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5 Ways to Work Smarter Instead of Harder

( - Work task to-do lists can seem like they never shorten, causing you to constantly try and catch up. You put in long hours, work yourself to the bone, and still somehow feel like you’re never getting ahead. But what if you could work less hours and get more done?

When it comes to working smarter not harder, it’s all about creating habits. While there are undoubtedly certain tricks to take advantage of, such as managing your time, getting enough sleep and taking breaks, sometimes it takes trying out something new to feel a breakthrough.

These 5 uncommon but easy strategies will help clue you in on knowing when and how to make an effort, when to back off, and how to balance between the two:

1. Incorporate rituals into your day.

Establishing rituals in the workplace can reinforce healthy habits, allowing you to find focus, and minimize the effort needed to fulfill tasks. If you become used to doing the same thing in the same place, then you can become conditioned to be more efficient in what you want to do.

Begin your day with rituals like journaling, meditation and exercise to improve your focus. And end each workday by cleaning up your workspace, making notes for the next day, etc.. This tells your brain that it’s time to end the workday and think about and enjoy other aspects of your life, so you don’t feel like your brain is overloading on work stuff.

Research has also found that rituals increase our perception of value as well. For instance, employees are likely to find their jobs more rewarding by completing rituals with the intention to work smarter.

2. When you’re behind, go home.

When you’re behind, you likely clock countless hours at the office to catch up, or stay up late at home. If you do this occasionally, it may prove harmless, but creating a habit out of this is unhealthy. When you’re tired, you’re bound to make more mistakes and work less efficiently, as your energy is lacking. It’s better to take a break, devise a plan of action for tackling things more effectively the next day, and get a good night’s rest in the meantime.

Extending working hours and then falling into bed late at night means you miss out on the important wind-down period. “Creativity and innovation need space to emerge,” explains Dr. Emerson Wickwire, Sleep Medicine program director at Howard County Centre for Lung and Sleep Medicine in Columbia, Maryland, and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He also says that chronic sleep loss deprives the brain of a nutrient just as vital as food or water.

3. Guard your time.

Whether you work in an office or from home, it’s easy for people to pop in and out of your work area to say hello or ask questions. Whether it’s work-related or not, all of these distractions can add up, taking you out of your focus and eating up your time. Don’t be afraid to block off time that is designated to working only. This can be a “Do Not Disturb” sign, or simply a friendly reminder if someone approaches you that you are remaining in the zone until a certain time.

Research has known for quite some time the detriments of distractions at work, including inhibiting our ability to perform many tasks like detecting traffic signals and performing surgery. And a team of researchers at George Mason University even found that people who were interrupted while writing produced lower-quality essays than writers who were left undisturbed.

4. Remember Parkinson’s Law.

The law goes: Tasks expand to the time allotted. So if you’re given an entire day to complete a task, chances are you’ll allow it to take all day. But if you only have two hours, you’ll focus on completing it, and be able to move on to other important work tasks in the same day.

If you don’t have any deadlines per say, create them! No matter how big or small, give everything in your schedule a day and time that it MUST be completed by.

Behavioral researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch reported in a 2002 issue of Psychological Science that procrastinators were willing to set meaningful deadlines for themselves, and that the deadlines increased their ability to finish a task.

5.  Try talking over e-mailing.

While we live in a day and age where our voices have taken a backseat to typing in many ways, it’s important to remember the importance of talking. How often, for instance, do you send out an e-mail without getting a reply for hours, days? You spend more time following up than simply getting on the phone and asking the simple question quickly. And how often do e-mails pile up in your inbox before you make time for them? It’s a double-edged sword that you can easily avoid.

There’s also the concern of how e-mails, if they are being responded to, eat up your time over simply talking. Researchers at Loughborough University discovered that most employees respond to a new message within six seconds, and take an average of two-and-a-half minutes to return to normal work after they’re done reading it. In the U.K. alone, almost 3 billion emails are sent every day, which accounts for a lot of downtime. This type of information has caused companies to implement “no e-mail days,” to help establish greater productivity and get employees to start talking again.

Give your co-workers, clients, bosses, and yourself a break from e-mailing by finding ways to talk, whether that’s picking up the phone or a quick Google Hangout.

Try these 5 tips to boost your productivity effortlessly. You’ll get more work done easier and may even find you have left over time to get ahead or get home early.

Written by Alexa Erickson
Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words. See more articles by this author
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