3 Strategies to Work Smarter And Not Harder
Is it really possible to get more done in less time?
Can you actually achieve less stress than you have now – even work less – with the same or even better results?
We’ve all heard the phrase “work smarter not harder” and yet, for most of us, putting that into practice is not straightforward.
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It seems that almost every week there’s a new calendar, planner, app or book promising to help you improve your productivity. And if you’re already feeling overwhelmed, sorting through the various systems and tools meant to help can in fact add to your overwhelm. You can easily find that you’re spending more time sorting through options, setting up your system, learning an app or reading a book than it ever actually saves you in the end.
One reason for this is that many systems focus on “time management” when what you really need is more effective direction of your energy and focus.
Let’s call it “energy management.” You want to align your energy, focus and activities with the goals and outcomes that are most important to you so you are making the most of your days (not to mention enjoying them more while you’re at it). This will then make your time management tools more supportive of successful outcomes across all areas.
And this is not new “news.”
You may have heard of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule). Back in the 1800s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto established that 80% of results come from 20% of actions or causes. This has been demonstrated repeatedly by management consultants, economists and academics alike: 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of staff’s time, 80% of sales coming from 20% of the sales staff and, even more broadly, the UN found (in the 90s) that the richest 20% of the world’s population control just over 80% of the world’s income.
Take a moment to translate this to your day-to-day energy and activities. This means that roughly 1 in 5 things you do will create 80% of your results. Whether this is 80% of your sales, 80% of your wealth, 80% of your fulfillment, 80% of your happiness – or 80% of your stress!
If you take this one step further, could you stop doing as many as 4 out of the 5 things you currently do in your day-to-day activities (time spent on certain project activities, business initiatives, your relationships, your finances and investing) and STILL get the same—or even better—results?
The answer is yes, you can.
The key is to identify those less productive actions and then begin to replace them with activities that are more aligned with your desired results. So in time you find yourself doing things that align with what you want to achieve or experience most—all while saving the time and energy that’s not been producing the results you want anyway.
In other words, fill your time with the most productive activities — that are more aligned with your desired results— and you have the potential to get 5x more done in the same amount of time.
Now, getting to this level of alignment is beyond the scope of this post – but it is something I advise business and individual clients on daily. With that said, here are 3 strategies you can put into practice now:
1. Identify Your Most Important Thing. You’re launching a major new service line in your business. Or you’re now managing a bigger team on top of an already full plate which was daunting to start with. Or you just got assigned a big new project. Whatever you’re facing, even the most exciting opportunities can get your mind racing with a million different thoughts on where to start and what you’ll need to get the job done on time. As a result, you start creating a mental to-do list that grows and grows.
The challenge with this is that this to-do list can quickly become overwhelming and actually prevent you from being productive. That’s because you’re directing your energy to less important – and even unimportant – tasks and activities. Or you’re trying to multi-task which studies show we humans do not in fact do very well. And both of these drain your limited reserves of energy.
Instead, check in daily. What’s your most important priority for the day? The one thing that will make the biggest positive impact on your highest priorities? Maybe it’s a conversation with a colleague, maybe it’s a follow-up call to a potential client, maybe it’s work related to an important deadline. Now, beyond that, what are your 3 to 5 most urgent, important, and challenging tasks for the day? Focus on one task at a time before moving on to less critical tasks – and start with your most important thing. When you do, you’ll feel more productive and less anxious.
2. Stop Trying to Multi-Task. We all believe that we’re multi-taskers. Yet study after study shows humans just aren’t capable of doing multiple things at once. Instead, when we think we’re multi-tasking, brain studies show we’re simply shifting our attention from one task to another very quickly.
I know this is a tough one! And you’ve probably heard by now that multi-tasking is problematic and not very effective. On top of this, research now shows that it not only hurts your performance but it may even damage your brain.
In one study by the University of Sussex, researchers found that high multi-taskers had less grey matter density in the areas of the brain responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.
Multi-tasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. Researchers have found that they can actually see the brain struggling when multi-tasking. Stanford research even found that those who believe they are the best multi-taskers were worse at multi-tasking than other participants.
So the next time you have the urge to text or email during that meeting – or check social media while watching television – pause and take a deep breath. Shift your focus to the one thing that needs to get done right now – or that you’ll enjoy the most. Do that thing. Enjoy your TV show. Once that’s done, then move on to the next.
3. Establish a Routine that Supports You. We are creatures of habit and so are our brains. When we establish routines, research shows we can carry out tasks faster since we don’t have to think about the task.
What habits support your physical energy?
How about your mental and emotional energy?
What adjustments could you make now to better support yourself showing up the way you want and need to each day?
You may be surprised at what you can achieve when you start focusing on the most aligned priorities for you: your business, your customers, your career and your relationships. And how quickly you can experience a whole new level of achievement and satisfaction as you realize your goals with what feels like less effort than before – because of all of that energy, focus and even money you are no longer putting toward not-so-productive or ineffective outcomes.
Now that’s a pretty powerful package.
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