“Work smarter not harder” That’s a phrase that’s belted out pretty much everywhere from motivational literature to lunchroom conversations, but what is rarely explained is the process. What does it really mean to work smarter? Does it entail taking the path less taken or avoiding the path entirely?
To cut to the chase, working smart basically means figuring out what your strengths are and building a network around you to build upon those in order to reach goals in the quickest and most efficient way possible.
1. Begin Your Day by Utilizing a Priority Pyramid:
To work smarter not harder, you need a clear understanding of the priority pyramid. The priority pyramid helps you put your tasks into three categories. These categories include the important things, the necessary things, and the unnecessary things. The important things include all the things that you absolutely must get done today. These tasks have the highest long-term payoffs. The necessary things include all the things that you should get done today. These tasks have low long-term but high short-term payoffs. The unnecessary stuff includes all the other things that you could do that won’t provide you with any real value.
2. Avoid The Busy Bee Trap:
The busy bee trap is where you seemingly work really “hard” for an entire day, but in the end, there is not much to show for your efforts. It might have seemed you were doing all the right things, but by the end of the day you don’t have much to show for your efforts. You might have been very busy but were you focused on your highest priority activities?
Your highest priority activities, as stated in the first point, are activities that get you results at the end of the day. Staying busy focusing on the wrong things is certainly not a sign of productive output. With that in mind, commit yourself to focusing on the most important activities first.
3. Track What You’re Wasting Time On:
One major step to becoming more productive is working out what your regular time-sucks are. To start with, track what you do every morning to get ready for work. You might find that you’re spending time on things like choosing your clothes for the day, which could be done the night before. Then track how you spend your time during the day and look for patterns. Perhaps you’ll find that you’re getting caught up on Instagram too often. Once you know what’s taking up your time or leading you to procrastinate, you can start to make specific changes in those habits.
4. Take More Breaks:
When we don’t take breaks, our brains get tired and we get distracted. Once you’ve given up multitasking, try taking a real break between each task you focus on, or after each 90-minute block of focused work to reset your attention span.
Why 90-minute blocks? This in part comes from psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie who found that our energy during the day follows natural cycles, which he called “ultradian rhythms.”
Longer productive sessions (of 90 minutes) followed by short breaks (of no more than 15-20 minutes) sync more closely with our natural energy cycles and allow us to maintain a better focus and higher energy level throughout the day.
5. Schedule Tasks Based On Your Energy Level
Energy levels should not be ignored when planning our work because it’s an important aspect of how productive we can be. When we have energy isn’t the same for everyone either—we each have our own built-in body clock called a circadian rhythm.
“The circadian rhythm dips and rises at different times of the day,” reports the Sleep Foundation. “Adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00 a.m. and in the afternoon between 1:00-3:00 p.m., although there is some variation depending on whether you are a ‘morning person’ or ‘evening person’.”
If you know you’re most productive right before lunch, for instance, don’t plan meetings or email catch-up time then. Instead, put your hardest work in the time periods when you’ve got the most energy, and save easy tasks for when you’re dragging.
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