Over the past five years, as companies have downsized, employees have been pushed beyond the limits of a typical 9 to 5 workday. In order to get everything done workers are getting into the office earlier and staying longer than ever. But are these long hours really necessary? If you want to achieve balance in your life and get more accomplished in less time, try working smarter instead of longer.
The whole concept of working smarter may seem like an old cliché, but if you can achieve this it will change your life. It takes some effort, but isn’t it worth it if your entire working life gets easier? Take the time and the tedium out of almost any task by learning to work smarter.
1. Do a quick assessment of what needs to be done. Before you dive headfirst into the workday, try to temper your enthusiasm and take a measured approach. It is unrealistic to expect your energy level to stay the same throughout the day, and besides, it pays if to give yourself the time to “ponder” the best solution to a problem without making costly mistakes.
2. Write it out on paper, or at least have a checklist with everything you need to do, but be sure you’re not duplicating the efforts of others. An exhaustive “to do” list is still one of the best ways to organize your day.
3. Don’t over-schedule yourself. Learn to say no and be realistic about how much can be accomplished in one day. You may have to look at your progress throughout the day to see how much is still left on your to-do list. In most professions, there is almost always something that can wait until tomorrow.
4. Multi-tasking is inefficient. Despite popular belief, doing more than one thing at a time doesn’t help you move faster. In fact, you often get less done because your brain is so busy switching back and forth between activities. It might be difficult, but avoid the temptation to do everything at once and work on one thing at a time.
5. Communicate with clients properly and don’t build unrealistic expectations. The more honest you are with your clients about the turnaround time for a project, the less pressure you will put on yourself and your company. Even if they insist that their job is a top priority, you need to work with realistic timelines. If your client takes too long to make decisions, ask them closed-ended questions such as, “Do you prefer the green one or the red one?”
6. If you are self-employed, be careful which jobs you accept. When you decide to work with a company that has unreasonable expectations or if the work is outside of your scope, you may end up regretting it. It may be hard to let the money go, but turning down this type of job will free you up for the kind of work you want to do.
7. Re-bid the job if the scope of work changes. Many small business owners will try to accommodate the changing needs of their clients without ever raising the price. This is a mistake, as it sets up a precedent for future jobs. When you find yourself in new territory with a client, do yourself a favor and step back, draw up a re-bid and present it to the client immediately. Before proceeding, be sure the client agrees to pay more than the original bid.
8. Getting more done in less time doesn’t mean taking shortcuts on quality. Inexpensive tools and materials are harder to work with and they don’t usually hold up. Sometimes it’s not worth it to save a few bucks, especially when your reputation is on the line.
9. Maximize your personal efficiency. Are you surrounded by distractions all day, or have you developed habits that draw your attention away from work? Perhaps you can only be effective at certain tasks in the morning or afternoon hours. If this is the case, learn how to “cram” a lot of work into batches rather than conquering them one at a time. Even the most experienced professionals frequently evaluate their methods to minimize distractions.
10. Choose to delegate and not procrastinate. Perhaps the two most important words in time management, once the art of delegating and “doing it now” are perfected; success may be just around the corner. Get the right people doing the right things at the right time and your team will accomplish great things. Avoid the temptation to put important tasks off until tomorrow when you have the resources to get them done today.
If there is one piece of advice that is rarely mentioned in time-management books, it is flexibility. Learning to be flexible can ensure that you will not start to panic when your day doesn’t go as planned. Fires will need to be put out, employees will let you down, and business deals fall through; which makes it even more important to have a “Plan B.” Be open to new methods and be available to make changes at the last minute. Flexibility is a career survival skill.
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