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How to Work Smarter, Not Harder: 10 Tips

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Tips for being efficient in whatever your job may be.

Most of us strive to accomplish more in less time, whether in work or in life. Wouldn’t it be great to do in a few hours what it used to take you half a day? By focusing and reducing distractions, you can get there.

10 Ways to Work Smarter

Let’s look at ten practical tips to help you work smarter, not harder. Use these tips to work more efficiently, accomplishing more in less time.

1. Stop multitasking

It's now been found that multitasking is a myth. We cannot truly focus on multiple tasks requiring actual brainpower. And when you try to do it, you gamble, surrendering your mental health.

It can feel like you are successfully managing all of these moving pieces, but switching between multiple tasks makes it harder to get tasks fully completed. You won’t be effective if you can't devote enough focus and energy to each task.

Make a conscious decision to focus on just one task at a time and withstand the urge to jump to another mid-stream. This takes routine practice. Understand that you’ll work more efficiently when you focus on one task at a time.

2. Finish tasks in batches

Completing your tasks in batches can keep your momentum rolling through the day. Try to be proactive and schedule parts of your day for redundant tasks. For instance, answer all your emails during the scheduled time of day instead of whenever they land in your inbox. This will reduce interruptions during your essential tasks, and you'll find a better rhythm in your structured workflow.

3. Take more breaks

Taking breaks is one of the best ways to work smarter. Without natural breaks, our brains get tired, and we get distracted. Once you've given up multitasking, try taking a break between each task you focus on.

Even if you're overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, taking breaks is still essential. Your attention span wears out after focusing too long, so schedule downtime in your workday. During your breaks, make sure you get up to stretch, drink water, and have a snack.

4. Schedule tasks based on your energy levels

Determining what time of day you're the most productive and energized to work is an effective way to work smarter. Forcing yourself to work when your brain is tired won't produce good work and only make you dread tasks even more.

If you work better in the morning, try scheduling essential tasks that require energy. Working to your strengths and not against them will help you get more done and feel more motivated.

5. Reduce your to-do list

A shorter to-do list is less daunting and more doable. There's nothing wrong with having a short to-do list if you're getting real work done. Start with your most essential tasks and limit the list to three items.

Adding an unrealistic amount of daily tasks to your to-do list can cause dismay if you don't finish them all. Maintaining a short list is much more manageable and practical. Try to prioritize no more than five tasks that you need to complete. Anything after that is a bonus. This way, you'll finish your day pleased that you've finished all your important tasks!

6. Turn off notifications

You don't need to have your social media notifications buzzing while trying to work. It only takes your focus away from the critical tasks and wastes time. Turn off notifications to apps that aren't work-related to increase your productivity.

Most smartphones have Do Not Disturb options that restrict notifications or DownTime, which keeps you off social media or unproductive apps during selected hours.

7. Get some fresh air

When you find yourself at a deadlock with work, it's helpful to make a change of scenery. Getting outside for some exercise relieves stress, calms you, and centers your focus. If you have extra time over your lunch break, try walking to the nearest park and breathing fresh air. Your mental and physical health will benefit!

8. Wake up early

This one will take getting used to if you're not a morning person already. However, getting up early gives you a head start on your day that can't be matched.

If you're not an early riser already, Zen Habits author Leo Babauta suggests gradually moving your wake time back. "If you normally get up at 8 a.m., don't suddenly change it to 6 a.m. Try 7:45 a.m. first."

9. Know when to quit

While it may seem counterintuitive, knowing when to shut down your computer for the day is essential. You know the signs—your mind wanders, and you keep rereading the same sentence repeatedly. Or maybe you feel stuck, and it's taking you half an hour to write a simple email. As tempting as it might be to burn the midnight oil, you'll accomplish more in the long run by stopping and picking up projects the next day.

10. Declutter your office

Not only will decluttering your office help you work smarter, but it is also good for your health. A study at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) found a direct link between the stress hormone cortisol and clutter. Organize your office by removing the paper, trash, and other unnecessary items. Furthermore, nonessential software on your computer can be considered digital clutter. Try organizing documents into folders and delete any unneeded files. Finally, go through your inbox and archive essential emails to focus on the most critical messages.

Often, the secret to working smarter, not harder, is to reset our perspective on what is truly important for our role and responsibilities and better know ourselves (and our limitations).

Photo credit: Getty/jacoblund

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