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!