If I asked a trio of middle schoolers to help me rake leaves into the street, they might approach the task three different ways.

One might systematically make mini piles, then move them foot by foot until they all reached the destination. Another could rake leaves onto a big brown tarp, then drag them en masse to the property line. And the last youngster? She might head to the Internet, learn how to rig the Shop-Vac to blow outward, and never have to touch a yard tool or leaf.

Now, all these budding entrepreneurs would get the job done in the end. But at what cost? The first and second ones would probably feel at least a little tired. But the third? She'd probably have energy to burn. And that's the difference when you work smarter.

It's good to work hard -- selectively

This isn't to suggest that working hard is for chumps. However, regularly toiling inefficiently only eats up precious resources and keeps you from making strides. Smart work "supplements muscle power with brainpower," writes Brian Watson, founder and CEO of Northstar Commercial Partners. "It multiplies energy invested in a task by using intelligence, experience, and instinct for maximum results. This mindset develops a strategy that allows you to use your gifts, talents, and resources to accomplish the most results for the least amount of time."

No doubt you've already experienced the advantages of working smarter. You might have felt a boost of self-esteem, given yourself extra hours to enjoy, upped your productivity fourfold, or even given your boss or customers a reason to crow about you. To help you work smarter on and off the job, incorporate these techniques and tricks into your day.

1. Do some pre-snooze planning.

Before slipping under those flannel sheets, take a five-minute pause. Look through your calendar and jot down your most important tasks for the next day. That way, your priorities will be on your mind when you wake up. Or, if your day is looking atypically empty, you can fill in the bare spots with a revitalizing trip to the gym or a couple hours spent prospecting for new customers. "This five-minute habit is KEY to massive productivity," explains Marie Forleo, author and host of MarieTV.

Over time, this exercise will ground you. It will also give you a better sense of the natural cycles of your workflow and business. If you can set aside five more minutes at the end of your workday, you can even start on a few tasks, like dictating a short outline on your phone for a morning meeting. You'll feel less harried and more focused when your alarm goes off, giving you a smart start.

2. Be a tool-using primate (i.e., use tech).

There are plenty of ways to use technology to work smarter. For instance, marketers are using AI in droves because AI-driven platforms and software remove the need to constantly input the same data. In addition, AI solutions can interpret enormous amounts of information far faster than humans can.

Maybe you're not ready to get an AI assistant. Still, you can work smarter by virtually storing, not printing, docs. This will declutter your workspace and ensure that all of your work is cloud-based and retrievable on-the-go. A more organized workspace with more accessible data means you'll find what you need faster rather than wasting precious minutes searching through file folders. The opportunities to work smarter are endless. Find the tech tools that fit best into your day and make the most sense for your task list.

3. Locate -- and limit -- time-wasters.

We all tumble down Internet rabbit holes once in a while. However, you shouldn't end each day feeling as though you don't know where your time went. You should be able to identify how you spent your past 24 hours, and time-tracking tools like Toggl and Everhour can help with this. Reflecting honestly on where you frittered away precious time today will enable you to focus on being a better time manager tomorrow.

Don't try to eat all of the elephant at once. Just shave off a few time-wasters per week. Maybe you spend too much time looking at social media. Perhaps you always hit snooze five times before groggily getting up. When you name these cyclical time traps, you give yourself the opportunity to stop them. Merely setting limits for how long you'll engage in daily "downtime," like scrolling through your Facebook feed, will reward you with more time than you thought you had.

Yes, you should work hard -- just don't work so hard that you go backward. By working efficiently and imaginatively, you'll ease your stress level and do more in less time. And that's, well, smart.

Published on: Nov 26, 2019
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