You’ve heard the expression “work smarter, not harder” before, but what does that mean exactly? When your inbox is packed, there's a giant stack on your desk and the phone keeps ringing, how are you supposed to get it all done smarter?
The truth is many of our common ways of doing things aren’t actually productive. When you focus too heavily on the act of doing over the brilliance of planning, you can be spinning your wheels with a lot of extra activities that aren’t driving any results. That means lots of time wasted on things that aren’t worth your attention, or that could be handled in a more efficient manner.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are five simple cures to help you work smarter in the days ahead:
1. Structure. The wealthiest entrepreneurs know that having some structure to your schedule creates a routine of success. If you’re running around willy-nilly stomping out fires instead of planning your business’s future, you’re going to burn out and fall behind. The key to an effective workday is setting some structure in place. Get up at the same time Monday through Friday and carve out a routine, for instance; wake up, work out, eat breakfast, answer emails, phone calls, block out time for actual planning and work, check your email again, phone calls again, then be done for the day.
When you break out of your structure and start answering emails and phone calls all day and all night, you are actually wasting a lot of time. Having structure allows you to prioritize your day, trains your staff and clients when they’re going to have access to you and also allows you to carve out dedicated time for family, friends and yourself. Structure makes you a smart entrepreneur.
2. Drop the myth of multitasking. Perhaps for a few of the world’s most talented mothers, there is such a thing as multitasking. But for the rest of us mere mortals, drop the idea that you can multitask and be effective. The brain isn’t wired to do two tasks well at once. Focus on talking, typing, working or thinking, but don’t try to do more than one. You end up wasting more time trying to correct your words or rewrite your email. Your brain is losing efficiency each time it jumps to a new task. Focus on one thing at a time, complete it fully, then move to the next. This will help you gain much more time in the long run.
3. Urgent does not necessarily mean important. Part of being an entrepreneur is using sound judgment. You have to know your business model and products. You have to trust your judgment to hire vendors and staff. Apply that same sense of good judgment to the urgent vs. important tasks that arise everyday. Part of the brilliance of working in a structure is that in many ways, it eliminates this urgent vs. important issue.
If you check your email or return calls in scheduled batches of your structured routine, it trains your staff and clients to figure out their own problems. Have the judgment and discipline to step out of the easy habit of thinking every urgent thing is important -- it’s not. Learning to let urgent go will save you a tremendous amount of time and stress, so you can work smarter and focus on what’s important instead.
4. Turn it off. Smartphones and wi-fi are amazing. It’s easy to take them for granted now because they’ve become a part of life that wasn't around just 10 years ago. Yet entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson still managed to build billion dollar empires with a landline phone.
All this connectivity is convenience at its best, but it can also be incredibly disruptive to your workflow. To work smarter, you need to find times in the day when the instant message options are off, the email notifications are blocked and the phone is on do not disturb. All those pings, chimes and vibrating distractions take your brain out of a creative process. Only you have the power to turn all the distractions off and focus on blocks of time devoted solely to work, the creative process and your business.
5. Take lots of breaks. How can you take lots of breaks and still get anything done? Easy! It’s all about structure again. When you plan out your day to have moments of time between tasks for breaks, you’re setting yourself up for success. When you go, go, go, you end up burning out big time. However, if you set up time for short walks, meals and other small blocks of time to reset your brain and fuel your body, you’ll have the energy and juicy brain matter you need to go strong all day.
Don’t feel guilty about getting up from your workspace every two hours for water, a snack and a few laps around the block. Keeping your body fueled and rejuvenated will keep you working smart for a long time down the road.