In the 1930’s, Allen Morgenstern coined the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” This was in response to the long and grueling jobs performed by workers at Industrial plants. By coming up with ways to make them more efficient with less effort, they found that productivity increased, and workers were happier.
But how did they do it?
How can one work “smart” rather than “hard”?
Most of us have heard this term, and wonder how that can apply to workers today. There are many ways to increase your productivity by using good time management practices and a few extra tools to batch your tasks, track your time and prioritize what’s most important to you.
Let’s look at 5 time management tips that can help you to work smart, not hard.
Tip Number 1: Planning
Developing a plan of action for your day, week or month helps to clarify what you need to do so you don’t have to keep going over your to-do lists over and over again. One useful tool is called S.M.A.R.T. This acronym was developed by George T. Doran, a consultant and Director of Corporate Planning, in 1981, in Spokane, Washington.
Although SMART does not have one definite meaning, and has been revised over time to meet individual situations and needs, the original had five suggestions:
S = Specific. Define a clear specific goal. Know what it is you need to accomplish.
M = Measurable. Have some idea of how you will track your progress. Set a deadline or have a timer to show how long you have to accomplish this goal.
A = Assignable. Decide who is going to do it. If you are working alone, then clearly, the doer is you! If you are working with a team, then be sure the person who is assigned the task is able and willing to complete it within the time frame specified.
R = Realistic. Once you know what the goal is, and who is going to do it, be sure it can be realistically achieved within the time frame you have set, and with the resources available.
T = Time. Assign a target date that is reasonable and attainable. Having a clear picture of what you want to get done clears the way to achieving it.
Which leads us to the next tip…
Tip Number 2: Create a Calendar
Once you have a plan, and know what your tasks are that you want to complete, you can put them on a calendar or planning board so you can see the bigger picture and assign a time frame to achieve each job. By batching your tasks, you can group together similar topics, avoiding the energy draining mode of multitasking. When you multitask, skipping from one unrelated job to another, it takes your brain some time to reset before you can become fully engaged in your project again.
One study from the University of California discovered that it can take over 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. Imagine having to take 23 minutes out of every project, just to get back in the flow of what you were thinking about! Use blocks of time containing similar tasks, like spending one hour in the morning, and one hour at the end of the day to read and respond to emails, then you can assign another group of similar tasks to another block of time. Think about one task at a time, and focus on just that.
Tip Number 3: Eliminate Distractions and Clutter
Keep your work area clear of clutter. When you have piles of paperwork, and too many objects in your work area, your brain will automatically zoom in on them, distracting you from the job at hand. If you’re looking at projects that are calling to you from the sidelines, you can be quite literally sidetracked from thinking about what you’re doing now.
By decluttering your work area, you can clear your mind and focus more on the job at hand. If you’re having trouble deciding what to do with all of the materials on your desk, one rule of thumb could be to put it away, give it away, or throw it away. Most items will come under one of those categories.
Putting things away in an organized file, shelf or drawer will make it easier to find later, saving even more time. And it will be waiting for you when you are ready for it, not filling your head with all of the things you see needing attention on your desk. If it’s something you no longer need, you can give it away to someone who can use it, or throw it away if it has no other purpose. If the assignment is going to be done by someone else, then for sure, pass it their way!
Tip Number 4: Take Breaks and Drink Water!
While there’s nothing wrong with working hard, especially when you are passionate about what you’re doing, taking breaks can actually improve your performance. Not taking breaks can take its toll, making you less effective. Not to mention the long term effects on your body and mental health. Standing up and moving around allows your blood to circulate. And switching up your activity gives you a chance to use different parts of your brain, rather than continual use of areas that control problem solving, decision making, and even creativity.
Walking, taking a power nap, meditating, daydreaming and playing with a pet are all examples of ways to break away from the task you’re working on. Set a timer to remind yourself to take time to do something different. You can even schedule it on your calendar so you will have time set aside for it. Consider it another of your goals for the day, so you won’t feel as though it’s taking you away from your other tasks. It’s just as important as all the other things on your list!
While you’re at it, remember to drink water, either on your scheduled break, or better yet, throughout your day while you’re working. Get your favorite water bottle or cup and keep it close by! Drinking plenty of water encourages brain function. The human body is made up of over 50% water after all! All of our cells and body systems need water to function at optimal levels. When you are dehydrated, you might have a headache, feel sleepy, or have lowered blood pressure. Not the best situation for doing your best work! There are free apps like Aqualert that can help track your water intake, and send you reminders that it’s time to stop and rehydrate!
As you’re putting your best foot forward to do your best at achieving your work goals, remember to also take care of yourself! Your goals will not get far without you!
Tip Number 5: You Can Do Anything, but You Don’t Have to Do Everything!
In a book called The Power of Focus, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt, they describe the 4 D’s of Time Management. These are Do, Defer, Delegate and Delete. In deciding what your goals are, and how you’re going to achieve them, it’s helpful to prioritize the importance of each goal, and how it will be carried out. When looking over your list, categorize each task with one of the 4 D’s.
If you choose to put it on your list as something to do, Great! You’ve got it on your list. But if it seems like something that isn’t urgent, and you already have enough on your plate, you could choose to schedule it for another day. If it is urgent, but you’re still too busy, you can delegate it to another team member that has room for it on their schedule. Or you might look at it and decide it’s not really something you have time for, or want to complete at all. In that case, you might decide to delete it from your roster altogether.
By using the 4D’s method, you can manage your tasks by prioritizing the most important ones first, asking for help when needed, and knowing what’s worth doing, and what isn’t. By managing your time efficiently, you can increase productivity, lessen your stress, and help things to run more smoothly in a more relaxed environment. Remember to schedule breaks too, and make a little wiggle room for the unexpected. Then if something comes up that you hadn’t anticipated, you can deal with it in a calm and thoughtful manner, without throwing yourself into overtime.
Without time management, you may have the illusion that there’s not enough time. The Roman Philosopher, Seneca, said,
“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.”
Work smart, not hard, and with that, everything gets done.