Last updated on October 1st, 2020
Do you sometimes feel you could be more productive and work smarter? Or does it seem you do not have enough time to finish all the tasks you wanted to?
Most of the time, however, this is only due to distraction and too little organization.
According to the Stoic thinker Seneca, the problem is not really a limited amount of time but the time we have that we simply waste without being productive.
So how to work smarter and effectively? These tips can help.
1. Plan Your Day Ahead
One of the best habits is to plan your day ahead.
Without a clear plan you potentially waste too much time sorting your tasks and questioning them.
Write yourself a manageable to-do list for the next day. If you do this one day in advance it won’t only help you fall asleep, but to get up earlier as well.
2. Create A Good Working Environment
A comfortable atmosphere in the office or your home office helps you to more relaxed and more efficiently.
Green plants, eye-catchers on the walls (such as pictures of nature), and above all a tidy desk help to achieve this.
Banish everything from the workplace that is not needed – even files that are not needed on the same day should be put away.
If the chaos disappears on the desk, it also disappears in your head.
Especially if you work remotely, you may do some changes to your workplace and surroundings before you even start. Ask yourself how do I actually work productively from home?
The light in which you work is also essential for productivity. We actually work best in daylight, but not everyone of course sits close to a window.
A remedy is a proper light from above, which can also simply be a second desk lamp – the color temperature plays a major role here, 5500 to 5800 Kelvin is recommended, which corresponds to daylight white.
3. Start With The Most Challeging Tasks
At the top of your list should always be the biggest challenges of the day. Once these are done, you feel freer, more motivated and the rest (almost) goes by itself.
If you postpone unloved tasks for too long, they block your productive work and make you unfocused, because unconsciously or consciously we have to think about them again and again – which leads to stress.
It is also especially important to always complete tasks to the end. If you start too many things at the same time, you get bogged down and at the end of the day you can’t tick off any task at all.
If you struggle with getting things done or just want to complete tasks more effectively, check out the Pomodoro Technique.
3. Ask Yourself Why You Do Something
It often helps to stop for five minutes and ask yourself why you have to do a specific task at all.
You should visualize the long-term goal behind it (everyone who has ever worked on a thesis or longer essay knows this).
Envisioning the end result usually motivates us and in the best case even encourages us to work on it more effectively.
5. Work Smarter By Setting Goals
Apply the good old “S.M.A.R.T. method”. It should help to formulate concrete goals and thus know precisely what you are working towards in which time frame.
Each letter stands for a condition: S for specific, M for measurable, A for achievable, R for realistic and T for time-bound.
6. The 80 - 20 Rule
This rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80 percent of the results can be achieved with only 20 percent of the effort.
Small commitment and big impact? Not quite, because the remaining 20 percent require most of the work with 80 percent of the total effort, and in most cases these tasks are most important. Therefore, these should not be delayed to infinity.
If you have about ten points on your to-do list, two of them are particularly important and, according to this rule, take up 80 percent of your working time. This phenomenon can be applied to the most diverse areas of life – Vilfredo Pareto discovered this phenomenon in the last century.
Still undecided what to do first? Fine-tune your To-Do list by prioritzing with the help of the labels “importance” and “urgency”.
7. Say "No"
If you constantly take on all the tasks that come your way, you distract yourself from your actual work – and fall into stress.
Therefore, you should also try to reject colleagues, friends or family members if they ask you to do things that do not belong in their area of responsibility or would distract you significantly to complete your daily tasks.
Concentrate only on the most important tasks and your priority list first.
If you really want to help out someone and the task is outside your area of responsibility, clearly note it down somewhere else, and do not add it to your to-do list
This not only ensures you more time, but also less stress and a more efficient workflow for the actual work you need to get done.
8. Take Breaks - regularly
Without regular breaks, the concentration quickly drops to zero. Rest periods are essential for body and mind to continue working efficiently and are therefore a good idea if you want to work smarter and sharper.
Exaggerated performance thinking does not lead to productive results, so experts advise taking a short break every 90 minutes.
After four hours of work at the latest, a longer break of 30 minutes should then be taken.
An alternative is also the Pomodoro technique by Francesco Cirillo . It says that the best way to maintain your concentration level is to work in short, highly productive phases of exactly 25 minutes, followed by a short break of five minutes.
After four pomodori intervals, you should take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. Try it, it will boost your productivity.
9. Utilize Your Productive Hours
Studies have shown that the most efficient time to work is between nine and twelve o’clock – to work smarter reserve this time for the more difficult tasks if possible.
We therefore often experience performance drops around midday, so this low time should be used for easier tasks. Between 3 and 6 p.m., the performance level usually rises again and the second concentration high should be used for the remaining important tasks of the day.
Around 9 p.m., however, the concentration and motivation of the average “morning person” is gone.
However there are also the so-called evening people or “night owls”. Their performance begins only in the afternoon and reaches far into the evening. The daily routine should, if possible, be adapted to their your biorhythm.
10. Eat Healthy And Nutritious
Sufficient sleep and a healthy diet are essential for the most productive work and concentration. On average, an adult person should get seven to nine hours of sleep to be able to work smarter and stay healthier.
An unhealthy diet also has a negative effect on the ability to concentrate. A balanced breakfast is key – this can be healthy muesli or wholemeal bread, combined with fruit and dairy products. This usually keeps us fit until midday.
Throughout the day, five small meals (such as fruit, vegetables, wholemeal products, nuts) are perfect and we should drink two to three liters of water.
By the way: sweets high in sugar increase our concentration only for a very short period of time. If the blood sugar level drops, we feel even more powered out and listless.
Better stick to sources of sugar from whole grain products, vegetables, legumes, and fruits because they increase the blood sugar level slowly, but constantly.
11. Bonus: Work Productivity Apps
And of course, there are great tools and apps out there that help us to focus and work smarter. If you ask yourself how to work productively with others because you regularly collaborate with a team, you should definitely consider a tool that lets you work on tasks in real-time.
I personally use Todoist and ClickUp to manage my lists and cooperate with others. Check this article for a review and more To-Do List Apps and task management apps for web and mobile phones.
The Bottom line
Being productive to work smarter has it perks: a feeling of being in control, leading a proactive life, feeling accomplished, becoming passionate… The latter can have its drawbacks though.
And sometimes the right quote may just be what you need to get going. Read more and check out the 50+ best motivational quotes for being more productive.
In this spirit,
Work Smarter And Have A Productive Day!