Productivity Tips for Working Smarter Not Harder

Busy woman working in office
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  Ariel Skelley / Digital Vision / Getty Images

The workplace isn’t the same as it used to be. The days when almost everyone worked a 9-5 schedule are over for many employees. Even when you’re not in the office, many employers have the expectation that you’ll be connected—and available—after hours. The key to managing a busy work schedule is to figure out a way to work smarter, not harder.

The speed of the workday has increased as well, with heavier workloads, and higher expectations for productivity. This modern economy requires employees to work smarter and more efficiently. For too many, this can result in burnout. But for others, it becomes an opportunity to innovate throughout their workday and stand out from the crowd.

How to Improve Your Work Performance

There are ways you can avoid feeling burned out. If you adopt the right combination of time-management practices, you can lower your stress and improve your work performance.

Most of the time, becoming more productive can simply mean looking at things differently.

Here are some tips for helping you accomplish more at work without compromising your sanity.

Set Progress Goals

You'll seldom reach perfection anyway, and it's almost always unnecessary. Perfectionism can lead to micromanaging, poor relationships with coworkers, procrastination, low productivity, depression, stress, and anxiety.

 The most successful people are those who are satisfied when a job is done with the best possible effort. They save their need for perfection for the few truly important things. And regularly forcing yourself to acknowledge any progress (no matter how small) will help you feel more positive and energetic. Hence, you will always be more productive if you focus on progress over perfection.

Use Batching

Constantly checking and answering your email, voicemail, and other messages only interrupts your train of thought. It can hamper productivity, especially in jobs that require creative, innovative, or strategic thinking.

 Learn to respond to incoming messages in batches, and consider checking them only two to three times a day—unless, of course, keeping on top of them is integral to your job and productivity. Even then, try to schedule times to check in, and stay clear otherwise. Make use of the "Do, Delegate, Delete, or File" principle for dealing with emails, letters, bills, text messages, voice messages, and other requests.

Integrate Technology You Already Know

You're likely familiar with a number of computer programs and mobile apps that can cut the time of accomplishing certain tasks in half. Take a moment to see how some of these programs or tools can speed up your professional work or make it better. Often, much of the software at work is underutilized.

If you know how to use programs that are already set up on your office computer, make it a point to use them more often.

Getting used to making technology a part of your workday might be clunky at first. But once you get used it, your productivity will be much higher.

Learn New Technology

You can search for top productivity software applications and invest a little extra time on your own to learn them. Many of these programs offer tutorials for free or at low cost. Sometimes, your company will pay for you to get certified in certain software programs.

Numerous digital tools can help you organize a wide array of customer and product details, allowing for quick and easy recall. Also, consider adopting a personal scheduling program that enables you you to keep and organize calendars, to-do lists, work plans, and contact directories.

Get Help From Your Team

You don't have to do it all. If you work on a team, there are other people who are capable of handling some of the tasks you generally reserve for yourself. Taking some extra time to discuss what needs to be done alongside others might reveal that some of your responsiblities fall under a different job description.

Consider which duties you could be sharing with others, then slowly start parceling out some of those responsibilities. It will allow you to focus on your high-priority items while giving your coworkers a chance to grow and shine.

Don't Be Afraid to Say “No”

No one likes to turn another person away. When someone asks you to do something that isn't your passion or priority, decline politely but firmly.

Remind yourself that saying no to one thing gives you the freedom to say "yes" to something else that's more fulfilling and worthy of your time and skills. You're far more likely to let someone down by not finishing everything on your plate than by declining to take on certain tasks.

Take a Break

Even the busiest people need to clear their minds and stretch their legs now and again. Take a 5-10-minute breather. Use that time to go on a brisk walk outside or around the office. Do some stretching exercises, or walk up and down the stairs a few times. Drink water. Eat a healthy snack.

Stepping away from your work briefly will relax your body and rejuvenate your mind. You might even find that you're less frazzled when you return home after hours.

Taking fewer, longer breaks in the day can make your actual work time slow and less productive.

Ask for Help

If you're overwhelmed at work and it's causing you undue stress, don't suffer in silence. Be transparent with your peers and supervisors. Untenable work situations can usually be alleviated if you communicate clearly what is going on.

 And the sooner that you can inform your team members, the better. After being at your job for a while, you should be able to foresee workload issues. Nothing is worse than realizing—just before a huge deadline—that you won’t make it.

If achieving a balanced life continues to be a challenge, or if you're experiencing chronic stress, talk with a professional counselor or therapist. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), check to see how the program could help.

The Bottom Line

Use technology to boost your productivity. Take advantage of productivity boosting programs and apps.

Ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help, if you need assistance with a project or help managing workplace stress.

Take a break. When you're feeling overwhelmed, a break of even a few minutes can help you refocus and get back on track.