The 5 Best Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder


"Work smarter, not harder."

It's a cliche, but one that most smart people aspire to. Reason being, working harder is… well, harder. Working smarter requires a lot less effort, while also making you a shining diamond in the eyes of supervisor and colleague alike. Read on for a quick guide on how you can make this old workplace cliche a way of life. (See also: Go From Busy to Getting Things Done)

1. Get in Sync With Yourself

There's one thing that you can't schedule in life: Your body. It does what it wants, whether it's getting tired or wanting food. But what if you could hack the natural rhythms of the body to work smarter, not harder? There are a few ways to do this:

  • Eat the lion's share of your food during the eight hours of the day when you're most productive. A recent study found mice that did this were significantly leaner, with lower cholesterol. Make your dinner a light meal earlier in the evening.
  • On the subject of food, breakfast is the best time to take your vitamins for maximum effect.
  • For those who nod off in the afternoon, take a quick, 20-minute nap between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. This will help to restore your energy and avoid drifting off. It's also more in line with natural, pre-industrial body rhythms.
  • For readers, 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. are the best times to read something and retain it over time.
  • Work out between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. During these hours, your body strength is 6% higher than at its lowest point. Doing cardio? Shoot for between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Your body's natural rhythms can be a powerful ally in the battle to work smarter, not harder. Leverage them to maximum effect. (See also: 6 Ways Working out Makes You Smarter)

2. Prioritize Your Goals

Setting goals and making an effort to reach them is wonderful. But what happens when you have too many goals? You can't focus on reaching any of them. You have to prioritize.

Elizabeth Lang recently shared with Wise Think a six step plan for prioritizing your goal list. Here's the short version, but be sure to read her post for all the details.

  1. Decide if accomplishing one goal will help you reach another. If so, bump it up the list.
  2. Is the goal health-related? Bump it up because a healthier you is a happier, more efficient you.
  3. Will you miss an opportunity if you wait? If not, wait. Otherwise, move it up.
  4. How will the goal affect your happiness? There is not an easy up or down answer to this one, but keep in mind that anticipation is a kind of happiness, and many small jolts of happiness can add up to one big one.
  5. How long will it take to reach the goal? Try to mix up your long term and short term goals. That way you get some easy victories to tide you over while the long term projects are ongoing.
  6. How much will it cost? If you can't afford it, put it on the back burner. And if one of your goals is making more money — move that one up, and you'll be able to afford this one that much sooner.

3. Plan Distractions

It's easier than ever to get distracted from your work. Even if your company blocks social media, you might get sucked down a Wikipedia wormhole or even just get engrossed in a long-form article on The Atlantic's website that's totally related to your job. (See also: 6 Stops That Stop Computer Distractions)

Yeah, right.

However, if you plan for distractions, you minimize their impact. What percentage of your time are you willing to waste away due to distractions? Figure it out and set a mental timer for a window. Say that it's 10 minutes every hour. Let yourself get as distracted as you like from :50 until the top of the hour. Then get back at it.

Miss the window? Sorry, no makeups. You need to wait a whole other hour to waste time.

4 . Keep a "Nothing to Do" List

We've all had times at work when there's "nothing to do." Rather than letting this down time be an unproductive dead zone, make a list of things that you can do when there's "nothing to do." Avoid the temptation to make this busy work. Instead, list the things that are tasks you need to get done but "never have time for." This way you kill two birds with one stone: productivity during down times and more completed tasks. (See also: 5 Hacks to Make Your To-Do List More Effective)

5. Delegate or Cut Down

If you have people reporting to you, use that resource. Remember that being swamped with work isn't a badge of honor. In fact, it can be a sign that you're taking on too much. Delegate tasks that other people can handle down the chain of command. If something falls in your lap that isn't entirely in your department, share the task with the person whose job is more aligned. (See also: How to Delegate in 4 Steps)

If you're working for yourself, you might not have the luxury to delegate. However, you do have the option to cut down on work by looking critically at tasks that take up a lot of your time for little benefit.

How are you working smarter? Spend your distraction time sharing your secrets in comments!

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