Let’s talk about working smarter instead of harder.
Start by incorporating these eight tactics and healthy habits into your workday:
1. Keep your to-do lists lean.
The lightbulb just went off for a new business venture, so you start furiously scribbling. Soon, you have 10 pages’ worth of tasks, proposals and ideas.
There’s nothing wrong with your enthusiasm. The problem is that bulky list you just created.
If you start each day with an overwhelming amount of ideas or information, you’ll constantly get distracted, sidetracked and frustrated. You’ll also set yourself up for a strong case of burnout. Instead, keep your to-do lists lean by jotting down your three most important, urgent and challenging tasks of the day.
2. Track your time.
Researchers found that those who were assigned to wear a pedometer tended to walk at least one extra mile per day. Their overall activity levels also improved by 27%. What does that have to do with work?
If you know how you’re spending your days, you can see when you’re most productive. You can also see how and where you’re wasting your time. Tracking your time drastically increases accountability, which fuels productivity.
Apps such as RescueTime and Smarter Time monitor the minutes you spend on websites, email and social media to provide a picture of your day. Once you see how much time you’re wasting on ancillary activities, you can tweak your browsing habits or even block distracting sites.
3. Stop multitasking.
According to author Devora Zack: “The brain cannot be in two places at once, so what people are referencing as multitasking is actually what neuroscientists call task switching—and that means rapidly moving back and forth between different tasks.”
Zack adds that task switching can lower productivity by 40%—along with shrinking our brains. “When you overload your brain trying to get it to task switch, you shrink the gray matter in your brain,” she says.
Don’t try to be a multitasking hero. Juggling too much will just cause more mistakes, increase your stress and reduce creative thinking.
4. Hire people smarter than you.
Insecure, incompetent leaders are often intimidated by sharp, accomplished and polished peers, and so they surround themselves with mediocrity.
Savvy leaders recognize that success hinges on hiring smart, confident people who can shore up your weaknesses. To make your productivity soar, seek help from those who are smarter than you, and be confident enough to recognize your limitations.
5. Automate and delegate.
Whether it’s for scheduling, invoicing, email, social media, project management, sales or employee management, there’s an app that can make your life easier.
For tasks that can’t be automated, hand them over to someone else. Be confident enough to relinquish control. Delegate projects that don’t suit your strengths, and pass the baton on low-priority tasks.
If you feel that your days are being consumed by busy work or ancillary jobs, list your pending projects. Analyze each item, and see how many you can automate or delegate.
6. Don’t ignore your ultradian rhythms.
We can maintain focus for about 90 to 120 minutes, thanks to ultradian rhythms. This a cycle—in both our sleep and our waking hours—in which we go from higher to lower alertness. To maximize productivity, slice your day into 90-minute segments followed by 20-minute breaks.
If you feel more focused and energetic in the morning, that’s when you should tackle your top priority. Either way, pay attention to your energy cycles, and tailor your schedule accordingly.
Perfection is impossible.
Whether it’s a blog post, pitch deck or a presentation, just do it. Start writing; edit later. Don’t wait for the muse to arrive.
8. Batch similar tasks.
Batching prevents you from multitasking. It also provides structure, helps you stick to a schedule and reduces stress—not to mention saving you time.
Just as cooking a big pot of stew on Sunday sets you up for the week, you can block off chunks of time for emails, calls, blogging, employee reviews or other similar tasks. Batch your way to better focus, tighter structure and higher productivity.