While we all did our best to be disciplined while working from home during the pandemic, you can be forgiven for having let things slide a little bit over the last year or so. And the truth is that, in 2021, schedules, healthy habits and everything else that you need to work productively are falling by the wayside. However, there is a way to pull yourself out of the work-from-home rut you’re in. Here are some tips on how to work smarter, not harder.
We’ve all fallen victim to a complete environmental overhaul that has drastically affected our work culture over the last year and I’ve noticed that, even though we have this new found “freedom” of working from home, we’re spending more time behind our desks than ever.
As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, employees are spending more time working than before. The average employee is putting in an extra hour of work per week and spending more time in one-on-one meetings or team check-ins, according to a study from Clockwise.
In short, because we work from home, we’re never really off the clock. If your boss says that your project is cutting too close to its deadline and you need to have an emergency meeting at 7pm, you can’t exactly say no. Before the pandemic, you’d have already left the office and it would have to wait until tomorrow.
So part of us may believe that this is pure exploitation on behalf of our employers (the socialist inside me certainly thinks so), but surely there’s a solution to turn our new-found eight, nine and even 10 hour days back into the standard eight hour shift or an even shorter day?
The bad news is that, there’s no substitute for hard work.
The good news, however, is that there are, in fact, a few hacks that’ll help you streamline your work process.
Brian Tracy‘s video on How to Work Smarter, Not Harder explains some of the key considerations behind hard work, while giving us a bunch of advice on scheduling, taking breaks and how we should prioritise our time.
We’ve also covered important considerations for more purposeful and productive living before, such as setting SMART goals. Another great resource that you can use is The Confused Millennial‘s tips on working smarter, not harder.
So here are five things you can start doing right now:
Track your time
If you’re looking for a sure fire, tried and tested way to waste your time, try having no idea about how you’re spending it every day. You don’t spend money without keeping track of it, do you? And, if time = money, why are you willing to spend your time without a second thought. Make an old-fashioned timesheet for yourself and make sure you’re able to account for every minute of your work day.
Once it’s on paper and you’re able to see what you have been doing with your time and can compare it with your performance outcomes, you immediately have a better perspective of where time is being wasted and can be used more productively.
Group similar tasks together to save time on switching tasks. Part of Clockwise‘s analysis of the pandemic workplace found that there has been an 11% increase in “fractured time” (chunks of time to work that are shorter than two hours). “More Fragmented Time is a predictable result of the influx of new events appearing on workers’ calendars.”
By putting all of your tasks together, rather than doing one thing, then another and another, spending time transitioning from one task to the next, you can cut out the “fractured time”. For example, a photographer might want to do all of their shooting in a single week, rather than one day at a time.
The 80/20 rule
Once you’ve figured out how you’re spending your time and how you’d like to group various tasks together, you need to do some culling. The best way to get this right is to use the 80/20 rule.
If you have 10 items on your to do list, the way to work smarter, not harder, is to pick the two most important tasks (which will be more important than the others combined. Ask yourself when planning your schedule, “if I were to be called out of town for a month, what are the top 20% of the tasks that I need to do that I need to get done today?”
Prioritising your tasks and working from a list can improve productivity by 25%.
It doesn’t really matter which medium you use; a notepad, a sticky-note, a cell-hone, your calendar or whatever you like… making notes not only helps you keep track of your tasks over time, but when you return to it, you don’t have to double back over work you’ve already done, or waste time trying to figure out where to go next.
Declutter your inbox
How many times have you found yourself spaced out staring at your inbox that’s flooded with dozens, if not hundreds, of emails that you need to respond to, and several dozens more that are just taking up space and serve no purpose. Take the following steps to declutter your inbox:
Read and respond to urgent mails. The emails that you absolutely need to respond to, that require attention and brain power. Do them right away.
“Boomerang” what can wait. Use the Boomerang extension for Chrome, which allows you to literally “boomerang” an email back into your inbox at a later date/time. You can respond to those emails at a more appropriate time.
Delete/Unsubscribe/Spam all of the junk.
Archive the emails that don’t require responses but that you think you’re still going to need later. That way they don’t just sit in your inbox taking up space when they don’t need to be.
So, if you’re struggling to fit all of your tasks into a single work day, don’t worry. You’re not alone and we’re all still adjusting to this new work environment. But if you follow our tips, you can rest assured, you’ll make life a lot easier for yourself and you’ll be able to work smarter, not harder.