4 March 2016

How to work smarter, not harder this year

These tips will help you, as an individual or team, work faster and smarter in 2016.

If you’re anything like us then the end of 2015 was fuelled with ambitious ideas on how to turn your working day around by kicking out the old office habits and becoming a productivity machine. We’re a few months into the new year now though and it’s safe to say that the old ‘new year, new me’ inspiration has probably worn off. You might have slipped back into your unproductive ways, you’re working harder (and staying later...) but still not getting everything done that you’d planned too. Sound familiar? Whether you want to get back into the swing of things after falling off the wagon or are just starting out now, these tips will help you, as an individual or team, work faster and smarter in 2016.       

Identify clear goals and prioritise

Simple but critical. Before you set about working smarter you need to look at the bigger picture to ensure you have clear aims. People often spend too much time completing tasks that don’t move them any closer to achieving their goals. Identify high level objectives and break them into manageable tasks. You can use these to help you prioritise. If you feel overwhelmed you can use these goals to eliminate any unnecessary tasks. They also provide a visible reminder to stay on track if you write them down.

 Learn to Say ‘No’

You’re a good person and you want to help people out... this is why this technique is possibly the hardest way to help you work smarter and not harder. However, knowing your limits is crucial. You must take this measured approach before volunteering to take on other people’s workloads. Learn to say no in a kind but firm way so that the person requesting can’t talk you into changing your mind. This step is necessary if you want to improve your work life balance.

Try out a new technique

Specialised methods are popular with productivity enthusiasts everywhere. One in particular is the Pomodoro technique that involves splitting your working day into 25 minute sessions with five minute breaks between each one. Set a timer and immerse yourself in your work. When the timer goes off you should stop your task and mark where you’ve got up too. Take a five minute break to do something that’s not work related. This could be something as simple as drinking a cup of tea or going for a brisk walk outside. You’ll then repeat the exercise but take a longer break after you’ve completed four Pomodoro sessions.

Process your email, don’t check it

A huge amount of the working day is spent on email and it can be a massive distraction. It’s far more productive if you keep your email inbox closed and schedule time in the day to process it. The emphasis here is on processing your email as opposed to just checking it. There are many good ways to process email but the premise remains the same: touch each email only once. A good technique is to move all the important emails you receive to a separate folder then delete everything that remains in your inbox. You can then go through your important folder and process each email systematically.

Better still, why not break the diehard habit and stop using email for communication with your colleagues and even some externals. Messaging services such as Slack or Skype for Business can be a great way to simplify communication, collaborate with a team and stop you from relying on email.  

Use tools to their fullest potential

There are systems that can take a lot of weight off your shoulders and help teams work smarter, yet many of these tools are being under-utilised. Try using a project management system like Trello or a more advanced, agile programme such as Jira that allow you to plan and prioritise tasks as well as plan work in sprints for greater productivity and to meet objectives faster.

Or...do it the old fashioned way

Sounds simple but using a good old fashioned pen and paper to write down the three most important tasks that you must complete the next day works for a few reasons. This tactile experience has a strange effect on the brain and will lead you to believe that you’ll get it all done. It’ll also make your online task planner, which is probably a mile long, seem a lot less daunting. If you identify work that needs doing the next day before you leave the office for the evening, you’ll save a lot more time and come in fully prepared, ready to get started. 

Sign up to our blog updates