9 Productivity Tips to Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder

smart productivity tips
Photo by @jsdaniel for Twenty20

Do you ever feel as though you’re constantly being pushed to do more? After all, being able to say you’re “so busy” is a badge of honor that signifies to the world that you’re an ambitious go-getter who can constantly add things to her list without ever falling behind. But it’s not so easy. With so much to do and so little time, we all eventually begin to feel like we’re barely treading water. But we’re here to help with a few smart productivity tips. With a little planning, attention to detail, and willingness to conduct a little self-assessment you can get it all done without breaking a sweat. Read on to learn how!

Smart Productivity Tips

Make Lists

This seems like such a basic tip, but we are continually surprised by the power of lists. At some point or another we will all have a mountain of work that needs to get done. Keeping track of all of these items in your head may seem less stressful at first. After all, before you put pen to paper it’s easy to put to-dos out of your mind and pretend that you don’t actually have that much to do. But that feeling tends to be short-lived. Sure, it may work for a few hours or even a few days, but you will inevitably be slapped with a pang of panic when you realize you’ve forgotten to do something. And it always just so happens that the thing you forgot to do was the most important or time-sensitive task to take care of. On Sunday night or Monday morning, make a list of things to do for the entire week. This will give you a bird’s-eye view of what your week will look like.

Set 3 Small Daily Goals and Meet Them

Now that you have a sense of what needs to get done and when, every morning before you do anything else, make a list of what must get done that day. Everything looks better in odd numbers, which is why we like to set goals in groups of three. And accomplishing three tasks feels measurably better than achieving just two. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to everything—there are only so many hours in the day.

Prioritize

Having that 10,000-foot view will help you prioritize your tasks according to what is most important. Once you’ve made your big list, think about upcoming deadlines and start setting your priorities. It’s helpful to think about your to-do items in light of your personal and professional calendars so you can make sure you know what is feasible to accomplish and what is not. Having this list of priorities handy will also ensure you are constantly evaluating what needs to be done, which will enable you to react nimbly to changing circumstances, shifting deadlines, and the surprises that will unavoidably arise.

Set a Deadline and Stick to It

If you ask most people, they will agree that they are deadline-driven people. It’s much easier to get things done when you have a drop-dead date looming. If you don’t have one set for you by someone else, create one yourself. And make sure to build in rewards each time you meet a deadline. This could be as simple as taking a break to walk around the block a few times to taking yourself out to lunch at the end of the week, depending on how big the to-do was.

Take Breaks

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking breaks. We are constantly being pushed to work harder, faster, and longer hours so this advice may seem counterintuitive. But the reality is, nobody can work around the clock forever. When you’re burnt out, you’re far less efficient and productive, so even if you’re in the middle of something, when you start to feel like you’re spinning your wheels, take a step back. Stretch, chat with your coworker, or read the news for a few minutes. You’ll be surprised by how much more productive you can be once you’ve had a breather and some time away from your computer.

Give Yourself a Change of Scenery At Least

Nobody wants to be stuck in one place for hours and hours on end. But the truth is, when we’re at work, an entire afternoon can slip away before we realize we’ve been sitting in the same place. And the effect can be atrophying, leading to sluggishness and making you easily distracted. It doesn’t matter if you have the biggest corner office or the smallest desk in an open floor plan environment. You need to change it up a little. That can be as simple as booking a conference room for an hour, moving to your office’s café, or even working from home in the morning. However you can, try to switch it up at least once a day. You’ll be amazed by how refreshed you feel just by moving to new surroundings.

Learn to Say No

Part of being good at your job is helping out wherever help is needed. And yes, there will be times when you may need to burn the midnight oil to finish a project or get that promotion. But one of the easiest and quickest ways to burn out is to take on too much at one time. And when you burn out you become inefficient and unproductive, which leads to a lot of unnecessary churn. The best way to avoid this is to be honest with yourself about what you have capacity to take on. There is a balance to be struck between feeling challenged at work and not working yourself to death. So, take some time to really think about the balls you have in the air. The worst thing would be to take on a project for someone you want to impress only to fail to live up to the task because you’re too busy with other work.

Multitask Less

We live in a world in which it can feel like the ability to multitask is prized above all else. While it’s important and often necessary to be able to juggle multiple tasks at the same time, there is always a time when you need to buckle down and push a few solid hours of work in order to get something done. And when that need arises, you have to learn how to tune out the white noise of social media, your mom’s texts (sorry mom!), and your news alerts. That may mean setting aside 20 minutes at lunch to scroll through your Instagram feed, return a phone call, and catch up on the news. Figure out a system that works for you and stick to it. You’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish when you ignore the constant pings and buzzes of your phone.

Reward Yourself for Your Successes

They say life isn’t all fun and games, but neither should it be all work all the time. It’s so important to reward yourself for all of your hard work and we’re certainly not above self-bribery. So when you turn in a project, hit a milestone, or knock out a few items on your to-do list, treat yourself! This can be a small token of self-appreciation in the form of an extra yoga class or a nice bottle of wine, or a bigger-ticket item like a vacation. Think about what motivates you and keep that in mind as your checking things off your list and finishing a big project at work. You won’t regret it!

Do you have workplace ADD? Read up on the best productivity tips for the easily distracted.

What are your strategies for working smarter, not harder? Tell us in the comments below!