Career Advice

How to Work Smarter, Not Harder

When you were in school, did you ever notice how some students needed a full week and weekend to prepare for an exam, while others could simply spend a few days and achieve the same outcome? As adults, do you find yourself leaving work at 5:00 on the dot, making everything look easy, while others are somehow never able to finish their workload and are constantly behind?

We all have the same hours in the day, yet how we prioritize our time and energy will dictate our ability to execute tasks efficiently. Working smarter is the ability to be productive and efficient when working towards your goals, rather than looking and feeling busy and out of time. Use your headspace to work smarter, and not harder, using the following perspectives:

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results will be generated from 20% of your focused efforts. This was discovered when an economist, Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 20% of his garden pea-pods produced 80% of his peas. Translated into your own life, you could benefit from spending more time focusing on tasks that yield greater results, and less time on the things that don’t. For example, if you find yourself saying “yes” to every client or every project, consider only saying yes to some and focusing on the ones that bring you the highest ROI.

Set your intentions each day on activities that will produce the best results, and relentlessly focus and prioritize those tasks. Understand when you are most productive, and schedule your most difficult tasks around that time. Next time you find yourself working late, ask yourself, “Which 20% of my actions can contribute towards 80% of the end goal?

Rest and Recharge

Working when you’re overly stressed and tired does not make you more productive, nor should it be a badge of honor.

Some of the most influential people of our time, like Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, prioritize sleeping 7 hours a night. Try and establish a sleep routine by going to bed and waking up every day at the same time. If you can give yourself enough time between working and sleeping, you’ll have an easier time turning your brain off and relaxing without any screens.

Afternoon naps are also a great way to boost your productivity throughout the day. A quick 20-minute power nap can help reduce your stress, increase your memory, decrease mental fatigue, and overall set you up for a successful afternoon when you’ve hit your post-lunch productivity slump.

If you find yourself feeling stressed out, remember to hit pause, and give yourself a time out. While a bit of stress can help light a fire, too much cortisol release in your brain can (and likely will) lead to reduced cognitive functioning, decreased performance, and a lack of productivity. Give yourself time to go on a walk, practice some deep breathing, and meditate.  

Research suggests that our brain uses the downtime to make important connections that shape our identity and social behavior, so taking breaks and giving your brain time to rest is crucial!

Organize, Organize, Organize

If you’re staring at your to-do list and feeling overwhelmed, time-block your schedule and create hourly increments over the day where you focus only on certain task or project. By trying to do everything, all at once, you lose focus. However, if you can give something your undivided attention, you’ll be able to break it down into more manageable parts, and have an easier time chipping away at your work.

The most productive people plan their work based on their top priorities and work accordingly around that. Creating a detailed to-do list each night will guide your plan of action throughout the following day. Don’t forget to always reward yourself when you complete and reach your milestones!

Focus on Your Own Journey

Remember that what might take you 5 hours, could take someone else 8. This does not mean you’re doing anything wrong, working less hard, or being lazy! Working longer hours does not ensure higher productivity. Give yourself the time you need to set and achieve your own goals, and don’t get psyched out by your colleague who can never seem to make it out of the office before 9:00 p.m.

Have the confidence to know that you’re doing exactly what needs to get done!

Stacy Pollack is a professional development specialist who helps employees and leaders build new skills through innovative programs. She is passionate about creating opportunities for people to advance in their career while improving their organization’s retention rate and output. She loves sharing insights on workplace development, career building, and networking for success. Stacy also holds an MA in Educational Technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or at www.stacypollack.com.

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