While many people believe that the entire day should be spent working to truly be productive, there are ways in which you can work smarter not harder. It’s simple to set yourself down at your desk and work diligently throughout the day, but that is not always the best way to get things done. Time management involves more than just to-do lists.
1. Find Your Peak Time
There are times in the day where you’re working more efficiently than others. Your mind is sharp and the ideas are flowing. For most people, that time is early morning right before the lunch hour. There is a small minority of true night owls that are most productive late at night—but those are very far and few in-between. That time should be guarded as a precious commodity. Use that time for your greatest work. Do not schedule meetings and other draining activities that are not helping you progress forward.
2. Take a Break
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey mentions the idea of Sharpening the Saw. If you don’t stop to sharpen the blades of the saw, you’re soon working with a tool that isn’t as sharp. He means that you need to rest and restore your mind and body occasionally throughout the day. It helps avoid burnout too.
Smart people take breaks strategically. There are many studies to show that our minds can only work and stay focused for a certain period of time before they need a break. If you find that you’re losing focus after 90 minutes, that’s because your brain needs a 15 minute break. This isn’t a flaw in our bodies. It’s the rest-activity cycle that every single person has.
Instead of working for hours and hours with no break, you should set a timer for approximately every hour or so and take that 15 minute time to do something else. It shouldn’t be other items on your to-do list either.
According to to timetracking software DeskTime, the most productive employees take a 15-20 minute break after about an hour of uninterrupted work.
3. Systems and Automation
When you have energy and stamina, you can easily complete the same tasks day after day, but it’s tough to sustain that level of energy over the long term. You can also run into trouble when you have an emergency and are unable to complete those tasks.
If you find yourself answering the same questions constantly from clients or co-workers, you could create a list of frequently asked questions to refer them to, so you can free yourself for other work. A task that you complete often should be automated if possible. It’ll save time for you to be productive in other ways in your business.
4. Learn to Delegate
While the head of Fortune 500 companies might have started and worked hard to grow their company, they didn’t do it alone. They hired employees they trusted, delegated tasks and still they are applauded as the driving force behind a successful company. They learned that working smarter not harder is essential in business.
If you’re not ready for employees, try a virtual assistant or hire a freelance writer to do some of your tasks to free yourself up for revenue-enhancing work. Some good sites for hiring freelancers or virtual assistants are Upwork and Task Rabbit.
5. Take a Nap
Along with small breaks throughout the day, a power nap can be the best thing you can do to restore your mind and body. In Japan, naps aren’t considered a sign of laziness, they’re essential to restoring energy and renewing focus. The nap shouldn’t be long, but 15 to 20 minutes can be enough to make you feel revitalized. Try to get your naps in during what John Medina calls the “nap zone“, between 1pm to 3pm. That’s because the hormones in our bodies will naturally want a short nap during those hours.
6. Good Night’s Sleep
Small breaks and power naps can never replace a good night’s sleep. You should be getting six to seven hours a night to work at peak productivity. A tired body and mind can never get work accomplished as well as a rested body and mind can. While there might be times you need to get up early, you should counter that with an early bedtime to protect your sleep.
7. Exercise and Fresh Air
To keep the body and mind working at peak efficiency, it’s important to take the time to exercise or take a walk in a natural space. While many efficiency experts recommend a walk to clear your head, that walk should take place in a park instead of a busy street. You can’t fully unwind while navigating other pedestrians and traffic. With a bit of exercise during the work day, you can help you actually focus longer during the day.
Before starting your work, begin your day with a ritual that will help ease you from relaxation to work mode. This could be a time that you enjoy a cup of coffee, read the paper or just relax outside for a few minutes. At the end of the day, you should have a closing ritual too. Make a list for the next day, straighten your desk or back up the computer.
9. Say No
You are the only one who can guard your time. There are only a certain number of hours in a day, and you can’t fill them up with things that don’t benefit your business. It’s hard for some people to say no. Instead, you might find it easier to say no because you’re saying yes to something else more important. You have to guard your daily calendar like a guard dog, or you won’t be very efficient.
Taking the time to rest might seem like the opposite of working hard, but you’re restoring your mind and body to peak efficiency like the saw getting sharpened instead of working when it’s dull.