We’re all busy, it’s just a fact of our generation, but how many of us are actually productive. I know that sometimes I find myself taking a “5 minute break” from what I was working on and then 1 hour later I’m knee deep in discovering the life of Elvis Presley before he was famous.
The question is, how do we become more efficient so that we achieve more in less time? Here I’ve compiled some of the best strategies I’ve found to help with working smarter. Implement these strategies correctly and you will experience a new level of productivity throughout your day.
1. Where’s the 20%?
If you’re familiar with the 80/20 rule, then you’ve probably heard that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts. Find what activities throughout your day are bringing you closer to your goals, whatever they may be. Once you find what these activities are, simply start doing more of that. But what will happen to the rest of your activities? Essentially, you’ll become a prioritizer. According to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a prioritizer is someone who knows when and how to use the power of no. If you’re not able to exercise this power of yours you’ll end up becoming a people pleaser and susceptible to being affected by other’s choices rather than your own.
2. Kill the clutter
This strategy is the evil twin of the first. You might already guess what this is. This consists of trimming away at all the unnecessary activities in your life. But the problem is sometimes we don’t realize how much time we’re spending on our Instagram feeds when we should really be working on that project we’ve been putting off since yesterday. What this will do is get you more focused on what’s important and possibly 4x your productivity in half the time. Begin this by finding your average day and just writing down what you did on that day. You will find that you are spending much more time on certain activities that don’t serve you best. Once you have done this, start to trim away at the edges slowly but consistently. Don’t cut off all time wasting activities at once but rather one by one. You will find that this will be much more sustainable in the long run.
3. Stop aiming for perfection
Up until recently, this has been a huge problem for me because I’ve wanted everything to be absolutely perfect not realizing that it left me in a stand still not actually producing any work but rather thinking about how perfect it can be. No matter what you put out, it can always have improvements, but as long as it’s your best at that moment, that should be enough. When you aim for perfection, it leads to depression procrastination (because you want it perfect), stress, and anxiety. Nobody wants that. Make it easy on yourself and remember that any action is better than inaction, and no, thinking about it is not considered action. Once you let go of this need for perfection, you will be producing more productive work than many around you who will be micro analyzing the little details and putting out less.
4. Active resting
Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re not working hard enough, but rather that you’re not recovering enough. You’ll find that as you get more tired while working, you experience diminishing returns on your output, and once that happens, you’d be better off resting, but not just any rest. The rest that will give you optimal results is something called active resting. In whatever you’ve been pushing yourself whether it’s physical or mental, you can employ this technique to ease you from the stress of grinding away at your goal. Instead of just sitting down and watching Netflix, try these 2 techniques: meditation and breathing. These will not only help you maintain your focus but leave you feeling ready to attack whatever is next on your to do list.
5. Create a structure
We all have limited willpower. Some days we have more and other days we have less. On the days we have less we might hope for that spark of inspiration to come our way.
But what if it doesn’t?
Steve jobs is famously known for wearing the same outfit everyday: black turtleneck, jeans, and some sneakers. He knew that any decision making will deplete his mental energy and not allow him to make the best possible decisions when it actually mattered.
Inspiration is unpredictable but plans, routines, and schedules aren’t. Every day before I go to sleep, I write down what I have to do tomorrow, specifically and in the morning I briefly visualize what I need to get done. This will further entrain into your mind to get stuff done and not waste time. Another great tool I use is a habit tracker in which I write down one habit I want to cultivate for the next 30 days. If I do it that day, I put a check in the box and if not I put an X. All I have to do is focus on getting that check in that box every day. This eliminates any excuses because I know that I have to do whatever it takes to get it done.
6. First thing in the AM
You hear this annoying sound wake you up and realize that it’s your alarm clock. You proceed to press the snooze button and then maybe check your email and messages. What to do next? Start off with the easiest thing to do and work your way up? What I invite you to do is to try doing the hardest thing first, you certainly won’t want to do it first thing in morning but once you get into it you’ll find that you find it much easier to do compared to doing it in the evening when you’re tired from a full day and all you’re thinking about is hopping into that bed and getting some Z’s. It’s certainly much better to do it in the morning than pushing it back hour after hour and day after day. Consider this as well, if you didn’t want to do it in the morning, then what are the chances you’ll want to do it later, just get it out of the way! Trust me, you’ll feel much better afterwards with a sense of relief and achievement.
7. Just ask
Chances are that whichever goal you’ve set for yourself, someone has achieved it or something similar. So all you have to do is go and ask them how they did it. Realize that one idea can eliminate weeks, months, or even years of trial and error. There is no denying that learning from others’ mistakes is the best way to avoid them. Remember, that the mistakes you learn from don’t necessarily have to be your own. You’ll find that people will want to help you, so long as they see that you have taken the time and effort to help yourself. There was an article I read in which a man describes his car starting to fail on him in the freeway and as he beckoned for help from other drivers, no one would stop and help him but once he began to push his vehicle even if he was miles and miles away from the nearest mechanic, people started to stop and help him fix his car. People help those who help themselves. Remember that the next time that you approach a potential mentor.
I hope these strategies will help you as much as they’ve helped me. Make sure to implement these as fast as possible so that you can start seeing that this stuff works! Keep in mind also that by no means does this mean not to work hard. Your work, whatever it may be, will require your best effort. This is merely a means to improving the hard work you’re already doing and allowing you more time to do more of that. Go out and conquer the rest of your day!