Working smarter vs. working harder

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Getty Images

 

I wanted to build off our blog from last week about working from home, and talk a bit about the importance (and differences) between working smarter vs. working harder. One of the things that I hear time and time again is that employers often find that the productivity of work-from-home parents is often much higher within a condensed work week. This is always really interesting for me to hear – it is something that I have always believed, and I love to hear that others see it too.

Given that the Project House team is made up of people with restrictions on their time, due to commitments related to parenting, volunteering, and other work commitments, etc., we know that our output needs to be high within the windows of time that we have available during the week.

My most productive time is when I have a deadline or some pressure to get work done. For example, when I know that I have 5 good hours in which to sit down and bang out the 20 critical things on my list, that deadline helps me to clear my mind of unwanted clutter, focus my brain on the tasks at hand, think succinctly about the problem that needs solving, and propels me forward .

Now, all of us would love to be highly productive all the time, but we often get bogged down for some reason, and the day can just slip away from us leaving us wondering “what the hell did I accomplish today??”

So. Want to work smarter instead of harder? Here are some tips:

Prioritize your tasks

  • Believe in planning. If you buy into at least a simple process of organizing yourself, and you follow a few steps each time, it will save you time in the long run.
  • Establish what needs to be done when, and create a timeline. Sometimes mixing high priority tasks and some easier work can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Go through larger tasks and break them down into smaller, achievable pieces.
  • Delegate wherever possible – do you need to do everything on your task list, or is there someone who might be be a better fit (or even just as good) for the task.
  • If you do not have the time to do something right, be prepared to say “not right now”, or even “no”. It is better to be upfront about your inability to take on a task than to miss an important deadline because you have over-committed.

Manage your clients

  • Communicate clearly with your clients early and often. Make sure that you establish clear expectations for the work, for what “done” means, and that any approval process is well defined. Also it pays to manage expectations around deadlines, including draft vs. final.
  • Have the confidence not to accept a bad job. This is obviously a tricky one when you are working for yourself, but if a job does not “feel right” or it does not fit your own company values, then it might be better in the long run to walk away.
  • If a project is straying from the original brief in a significant way, make sure that the client understands that there could be financial implications.

Manage your time

  • Plan your time properly and have the discipline to get on with tasks in the order you’ve planned. It is easy to procrastinate and end up wasting time on a task, and this costs money.
  • Look at how you are doing things – maybe there is a more effective way.
  • Be flexible – this sounds contradictory when talking about time management, but if you allow for the fact that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and if you have an alternate way around an issue, this will help you save time.

Take care of yourself

  • Take regular breaks, stretch, eat, drink water. Studies have shown that breaks help keep you focused and give you the opportunity to take a step back from what you’re working on.
  • If something is not working, walk away from it and do something else for a little while. Coming back to a problem later might give you a fresh perspective.

Having said all the above, I don’t believe you can actually afford to only work smart, as running a business requires that you work both hard AND smart! The key is to be as productive and effective as possible, and to set up good prioritization, time management and task management systems in order to optimize your output. So in the end I suggest a small tweak to the phrase, and I’d like to say that it’s most important to “work hard while working smart”!  Good luck!

 

Working from home. Why we love it!

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When I made the decision that I wanted to start my own business, one of the driving factors for me was the ability to work from home. I have always enjoyed working from home; I find the freedom so…well…freeing! Not only have I found that I’m way more efficient, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to wear what I want, follow my own schedule, make tea and have snacks in my own kitchen, and sit on whatever chair, couch or bed suits me depending on my mood.

When we first started up shop, my nice sunny office facing onto the backyard provided space for two of us to work together, and still gave me the ability to be in the presence of my children with all their comings and goings. I love picking up my kids and dropping them off at school whenever possible, I enjoy taking them to their after school programs, and I love the big hugs and little kisses that I get from my youngest daughter throughout the day. Those small moments that I get to spend with them are only made possible by the fact that my office is in my home, and my schedule is my own to make.

