You work hard, extremely hard, yet you wonder why your results are not really proportionate to the amount of work you do or the number of hours you put in.
You see a colleague of yours, not putting in as much work as you do, but still reaping the same kind of benefits.
Is it because he is gifted? Probably not.
More often than not, smart time management and smart working is the key to getting more out of less. So that is where you probably are lacking. Let’s delve into some tips that could help you work smarter and not harder.
1. Work in short bursts with intense focus
A famous study conducted by professor K. Anders Ericsson reveals that resting more can actually boost the performance of the individual.
The study shows that all the top performers work in short bursts of time and take frequent breaks in between.
Additionally, the Parkinson’s law states that work expands to fill the time – if you have 20 hours to do a project, you will take all 20 hours to finish the project, even though you could have finished it in 10 hours.
Working in a structured way, such as 30 mins bursts, can help you avoid this.
The tool to help you achieve this: Pomotodo is one cool tool which can help you get into this habit.
The app works on the Pomodoro technique in which you work for 25 mins and take 5 min breaks, and after 4 such cycles, you will get a long break of 20 mins.
Tools like these can help transition from usual working style to this productive working style.
2. Always measure your efforts
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it – Peter Drucker.
The Hawthorne effect says that the very fact that something is being measured and observed makes people conscious, and makes them want to work harder and better – like a reaction to an action.
So, how many ever time management measures and steps you take, it doesn’t matter if you fail to measure the outcomes. You will be beating around the bush and never be able to find a smart solution to manage your work and time.
The tool to help you achieve this: Rescuetime is a tool that can help here. It helps you keep track of how much time you are spending on each of your productive and not-so-productive activities; this way you will know how much time you are spending on nonsensical stuff.
3. Take fewer decisions during the course of the day
One often overlooked tip to work smarter is to minimize the number of decisions you take in a day.
Let me tell you why. According to an Israeli university study on prisoners, 70% of them who had the hearing in the morning received parole, while those who attended in the evening had only 10% of chance.
This is the effect of decision fatigue. Decision making consumes energy and the more and more decisions you let yourself make, the harder it gets to keep your productivity levels.
The best solution I have for this problem is to automate your life and eliminate all the small and not-so-important decisions.
Here’s how you can automate the little things that exhaust your head:
- Prepare a list of groceries and make an arrangement with the grocery store to deliver it to you every month. So, now you don’t have to make any decisions about your groceries every month.
- Use apps like Mint bills to take care of your bills every month and pay them with just one click.
- Another interesting tool, which I discovered very recently, is if this then that. This tool allows you to connect all your apps and give an if-this-the-that condition. For example, you can give a command such that every time someone tags you on Facebook, the picture will get downloaded into your Dropbox, or every time you add a doc in google drive, it gets downloaded into your Dropbox.
4. Don’t waste your time trying to kick procrastination’s butt, instead, become a structured procrastinator
We spend too much time trying to fight procrastination!
The truth of the matter is that procrastinators are rarely not doing anything, they just keep the avoiding the most stressful or important task, or so says John Perry in his essay on structured procrastination.
According to him, structured procrastination turns procrastinators into effective human beings.
Stop fighting so hard to kill procrastination. The time and energy you spend on it isn’t really worth it. Instead, make smart use of your procrastination habit and let yourself work on the little tasks before you work on the most important one.
As and when you finish these tasks, you will keep building the momentum and the energy you need for the final task.
5. Do not sleep all in one go, go polyphasic
The 8-hour sleep cycle we all generally follow is called the monophasic sleep cycle, but science has shown that monophasic sleep cycle is not the most productive way to recharge yourself.
The polyphasic style is where you split your sleep time into 4 or more sleep sessions throughout the day (depending on the feasibility).
The logic behind this is – in monophasic sleep, it takes 45-70 mins to get into the stage 4 sleep, which is where your brain and body gets recharged, but in polyphasic sleep due the feeling of a lack of sleep the moment you fall asleep you go into the stage 4 sleep.
Anyway if you want to know more about this effective sleep technique, here you go.
This sure is a radical strategy, and you should probably work on this when you have enough time to make a slow transition from mono to polyphasic.
The tool to help you achieve this: I would again suggest using tools and apps such as Smartsleep, which can guide your way to changing your sleep cycle and help you maintain it.
6. You are too important for the nitty gritty stuff – get a virtual assistant
Many times, we are so focused on not getting even a small detail wrong that we tend to take up everything onto our shoulder.
Here’s why this wouldn’t work – it’s practically impossible to maintain focus on every small detail of every single project you undertake and soon you will end up making mistakes like missing a zero on the cheque or forgetting to include a clause in the deal. Not good!
Don’t exert yourself with the nitty gritty bits of the work. Leave that to someone else – most professionals are trying out the virtual assistant concept. It just might work for you too.
The tool to help you achieve this: If hiring a virtual assistant is a bit of a stretch for you, then you can consider using personal assistant apps such as 24me. The app is a great option especially for forgetful people; it sends constant reminders, books appointments etc. Apple’s Siri doesn’t do a bad job at assisting either.
If you’re looking to delegate tasks quickly, Hiver’s shared labels is a great way to do it without having to forward the emails.
7. Maintain a healthy body
Did you know that those who work more than 10 hours per day have a 60 percent higher chance of a heart attack? But well, most of us driven lot are type A people, we just can’t sit on our hands, whom are we kidding, right?
But again, if you mess up your fitness and health, your efficiency and capacity to work will be hurt in the long run.
Here’s the thing, if you can’t find enough time to set apart to follow your healthcare routine every day, then you must find ways to fit in healthcare practices in your work time.
- Ride a bike to work, instead of taking a car.
- Carry some fruits and nuts with you for the snack time.
- Take a walk after your lunch.
- If your office has a gym, then great! Take some 20 mins to workout.
There are so many easy ways to make this work. All you need to do is try.
The tool to help you achieve this: Fitbit is one great tool I would suggest. It helps you keep track of your daily fitness goals and healthcare activities like drinking water, catching sleep etc.
Remember, what you don’t measure, you can’t act on!
8. Act like a person with OCD when planning your day
In my experience, making vague plans for a day is as good as making no plans.
At night, when you sit down to plan your day, plan out every single detail. For example, don’t just write down – I will meet the new client tomorrow morning, write down when, where and how long do you plan on talking to them.
Of course, more often than not you won’t be able to exactly stick to the plan you made and tell you what, that’s totally okay.
The idea here is that when you plan every single detail for every single program, you have this clock ticking inside you, which keeps you on track and does not let you waste time unnecessarily.
So, if you don’t write down the start time and the end time for a meeting down, you probably will end up spending 2 hours for a meeting worth 1 hour.
The tool to help you achieve this: Any.Do is a tool that has been a favorite of many professionals. It lets you plan out your day thoroughly and also allows you to set reminders. Plus, it works both on PC and mobile.
9. Do not force yourself to be a morning person, you can be productive at any time of the day
And the last tip – you are not the most productive during a certain part of the day. Snap out of that lie!
When you start planning your day, keep in mind external factors such as how productive you are at that time of the hour, is afternoon a time when your colleagues constantly come over to your desk? If so, that’s not a time to work on a tough project etc.
While planning, you must factor in external circumstances, your energy levels etc.
In fact, according to science, we are all wired differently and are most productive at different times of a day, depending on the person.
‘If you love life, don’t waste time. For time is what life is made of’ – Bruce Lee