Regular readers know I definitely believe in the power of hard work. As Jimmy Spithill, skipper of Team Oracle USA, says, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.”
But we can all work smarter, too. And clearly we all want to. The tips below were provided by Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Buffer, the maker of a social-media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates. (Cooper is also the co-founder of Exist.)
That post was so popular I asked Cooper for more ways anyone can make a workday more productive without putting in extra hours. Here are five:
I’ve written about the history of the to-do list before, and how to write a great one.
One of the most counterintuitive but effective methods I’ve found for increasing my productivity is to limit how many items I add to my to-do list.
One way to do this is by choosing one to three most important tasks, or MITs. These are the big, tough tasks for your day that you really need to get done; the ones that will keep you in the office past the time you planned to leave, or working after dinner if you don’t get through them.
Leo Babauta advocates doing these before you move on to other tasks:
“Do your MITs first thing in the morning, either at home or when you first get to work. If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them. Get them out of the way, and the rest of the day is gravy!”
The rest of your to-do list can be filled up with minor tasks that you would do as long as you complete your MITs. Make sure you work on those before you move on to less critical tasks and you’ll find you feel a whole lot more productive at the end of the day.
Another to-do list tip that can reduce work anxiety is to write your to-do list the night before. I often end up in bed not only thinking about what I need to do the next day but also planning the day; obviously, that makes it difficult to sleep. Writing my to-do list before I go to bed helps me relax and sleep better. And rather than wasting time in the morning because I don’t know what to work on first, I can jump straight into my first MIT the next day.
One more to-do list tip: Focus only on today. My most recent and favorite change to my to-do list has been to separate my “today” list from the master list of everything I need to get done. I often feel anxious about all the things I know I need to do at some point. I need to write them down somewhere so I don’t forget them, otherwise I worry about when or if they will get done. But I don’t want those items cluttering up my list for today; that will just make today seem even busier than it already is.
My solution is to make a big list of everything I need to do. Then, every night, I move a few things to my to-do list for the next day. (I use one big list with priority markers so that anything “high” priority moves to the top and becomes part of my “today” list.)
That lets me focus on what I must do today, but it also gives me a place to dump every little task I think of that someday must get done. Take it from David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: ”Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Park your ideas on your to-do list, but make sure you create a “today” list and a “someday” list. That way you won’t waste energy trying to remember important ideas and you’ll ensure today won’t feel overwhelming.
The whole idea of working smarter rather than harder stems from the fact that many of us put in more and more hours only to find we don’t get more done. That’s why we want to find methods to be more productive in less time. One way to do this is to adjust the way you measure productivity. If you evaluate yourself by what you actually get done rather than the time it takes to get something done, you’ll start to notice a difference in how you work.
For example, if you have a big project to complete, try breaking it down into “completable” sections. For instance, I like to break down my blog posts into sections and small tasks like adding images. With a set of smaller tasks making up a big project, I can check off what I get done each day, even if it takes me many days to finish the whole project. I get a nice little rush every time I check off a task within a blog post, even if it was just a 200-word section. It helps me maintain momentum and keep going until the whole post is done.
Another way to measure what you get done each day is to keep a ”done list,” a running log of everything you complete in a day. I scoffed at done lists for a long time until I joined Buffer, where we all share what we’ve done each day using iDoneThis. If you start keeping a list of everything you get done in a day, you might be surprised how much more motivated you are to do work that matters and stay focused so you get even more done.
Focus on measuring by results, not by time on task, and you’ll definitely get more done.
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