Work Smarter, Not Harder

    By Travis Smith | Small Business

    We’re all ambitious, but there are only so many work hours in a day. Instead of focusing on working hard to accomplish more with your precious time you should be working smart. Below are several tips to produce quality work on a busy schedule.

    Use a To-Do List

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    We all have more tasks than we have time to perform in one day. Through the years, I’ve tried many different organizational tactics for my to-do lists. After more than ten years of trying new techniques—everything from Excel spreadsheets to Franklin Planners—my favorite to-do list method is using a pen and paper. It could be a piece of notebook paper or a planner, but there is no substitute for writing something down.

    That being said, after listing all of your tasks for the day, week or month, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s why I divide my to-do lists into two parts, “Big Rocks” and “Small Rocks.” The “Big Rocks” are three to five major goals I want to complete within the week. If I only accomplished these items by the end of the week, I would feel successful. The “Small Rocks” tasks are less urge, but still need to be completed. I’m not always sure how I’ll fit these items into my schedule, but I put them on the to-do list to be aware of them. Each morning, I look at both parts of my list and ask myself, “If I had to get one thing done, what would it be?” That’s the first task I start.

    Use the 80/20 Principle to Your Advantage

    I first heard about using the “Big Rocks” and “Small Rocks” principle from Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Manager. According to his theory, if your first task of the day takes you longer than two or three hours, you picked the wrong item on your list. You should be able to complete that first task by lunch. After that, all of the “Small Rock” items seem to fall into place. It goes back to the basic 80/20 rule: a minimum amount of input can create a majority of output. Focus 80 percent of your energy on the biggest 20 percent of your tasks. If you don’t zero in on those larger items, smaller to-dos will get in your way. Manage your time in the 80/20 perspective, and there will always be enough time for the 20 percent tasks and never enough time for the 80 percent ones. Two other books that explain this theory are The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch and 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall.

    Delegate Menial Tasks

    Another way to save your precious time is to delegate smaller tasks to assistants or other employees. If you’re struggling with your schedule and you are still doing “$10 per hour work,” or entry-level work, you are probably off base. You should focus your time and energy on your highest dollar per hour value. This will free up your schedule and earn you more money in the long run. The more you mature in a career the more this idea will hold true. Delegating will make it easier to take your career to the next level.

    Work in Your Area of Strength

    You can also increase your value of work per hour by working within your natural skill set. If you know what your natural talents are, you can focus on polishing and perfecting them. Using your areas of strength will help you earn more, help you be more successful and make your workday more fun. Talent, however, is still not a substitute for discipline. But it will make hours of relentless work seem like mere minutes.

    Operate on a Deadline

    All humans work better when a deadline is looming in the distance. Personally, I’m in my best creative zone when I’m approaching a deadline. That’s why I’ll impose my own deadlines, maybe a week before something actually needs to be done. When I force myself to get things done on deadline, I enter a genius state where I’m much more productive and creative than if I were working without a timetable. In a time crunch, the 80/20 rule comes back into play: you must focus on the most important 20 percent of your work, and you weed out the 80 percent that doesn’t matter.

    Time Block

    When you are on a deadline, a good concept to employ is time blocking. This method of work operates on the idea that most people can intensely focus on a task for about 20 to 40 minutes before needing a break. For maximum concentration, time blockers will work in intense bursts of about 30 minutes. They will shut everything down—no phone, social media, etc.—and focus only at the task at hand. Some will even set a timer. When the timer rings, they take a short break of about 10 minutes. It’s a much more effective method than distracting yourself with texting or checking Facebook  while working.

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