methodology will enable you to achieve results faster, in a shorter amount of time.

Working smart means identifying your strengths, using your resources and implementing measures to reach your goals in the most efficient way possible. There are a number of studies that show that productivity improves with shorter hours. The more productive you are, the less time you should need to work.

You don’t need to enroll in an expensive time-management course to see results. The following tips will get you on your way to a shorter work day and higher output, so you have more time to do the things you actually want to do (such as that 3000-piece puzzle of the Taj Mahal).

Narrow your focus

It’s easy to mistake "busy work" with crossing meaningful tasks off your to-do list. Spending an inordinate amount of time answering emails is a prime example of wasting time, while feeling productive. It may seemlike reading and replying to every item that lands in your inbox is time well spent, but if you crunch the numbers, spending two hours of an eight-hour workday on emails is 25 per cent of your time.

We’re only productive if we’re doing work that is progressing us personally or professionally. We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule, where 80 per cent of results come from just 20 per cent of efforts; it’s vital to identify the things you want to narrow your focus on.

Give up on people-pleasing

Most of us take on more than we can handle, but when we respond to something with an easy "yes" instead of a difficult "no," we tend to over-commit our time, energy and resources. But for what gain?

A desire for people-pleasing is part of being human, but it can also create stress and inefficient productivity cycles. Having the ability (and the balls) to say no to the people, activities, and tasks you don’t enjoy or don’t help you progress, means you are, in effect, saying yes to the things that ultimately will.

Forget multitasking

Multitasking means doing many things at the same time, which we know deep down is counterproductive. Multitasking makes it more difficult to organize thoughts and filter out irrelevant information, drastically reducing the quality of our work.

An alternative? Find ways to work where you can focus on more than one of your projects at a time. If you are collaborating on a report and writing a marketing plan, you could write the plan and then work on the report. A tip: Put away your phone, turn off your email and text notifications for a set period, and put your mind to the task at hand.

Have you done this before?

Before you tackle a new task, take some time out to look for templates you’ve used in the past for a similar project. Failing that, ask around to find out if anyone in your office has done a comparable task, and ask their advice on how to approach it.

Don’t do it all yourself, silly

Working smart comes down to finding the most efficient and effective way to reach goals. Remember your colleagues? Don’t be afraid to leverage the resources at your disposal; it will expedite goal-achieving as efficiently and effectively as possible. Keep in mind when you delegate a task, it’s important to give it to someone with the time, tools, and resources to do it efficiently; you don’t want to see it land back in your inbox a few months down the line.

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