How to Work Smart: Steps to a More Productive Workday

Tips on How to Be More Efficient

Business woman working on a computer looking at a coworker.
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In today's hectic workplace, downsizing and rising workloads have forced us to work smarter. Tim Kehl, a work-life balance specialist based in Madison, Wisconsin, offers these tips on how to work smart and be more efficient.

Adopting the right combination of time-management practices can cut stress and save you up to an hour a day, according to Kehl. Here are his tips on how to get there.

Use Technology

You can't be your most productive if you're disorganized and surrounded by clutter. Get rid of those random piles of papers and sticky notes and use a simple electronic filing system instead.

Numerous software programs can help you organize a wide array of customer and product particulars, allowing quick and easy access. Also consider adopting a personal scheduling program that allows you to keep a calendar, to-do lists, work plans, and a directory of contacts.

Group Your Incoming Messages 

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 three or four 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 e-mails, letters, bills, text messages, voice messages, and other requests.

Drop Time-Wasters

A great deal of time is wasted by procrastinating, doing "busy work", visiting distracting websites—especially social media sites—attending unnecessary meetings, over-editing reports, and interacting with chatty colleagues.

Concentrate on the tasks and activities that actually "move the needle" of the business, and reduce or eliminate those that don't.

Take Frequent Mini-Breaks 

Even the busiest people need to clear their minds and stretch their legs now and again. Take a five to 10-minute breather away from your desk or work periodically. Take a brisk walk outside if you can. 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. 

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

You don't have to do it all. Really. Other people are quite capable of handling some of the tasks you generally reserve for yourself.

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.

Learn to Say No 

It's such a small word yet so hard to say. 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.

Stop Aiming for Perfection 

You'll seldom reach it anyway, and it's almost always unnecessary. Perfectionism can lead to micro-managing, poor relationships with co-workers, procrastination, low productivity, depression, stress, and anxiety.

The most successful people are those who are satisfied when a job is well done. They save their need for perfection for the few truly important things.

Know When to Ask for Help 

If you're overwhelmed at work and it's causing you undue stress, don't suffer in silence. Shed the Superwoman/Superman image and explain your situation to your boss or supervisor. Untenable work situations can usually be alleviated, but it will take some assertiveness on your part.

If a balanced life continues to elude you or you're experiencing chronic stress, talk with a professional such as a counselor, a mental health worker, or a clergyperson. Take advantage of the services offered by your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if one is available to you.

Allowing your life to overwhelm you week after week, month after month, can lead to serious physical, mental, and social problems. Be positive and know that there are solutions to your problems, but you have to seek help.