Do you constantly feel that you have more tasks to complete than there are hours in the workday? If so, you’re not alone. Most Americans probably feel overwhelmed and stressed at work.
The answer may be to work smarter not harder. Chances are good that you’ve been told to do that more than once, but what does it really mean? What steps can you take to be smarter about your work so that your stress levels go down and your productivity increases?
Use these 14 research-based practical secrets to give yourself several ways to work smarter not harder:
1. Change Your Attitude
Have you ever heard the phrase: “Attitude is everything?” Well, it turns out that there’s some scientific evidence to back up this old adage.
A research project at Stanford University found that when young students had a positive attitude toward math, it improved their ability to solve problems. They also demonstrated better memory retention for the subject matter. Lang Chen, who was the lead author on the study, noted that the researchers were surprised by just how much of an impact a positive attitude had on performance.
While this study may have been performed on 10 year-olds, there’s no reason to assume that it wouldn’t translate well to professionals. A positive attitude improves interpersonal relationships, so you might find yourself getting along better with colleagues, supervisors and clients. Your “can do” spirit will improve the atmosphere around the office too.
Plus, positive people tend to engage better with tasks, and you may find that your ability to meet deadlines improves. Whenever you notice negative thoughts, try to turn them into positive ones to reframe your attitude.
2. Work on Your Time Management Skills
In recent years, many employers have reduced the size of their workforce without adjusting their expectations regarding productivity. The result is that the remaining employees are expected to do more with less assistance from colleagues and subordinates.
Effective time management skills are critical, but it requires time to change the way you relate to the hours and minutes that make up your day. It is essential to critically examine the behaviors that you engage in that waste your time, according to researchers Edwin Arnold, Ph.D. and Marcia Pulich, Ph.D. if you want to improve your productivity and manage time better.
3. Brush up on Your Communication Skills
How often has a typo or a poorly-worded verbal message caused you endless hours of frustration? Whether you are communicating via the written word or verbally, it is vital that you do so in a clear and concise manner.
Of course, that isn’t always easy since today’s workplace tends to move at a hectic pace. Complicating the issue is the fact that a worker may need to communicate with a variety of people in different time zones.
In their “The State of Workplace Communications” report, Dynamic Signal cites a Gallup poll that demonstrates that nearly three-quarters of the American workforce feel that they are disconnected from important information at work. How is anyone supposed to accomplish anything?
Improving your own communication skills is an excellent place to start. Proofread all emails and letters before they are sent. Better yet, have a colleague or assistant read them too. Clear, concise written communication can resolve many problems before they start.
Also, you can improve your verbal skills by using active listening techniques, taking the time to fully consider your words before you speak and using shorter, simpler vocabulary. Writing a follow-up email to confirm verbal agreements and instructions is another worthwhile technique.
4. Focus on One Thing at a Time
Do you remember when “multitasking” was a huge buzzword in business? Hiring managers used to insist that any job candidates be able to multitask while no applicant would dream of submitting a resume or cover letter that failed to describe them as a “multitasker.”
However, research suggests that multitasking isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. A team working at Stanford University found that people who tried to juggle multiple media-related tasks at once had distinctive concentration problems and more difficulty switching between tasks as compared to those who did one thing at a time.
What’s more, multitasking may have the effect of lowering your IQ and may actually damage your brain, which is designed to focus on one thing at a time.
Mindfulness may be the cure for multitasking. Limit distractions, and try to be more present as you work. Narrow your focus to just one task, refusing to complete it in the zombie-like, near-unconscious mode in which we frequently perform routine jobs. With better focus and concentration on just one thing, you’ll work smarter not harder.
5. Establish Goals, Then Strive for Them
Working smarter not harder really only works if you know what you are working toward. This means that you must cultivate direction and focus. Having a clear goal aids in good decision-making, and it even gives you better control of your professional future.
If you want to make goals that you are more likely to see through to completion, then the research suggests that you must write them down. Writing down your goal helps you to make it specific, measurable and realistic. Visualize all of the steps that you will need to perform, and consider making a series of smaller goals that will help you achieve your overall ambition.
6. Stay Motivated to Learn
The more you know about your job, the easier it gets. While it may be possible to coast through each day, this doesn’t mean that you’re working smarter. On the contrary, this may be a really good way to feel frustrated and unfulfilled.
That’s why one of the best ways to work smarter not harder is to commit to continuous learning. According to the “Happiness at Work” chapter from the 2017 World Happiness Report, being able to learn new things at work is one of the hallmarks of an all-around happier individual.
This means that you may derive all sorts of benefits from taking advantage of any new training that’s made available. Additionally, don’t shy away from any challenging assignments that come your way. The satisfaction you’ll get from overcoming something difficult will be added to the rich experience you gain, and that experience will help you work smarter not harder in the future.
7. Learn to Delegate
This one doesn’t come naturally to many people. Too often, workers like to be in control of every aspect of a project. There’s a common feeling that they are the only person who can complete a task the “right” way.
The reality is that if you take too much onto your shoulders, the quality of your work will suffer. What’s more, you’re less likely to meet your deadlines because, without any help, each one will be an uphill battle. You’ll be feeling stressed too, and your balance between work and life is bound to suffer.
