17 Ways To Work Smarter, Not Harder, in Your Career

By Jamie Birt

Updated June 27, 2022 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated June 27, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

Jamie Birt is a career coach with 5+ years of experience helping job seekers navigate the job search through one-to-one coaching, webinars and events. She’s motivated by the mission to help people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.

A group of four people stand around one person who points to a diagram on a wall.

Working smarter, not harder, can improve your productivity and performance while increasing your overall job satisfaction. It also can make you a valuable asset to the organization you work for, which can increase your job security and help you earn a higher salary. Learning about some strategies to work smarter can help you increase your efficiency at work and be more successful throughout your career.

In this article, we discuss what it means to work smarter, not harder and share 17 ways you can do this at your job.

What does it mean to work smarter, not harder?

Working smarter, not harder, means finding ways to use your energy and time at work more efficiently, which can help you complete tasks more quickly. To do this, many professionals use various strategies to help them prioritize their work, helping them identify their most important tasks. Besides increasing productivity, here are some other benefits of learning to work smarter: 

  • Saves energy: Working in short bursts, for example, allows you to accomplish challenging tasks with greater energy and produce better results.

  • Increases motivation: It can create feelings of positivity about your job, colleagues and yourself.

  • Makes you more valuable: Companies often look for ways to get more accomplished with less effort, and being able to do this can allow you to become a more important employee.

  • Increases self-esteem: Working smarter allows you to create a better quality product with less effort, which can boost your self-esteem.

Read more: Work Hard vs. Work Smart: What's the Difference?

17 ways to work smarter, not harder, in your career

Here are 17 ways you can complete tasks more efficiently at work:

1. Establish a morning routine

Try to start your morning the same way each day. This could mean taking a short walk to move around before sitting at your desk, or it could mean starting your day by reading a book for professional development. Meditation can be a great practice to start your morning with because it can increase concentration, improve your mood and decrease any stress and anxiety you feel.

Read more: 16 Tips for Creating a Successful Morning Routine

2. Keep your to-do list short

Try to focus on three to five important and challenging tasks each day. Consider making these your most important tasks that can make you feel highly productive when you complete them. Focus on these tasks one at a time before moving on to less important tasks to better prioritize your work.

Related: How To Create a Productive To-Do List (With Tips)

3. Establish a closing routine

Just as you have a routine for starting your day, also try to have a routine for the end of your day because it can position you for a great start the next morning. Start by making a list of the top three of five things you want to do the next day. When you're finished, consider cleaning your desk and putting away any items that are out of place. 

4. Block your calendar

Block off your calendar when you want to focus on work. This can give you time to get your work accomplished while ensuring you can avoid unanticipated distractions. If your company uses a shared, public calendar, this also can be a good way to ensure your coworkers allow you to get work done when you’re trying to focus.

Relateds: How To Use a Calendar for Time Management in 4 Steps

5. Respond quickly

Try to start a habit of responding to people right away. If you open an email that requires a response, responding right away helps you get the task off your list. If you tell someone you aim to talk to them about something, try to contact them within 24 hours.

Related: How To Respond to an Email

6. Measure your results, not your time

Keep an ongoing list of everything you accomplish during a day. This can help you feel motivated and accomplished. This list makes it easy to celebrate your accomplishments and better anticipate how long similar tasks may take in the future.

Related: How To Measure the Success of a Project (With Tips)

7. Enhance your communication skills

Make strengthening your communication and collaboration skills a priority. You can start by working on your active listening skills and staying on topic when you're communicating with someone. For example, when you're writing an email to a coworker, try to keep the email short and to the point.

Related: How To Communicate Better With Coworkers

8. Make meetings productive

Meetings are often necessary, and going into them with a plan can help them be more effective. Having an outline for what you want to discuss during a meeting and your desired outcome can keep them shorter and more focused. Try to keep the meeting as brief and productive as possible and end with action items to ensure everyone understands what you want from them.

Read more: Tips for Hosting Productive Meetings

9. Work in 90- to 120-minute blocks

Consider taking more breaks and dividing your day into 90-minute or two-hour segments to help maximize your brain's ability to focus and improve your overall productivity. Also, try to adhere to your break schedule and remain focused on your work during your 90-minute work periods. It's often a good idea to close your email and place your phone on silent at these times.

Read more: What Is Time Blocking? (Benefits and Tips)

10. Focus on one task at a time

Switching from one task to another without completing the first can be inefficient because your brain may need time to change its focus. You can avoid this by focusing all of your attention on one task until it's complete or you reach a natural stopping point in it. You also may be able to schedule your regular breaks around your tasks to help your brain refresh before starting the next one.

11. Set short deadlines

Setting deadlines for your work can help you focus, and consider planning to complete tasks in shorter periods. This can increase your efficiency while working on your tasks, which can allow you to complete them in less time than you otherwise would have. This can leave you with more time during your day to focus on other tasks or allow you to clean your office space before leaving for the day.

12. Practice stress management techniques

Consider practicing stress management techniques, like reading, meditating, listening to music or practicing yoga. These strategies can decrease the stress that can impact your physical, emotional and mental health. Doing these regularly can help you focus better and improve your workplace performance. 

Read more: 26 Quick Ways To De-Stress at Work and Why It Matters

13. Ask questions early

If you have an issue with a certain task, consider asking someone for help as soon as you encounter it, whether it’s a manager or a team member you think might know the answer. Although you may think it’s more rewarding to solve the issue yourself, immediately seeking help can help you find the solution quicker, which can allow you to complete the task in less time. Some of your coworkers may have the same issue in the future, so making them or management aware of it can help them solve it more quickly, too.

Related: How To Ask the Right Questions (With Tips)

14. Use productivity tools

Many programs or applications can help you automate tasks and better track your work productivity, which can help you be more efficient in multiple ways. First, you can get the benefit of increased productivity, helping you complete tasks more efficiently. Second, letting a program track this data for you saves you time from doing it yourself, which can allow you to focus on more priority items.

Read more: 22 Essential Productivity Tools To Improve Your Workflow

15. Schedule tasks to match your energy

If you can complete tasks in any order, consider trying to align the energy they require with the energy they have. For example, if you’re more effective at the start of the day, try to schedule your most important or time-intensive tasks for then. If you sometimes lack motivation at the end of days, you can save your shorter, easier tasks for then so you still can be productive. 

16. Group similar tasks when possible

If you have several duties that depend on one another, doing them in succession can help you be more productive. This allows your brain to stay focused on that aspect of the project, which can help you stay in the right headspace for doing those tasks. Similarly, if you have tasks from different projects that require the same type of work, doing them in the same period can help you work more efficiently because you may be more familiar with those concepts or formulas.

17. Say no more often

If you have high-priority tasks you want to finish and a coworker asks for help on an unrelated project, don’t be afraid to reject their request. Understanding your priorities and how best to complete them can help you set boundaries and allow you to focus on them more. To keep a positive relationship with your coworkers, consider explaining to them why you can’t help right now and provide a time when you can be available to help.

Related: The Truth About ‘Hustle Culture’

Watch as Erika Bennett, the Chief Marketing Officer of Essence, discusses the hidden hazards of hustle culture and how to avoid them.

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