Does hard work guarantee success? In a society where presenteeism is often required, it doesn’t always lead to reward and countless studies show it isn’t really good for one’s health either. If you pride yourself on being a ‘workaholic’, it might be worth taking a moment to consider how you can work smarter, not harder to reach your goal. Here SL Contributor Nina Bertok tells you how…
Take Breaks To Avoid Burnout
The greatest asset you have is you, which is why self-renewal and nurturing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual areas of your life is important and beneficial. On average, our brains only stay focused for 90 minutes before needing at least 15 minutes of rest, so make sure you follow the simple rule of just stopping when you’re tired. Your body and mind will let you know, and you really ought to listen. Trying to keep going when you’re feeling exhausted is a sign of burnout and only leads to slumps, so resting is vital in accomplishing top results because it resets your attention span and lets you work faster and better.
Take Naps To Improve Memory
A nap is never a waste of time. Having a short kip leads to improved cognitive function, better creative thinking and stronger memory performance. It also benefits the learning process and retains information for longer because having a sleep helps the brain solidify memories. Studies have shown that people who had a nap before exams performed significantly better than those who didn't, and as a result avoided burnout. Put simply, if you're about to do anything important, creative or something which requires concentration, your quality of output is unlikely to be 100 percent without having enough rest first. And that dreaded burnout does serve a purpose - to let you know you're exhausted and that your brain can't take in any more information.
Mix It Up
Do you really have to be cooped up in the office all day? Ask your boss, you might be surprised. Mixing up your working environment is another way to work smarter, so try allocating different workstations for different tasks - anywhere from cafes, parks or even pubs will do, just as long as it isn't too distracting. Before you arrive, arrange your daily to-do list into three sections, set a couple of tasks per section, decide on a location to do each section in, and set a deadline for when you will complete the tasks and move on to the next location. Keeping your surroundings fresh can be inspiring and can help you think up new ideas you wouldn't necessarily come up with in a familiar environment. Also try timing how long it takes you to complete tasks - this could help you gain more self-awareness and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, as well as repurpose your schedule.
Have A Clear Objective
Focus on the most important things that need to be done before turning your attention to anything else. ‘First thing's first’ is one of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits’ in the book 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, so identify your objective and what end result you are looking for. It’s really as simple as allocating just one focused hour at the start of your day when you are feeling most fresh and motivated, and putting in 100 percent in accomplishing it. Not only will you get amazing results when you give one task your utmost attention, you'll also feel even more inspired to tackle the rest of your tasks at optimum level once you've demonstrated to yourself what you're capable of.
Make sure you are super clear not just on your objective, but your ultimate vision too. Approach your objective as the 'direction' you must take, and your vision as the 'destination' you’re going to.
Similar to switching up your workspace location to complete tasks, the 'theming' technique allocates entire days, weeks and months to accomplishing a particular goal. Productivity coach and founder of Productivityist, Mike Vardy, says ‘theming’ has the ability to 'free one's mind to focus on the tasks that are critical to making progress in all areas of life'... 'Theming' months, weeks and days gives you less to think about when you're trying to decide what to do because that given time has already been given some sort of thematic value.” So, basically, say goodbye to procrastination. Why not give it a go - your Monday could be 'Catch-Up Day' for emails, family phone calls, running errands, and generally preparing for the week, while Wednesday could be your 'Work From Home Day', and Friday your 'Going Out Day'. 'Theming' gives you the freedom and flexibility to have a healthy work-life balance while taking care of priorities.
Go For High Impact Tasks
Tackle the big ones head-on. By going for the most important tasks first – those that will cause the highest impact – you will start to see results much faster. One way to do this is to cut out the 'fluff' - which you'll recognise as stuff that's nice to do rather than a must do - because this usually takes up precious time but doesn't contribute too much at all in the long run. As you look at your daily to-do list in the morning, check carefully whether there are tasks that could easily be postponed - and don't be afraid to be ruthless about it as it's your goals that are at stake here! Try making a ‘to-don’t list’ instead of a ‘to-do list’ which could make it easier to weed out the non-essential tasks and save precious time.
Learn From Others
Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. Sometimes there just isn’t a need to innovate, especially when you’re trying to work smart, so learn from others and model those who are doing what you’d like to be doing. There are many resources at your fingertips – from smart people, to informative books, and direct opportunities – so don’t let them go to waste. Read the latest information about your industry, stay up to date with trends, and research materials from experts because it will help you gain important insights immediately rather than through lengthy trial and error. Often, to succeed you will need to let other people help you, so be smart and don’t be afraid to ask for it – sometimes it can get you much further than doing it alone.
Don't Multitask, Outsource Instead
You don’t have to be a jack of all trades, either. If a task isn’t in your area of expertise or if you know someone else could do it better, then try outsourcing. Remember you only have 24 hours in a day – and sometimes less – so spend it where you can be of most value rather than juggling the roles of accountant, designer and office admin all in one, especially if you run your own business. Spreading yourself thin across every area could have the reverse effect on how quickly you reach your goals because doing multiple things simultaneously means you’re never really focusing 100 percent. A smart worker does one thing at a time and does it well.
Always Look To Improve
Always look for a better or faster way to reach your goals. Review your situation as much as possible, identify ways to improve your approach, and always stay flexible enough to adapt to new circumstances or ways to get better results. It’s helpful to draw up two columns and review what you’ve done in the past week and the correlating results of those tasks, then analyse what’s working for you and what’s not. As a result, you will have a much more streamlined list of things that work and what you are good at, plus you will gain much stronger insight into yourself as a person. Knowing yourself means you are able to identify things like the time of day you are at your peak performance, days when you are most creative, and what skills you need to work more on.
Reconnect With Nature
It’s really as simple as that. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver Of Excellence, says spending time in nature helps you reset your attention span and relax your mind. He explains that if you live in the city, you are probably over-stimulated with things that demand your full attention at all times - like always being on alert to avoid a car! This kind of constant distraction makes urban environments less restorative than natural surroundings. So instead find a park, a garden or even the beach, and let your mind fully relax – it will thank you, and you will notice it when you return refreshed and able to focus for even longer periods of time.