I'm sure you've come across that old business axiom that says "work smarter, not harder." Whether you're a freelancer, self employed, small business owner, or working nine to five, we're constantly on the lookout for way to improve our productivity. That's why everyone loves that old saying.

You're not just working to work, there's a reason behind it. And when you have a reason, you'll find ways to become more efficient and effective at what you do.

For example, there's the saying, "A good developer is a lazy developer." It's not that they're not working at all. It's that a good coder doesn't waste their time writing monotonous, repetitive code. Instead they rely on tools and processes that assist them in getting the job done faster.

Not only are you saving time when you work smarter, you're also driving motivation because less it more.

Less is More

As a society, we're addicted to work. In fact, full-time employees in the U.S. work more than 47 hours per week. But, just because you're working that many hours, it doesn't mean that you're productive.

Doing too much overloads your brain.

Christine Carter, Ph.D and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work and Raising Happiness, argues that when we're too busy, we experience a cognitive overload.

"An overloaded brain hinders performance. It impairs our ability to think creatively, plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss's daughter, or our daughter's boss), and control our emotions," says Carter.

"There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources," says Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation.

"When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You're able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks."

An effective way to counter this by single-tasking. You'll save energy since you're not bouncing back-and-forth between tasks. Additionally, you'll be able to complete tasks more quickly and make less mistakes.

Stop and smell the roses.

Carter goes on to say that having more isn't always better. When you take a step back and think about what you already have, you'll be more grateful and content. As a result, you can improve your physical and mental health, build stronger relationships, boost your self-esteem, and get better sleep.

Research has also found that those who take the time to appreciate the good things in their lives are happier. When you're happier, you tend to be more focused, motivated, and productive in your life.

Doing nothing is not a waste of time.

"There's an idea we must always be available, work all the time," says Michael Guttridge, a psychologist who focuses on workplace behavior. Eventually, we start multi-tasking, zoning out, and spending too much time on even the most basic tasks.

Guttridge adds, "People eat at the desk and get food on the computer -- it's disgusting. They should go for a walk, to the coffee shop, just get away," he says. "Even Victorian factories had some kind of rest breaks."

Here's the thing. You don't need to work 24/7. Successful individuals like Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, and Charles Darwin had relaxed schedules where they worked for five hours a day or less.

The secret? Did they just waste time?

"Wasting time is about recharging your battery and de-cluttering," says Guttridge. That could going for a walk, watching an inspiring video, or just sitting there and drifting off.

"It's not the amount of time you spend working each day," says Dan Sullivan, co-founder of Toronto-based Strategic Coach and co-author of The Laws of Lifetime Growths." Entrepreneurs get paid through problem-solving and creativity. You can create a solution in a shorter period of time if you are rested and rejuvenated."

How You Can Start Working Smarter, Not Harder

I get it. Working smarter and not harder sounds great in theory. But, you possibly can't achieve it in reality, right?

Wrong. You can start working smarter, by taking these five steps.

1. Know where you're spending your time.

Before you can start working smarter, you first need to figure out how you're spending your time.

For a week or two log how you spend your workdays. The easiest way to do this is by categorizing your activities into buckets. For example, you would have a bucket for meetings, checking emails, and any other important components of your job.

Don't forget to include the time you spend commuting, chatting with coworkers, and taking care of thing in your personal life. The idea is to place each activity into the bucket based on impact, seriousness, and urgency.

If you're working on a task that will increase your revenue, then that should be placed in the first bucket because you need to do that immediately. However, canceling a subscription to your service shouldn't be a urgent task.

There's also time tracking tools that you can use to know exactly where you're spending your time. Once you do, you can eliminate any time-wasters so that you can boost your productivity.

After you know how your time is spent, create a calendar and guard it. This way you're always focused on the two or three most important priorities.

2. Establish a morning and closing of the day ritual.

You should also create and stick to a morning ritual. This should be the same activities and order that you do every morning. You wake-up at a specific time and then go for a walk, read, shower, eat breakfast, and respond to emails. It's an excellent way to put your mind at ease, feel centered, all while also getting yourself mentally and physically prepared for the day. Calendar productivity is key to an amazing day.

At the same time, you should also have a closing ritual for the end of the day. This means setting a time when you're completely done work for the day, like at 4:45pm sharp.

Just like your morning ritual, the ending ritual should also involve the same soft tasks every day, done in the same order is best, such as straightening your workspace and planning your day for tomorrow. Closing the day in this way ensures that you'll be ready to tackle tomorrow without any hiccups.

3. Move and work in blocks.

If you work from home, then here's some great advice from Joel Runyon; move and work in blocks.

Joel calls this "workplace popcorn," and it works like this:

Create a list of everything you have to do today. Make sure that each task is specific. Now break those tasks into groups. So in your first group could include 30 minutes to scheduling meetings for the week, writing a guest blog post for an hour about the new products your company is offering, and then working on your eBook for two hours. Once you have your groups set, find a different location to work on them. You may start your first group at home, then move to a coffee shop for your second group, and then relocate to a co-working space for your third group.

Joel says that he not only works less hours, he gets more done. This is because he's only focused on his most important tasks. He's also not wasting time since since he knows exactly what to do and only has so much time devoted to it.

4. Be flexible, but set boundaries.

Technology has made it easier than ever to have some more flexibility at work. For example, you may not have to go into the office five days a week. You could work from home every Friday. If you have to leave early for a dentist appointment, you can work from home instead of going back to the office.

At the same time, life and many types of work has made life more stressful. You're expected to be on-call 24/7. Even though this may sound harsh, this isn't an option.

Make it clear that you have exact work hours. Personally, I block out from 8am to noon daily. Unless it's an emergency, my family and colleagues know not to bother me because this is my undisturbed working hours.

They also know that I'm going to be leaving the office at 5pm. If someone asks me to review a document or if I can squeeze in a quick call, and it's 4:30, I will politely tell them "no." I'll get to these tomorrow when I'm back in the office.

It's always better together.

"Working with others affords enormous social and personal benefits," Gregory Walton, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote in an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology with co-author Priyanka Carr, then a Stanford graduate student.

Walton added, "Our research found that social cues that conveyed simply that other people treat you as though you are working together on a task -- rather than that you are just as working on the same task but separately -- can have striking effects on motivation."

While groups can also have negative effects, such as not feeling recognized for your contributions, group work has been proven to be an effective way to motivate people. "

Our research shows that it is possible to create a spirit of teamwork as people take on challenging individual tasks -- a feeling that we're all in this together, working on problems and tasks -- and that this sense of working together can inspire motivation," he said.

One way to work with others is to have an accountability partner. Together you motivate each other to do things like go to the gym. In the workplace, they'll hold you accountable for completing a task on-time.

Another option would be to form a team so that you can each chip away at a large project. Instead of one person doing all of the work, each individual has an assigned role based on their skills or knowledge. Since you only have to focus on your part, achieving your goals will seem and will actually be more easily attainable.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017