Delegation has many rewards, and one study published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that delegating also helps you earn more money. When you delegate, you commit to not only your personal success but also the success of your coworkers and your overall organization.
8. Maintain Work/Life Balance
Among tips for working smarter not harder, this one may not be the most obvious. How does giving equal focus to your personal life help you to function better at work?
The fact is that focusing on personal health and wellness may just help you to lead a longer and more fulfilling life. This means that you’ll be more productive at work because you’ll enjoy increased energy and focus as well as a more positive outlook and a more positive attitude.
A study conducted at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University demonstrated that there may be a close relationship between a healthy balance between work and life and a longer lifespan. People who felt constantly overwhelmed and stressed by work were more likely to die at a younger age than those who excelled at maintaining balance.
By maintaining a healthy balance between work and life, you’ll be working smarter and might just live more years.
9. Focus on Work that Gives You Joy
No job is perfect. Even a position that you find largely enjoyable and rewarding comes with its share of mindless tasks or things that you just don’t like to do. Whenever possible, find ways to delegate these tasks to others. This gives you more time and bandwidth to do the tasks that you find rewarding and meaningful.
When you enjoy what you’re doing, the quality of your work is almost certain to improve. What’s more, you’re bound to look for ways to perform better and get enhanced results.
In fact, there is research to back up these assertions. A 2015 study by the Social Market Foundation reported that people who are happy at work are by far more productive than those who are unhappy.
If you’re doing something you love, you’re bound to be happy at work, so find ways to do more of what you enjoy.
10. Don’t Be Consumed By Stress
Constant stress has incredibly detrimental effects on physical, mental and emotional health. When your thoughts are running at a million miles a minute and your heart is racing, you’re not at your best. Your thought processes are jumbled, and you are far more likely to make a costly error.
Too many people allow stress to rule their day at work. They are so afraid of making a mistake that it’s virtually impossible for them to focus on putting forth their best effort. Or, they allow anxiety to drive them, which may lead to trying to multitask. Despite putting forth all sorts of labor, they have a difficult time actually completing anything.
Don’t let stress run your day. Find healthy ways to let it out, such as exercising and meditation. Use goal setting to drive your work, rather than stress or fear. Focus on quality production, one task and one project at a time.
11. Get Into a Routine
A routine doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in a rut. Instead, a routine can be an excellent means of working smarter not harder.
When you have a great routine in place for certain tasks, it allows you to complete them without having to put in an excess of thought and effort. Accordingly, you’ll have more energy left to tackle the really fun and meaningful parts of your workday.
Blast through your everyday tasks by following your routine, and you’ll find that you waste less time. Research also suggests that completing routine tasks can lead to health benefits that may make you even more productive.
12. Know Your Time-Wasting Triggers
We all have moments throughout the day when we have a hard time getting motivated. For some people, it happens first thing in the morning. Others have tremendous difficulty focusing on work after coming back from lunch. Or, perhaps you are one of the many workers who experience an energy void in the middle of the afternoon.
You know what happens when that mood comes upon you. Staring into space, obsessively checking your phone or mindlessly surfing the Internet are just a few of the things that you’re likely to do. Before you know it, you’ve wasted 15 minutes, half an hour or perhaps even 45 minutes, and you have nothing to show for it.
Now you have to rush to get a project done. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to do the quality work that you would have produced if you’d used your time better.
According to one study, it makes sense to choose a small action when the time-wasting mood hits you. Accomplish just one small task, and then another. Before you know it, your motivation is back.
13. Time Yourself
Until you know how much time tasks and projects actually require, you won’t be able to improve your productivity. According to research, most people have a decidedly imperfect perception of time.
Choose a task then set a timer on your phone. If you think the task can be done in 30 minutes, use this setting. Did you complete your task before the time expired or do you still have work to do when the alarm goes off?
Knowing how long it takes you to do certain things allows you to plan your day more efficiently. If you only have 30 minutes left in the day, you’ll know which task to tackle.
14. Take Care of Yourself
Among these tips for working smarter not harder, this one is most closely related to achieving work/life balance. You cannot perform effectively at work if you are sleep deprived, improperly nourished and feeling sick. It follows then you must get adequate sleep, eat a healthy diet and find ways to keep yourself physically healthy.
Research suggests that poor sleep has a direct, negative effect on cognitive performance. If your diet is poor and you’re not exercising, the effects will only be worse.
If you truly want to work smarter not harder, you can begin today. One of the best tips for beginning this process is to get an excellent all-around planner. The Clever Fox planner is one of the most highly recommended on the market today. This is because it will not only help you to keep track of projects and deadlines but also encourage you to be the best version of yourself.
The Clever Fox planner is purposely designed to help you build a meaningful and productive life. It helps you to distill your priorities down to their essences so that you can focus on your passions and what genuinely motivates you. In fact, this planner just may help you to put all 14 of these tips for working smarter not harder into practice.
With gratitude and goal-making exercises, you’ll soon see the value of all that you’re accomplishing and how you are crafting a purposeful life.
Try incorporating a few of these secrets into your workday over the next week. You might be surprised by how much more productive you are. At the same time, you may notice a significant reduction in stress, which means you are truly working smarter not harder.