We have since grown beyond the small upstairs office and we are now in the basement where we can house more people. It is still bright and comfortable and now we get the added bonus of more human interaction! The solution is the right one for Project House at this time. My youngest daughter is only 2.5 years old. Until she goes to Kindergarten, I want those interactions with her throughout the day, no matter how small they might be. I want her to know that I’m there for her when she falls and hurts herself or when she learns a new song that she wants to share. I want all of my daughters to see what it looks like to work hard and run a business – and I want them to witness the amazing collaboration that we have among our team members. I also want to keep our business small and flexible…for our own interests and for those of our clients. Working from home helps us keep our costs down. At this stage, I want to straddle the line between being a mother and being a businesswoman. The pendulum will likely swing over the next few years, but for now, I’m happy with where it’s sitting.

Given the nature of our business, we engage with a number of wonderful women & men who predominantly work from their homes and who come in to see us to work on particular tasks or projects. Here is what some of them had to say about working from home:

“As well as the usual flexibility and spending time with my children, one of the things I most appreciate about working from home is listening to the late afternoon traffic reports on CBC and being so thankful I am not stuck in one of the traffic jams!”

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“I do miss the camaraderie of office life, but feel fortunate that I now work in a situation where I can go into the office and work if I choose to, but if I have a day where I just want the peace and quiet of my own space, I can do that too”

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“I don’t naturally gravitate towards being alone.  It can sometimes be very easy to get distracted with chores or personal calls, or to turn on the tv, in order to bring activity and noise into my work space.  Sometimes the laundry wins, or the stack of magazines that call out to me…  Having said that, what I do have is discipline, the ability to set my mind to a task, carve out time to do it, and hold myself accountable.  I use my calendar for everything, such as  blocking times for working on specific projects, spending time with the team, making personal calls, tackling chores and errands, remembering the kids’  appointments, reading fiction, and buying groceries, just so that I can stay on top of all of the many things that I want to do.”

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“I have to be very disciplined with myself to actually sit down and work, ignoring the big basket of laundry that is sat downstairs, or any other household chores that beckon. I just make sure that I set myself a period of time where I work, then will stop, stick the kettle on and get on with those other tasks (or possibly catch up on the latest episode of “Modern Family”…)”

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I chose self-employment in order to gain some flexibility, variety, and independence in my life. I can see my family off to school + work, and I can be there when they get home. I can see clients and complete projects during the day, help the kids with homework, prepare dinner, get everyone settled, and spend time together. After that, I can put my feet up and get back on my computer if I need to.

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“Working from home often can lead to your time being a bit more dispensable for items that come up relating to the house and kids. Like when a dentist appointment comes along or the furnace needs to be repaired. It is sometimes hard to articulate why you aren’t able to meet the furnace repairman when you are sitting inside your house! The trouble is, there are times when you really need to time to get focused on a task, and letting someone in your home and showing them around is very distracting! Set realistic guidelines and work hours for yourself and then communicate them with your family and get their support.”

 

Working from home is not for everyone. My husband for example would really not do well or enjoy working from home – it’s not that he wouldn’t love to spend more time with his family – its just that he prefers the structure that comes with going to an office every day.

To wrap up, if you’re thinking of setting up shop from home or if you are thinking of letting an employee work from home, be sure to consider a few key things:

  • Do I (they) have the right personality to stay on task and to stay motivated to get work done? Can you fight off the temptation to skip out on work?
  • Do I (they) have the right tools to do the job? Computer, phone, printer etc.
  • Do I (they) have a dedicated workspace that is free of distractions? While not necessary, a small-dedicated area can be of huge benefit, a place that can “feel” like work when you sit down.
  • Am I (are they) able to work alone? Many people can find the lack of camaraderie quite difficult.
  • Is working odd hours a concern or factor? Many people who work from home can often end up working early mornings and late evenings.

Share your working from home stories with us at hello@projecthouse.ca.

 

 

Happy Family Day!

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Happy Groundhog Day!

Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most beloved and furry seasonal prognosticator, saw his shadow on Monday morning (despite overcast skies), portending six more weeks of winter. Read more here.

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