Work Smart, Not Hard―The Steps

Work Smart, Not Hard―The Steps

Working smart means work effectively and efficiently. Don’t waste your precious time doing something, while you can do the same thing with less time and less energy.

Take a look at Greece and Germany. The average employee in Greece works for 2,017 hours a year, but they’ve been in a financial crisis for about four years now.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the average employee works for 1,408 hours a year, but they become the leading manufacturer of goods in Europe.

You see? Working harder and longer does not guarantee higher productivity.

Most often than not, success and fulfillment are pegged on how smart you work, not how hard. There are simple and practical steps you can employ to get the most out of your efforts without putting your health at risk.

Follow the next steps to help you save your time:

#1. Take breaks during work.

You need to take breaks to keep your brain focused on your tasks. Our brain can only keep its focus only for an average of 1.5 hours, and resting for about 15 minutes helps your brain refresh itself before intensely working again.

#2. Take a short nap

Naps can help you retain and recall information. Too much information can cause your brain to have burnout and forget it all, and napping helps your brain to make sure the information is placed in the permanent storage section.

#3. Create a schedule for your tasks

The problem with most people is that they spent too much time doing something that they shouldn’t do. We procrastinate a lot during our lives, what we can do is to minimize it.

A schedule reminds you of what to do and what not to do. Basically, it helps you to get out of your confusion when thinking about what to do next.

If you’re a classic guy, a small book is good enough to help you maintain your schedule. But, if you prefer to use an app, try Google Calendar, it’s pretty good.

#4. Know and set your priorities

What is it you want in this life? Career? Family? Passion? Make up your mindset a priority for them. Allocate some time for them.

Having a lot of money is good, but having a lot of money without having the time to spend them is not good.

Why else bother having a lot of money when you can’t even enjoy it?

#5. Work-based on your condition

There is no point in doing something mentally tedious if you can’t even think clearly. For example, if you are sick, and you can’t think clearly, then you shouldn’t.

It’s better to take a day off rather than forcing it and ended up doing something awfully wrong.

#6. Always carry a notebook and a pen (or a note app on your smartphone)

Ideas often will come to us when we don’t expect it, so you better write it down before you forget what it was.

You will save a lot time brainstorming in the office or trying to recall that brilliant idea of yours.

#7. Spend time in nature

According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, spending time in nature help you reset your attention span and relax your mind.

One experiment by him tells us that taking a walk in a city street doesn’t let your brain relax enough to reset your focus level.

However, spending time in nature, allows your mind to fully relax and helps you focus longer when you return to work. Moreover, a research has also found that for students, motivation to learn is higher when they’re outside instead of in a classroom.

#8. Move a lot and work in blocks

Joel Runyon has a method of what he calls “workstation popcorn“. The idea is that you move to various places, such as cafes, workspaces, or pubs to get a small portion of the work done throughout the day.

First, create a plan for the day, break them into smaller parts of what you will accomplish at each location.

And then, move to the first place, do all the things needed to be done, and move to the next location only after you finished the tasks.

It’s better to move when only you have done the tasks on a particular location rather than setting up a time limit.

Moving from a place to place is basically resting from the work itself, and resting is absolutely important, as the #1 step told us.

#9. Check your email first thing in the morning

Some people say not to check email right away. However, if you work in a team, this is helpful to make sure you are on the same page as everyone else in your team.

You can correct typos you just made, read the new blog posts, or making a quick decision for the day regarding the latest news in your office.

#10. Constrain the time

Wait a minute? This the opposite of what Joel Runyon told us in the #8 step. He said we need to move on only after our tasks are finished.

Well, that step only works if you’re not a perfectionist. The thing with perfectionists is that they will spend a lot of time trying to do everything (including details) perfectly, regardless of whether it is important or not.

If you’re a perfectionist, you might want to limit your time doing something. Otherwise, you will loss a great amount of precious time doing something much more important, like hanging out with your family and friends.

If you have only 1 hour to on a certain task, then do it only for 1 hour, and get over with it.

#11. Cut unnecessary activities

Throw away activities that were not: productive OR fun OR urgent OR important.

You’ll be surprised how much time (and money in most cases) you just saved. Sometimes we do something not because we enjoy it or we need it, but because we will feel guilty if not.

For example, you hang out with your friends every week, just because they are your friends, and feel that you’re not a good friend if you don’t hang with them. If you don’t like hanging out with them for some reason, then don’t. This is your life, take control of it.

Learn to say no.

#12. Know perfectly the objective

Every task has an objective. The question is, do you know it or do you not?

People who don’t know the goal of a task is the one who wastes the most time. By knowing your objective, you will be able to plan your day effectively. The clearer you are, the better.

#13. Have a vision

Now you know where you’re going, you need to know what it takes to achieve it. You need to know how you will achieve the objective.

Make a strategy for each day on how you will finish your task. That way, you save yourself confusion on how to do things.

#14. Take the most effective route

All roads lead to Rome.

There are many ways to do something with the relatively same outcome. Make sure you choose the one you like or the one you’re good at.

By choosing the method you love or you’re good at, you save yourself from extra stress.

#15. Aim for the most important things first

There are many things to be done to accomplish a task. Go for the one that has the highest impact.

For example, if you’re planning for working out to get that beach body, you should concentrate on exercising, nutrition, and rest. Don’t bother with the little details, such as the extra supplements, or when to work out, or when to eat your food.

Another example, if you’re going to write a book, aim for the writing itself, don’t bother to waste hours of time just to create the perfect title or perfect cover. Focus on the writing itself first.

Some details matter, but not significant in any way, so why bother thinking about it?

#16. Create a motivating environment

Motivation is like a wave, it doesn’t come regularly. Sometimes it will be gone, and then come back again.

To make sure you get motivation every day, try to hang out with successful people. Change your desktop wallpapers with the motivational posters you can search on Google.

Or, if you want to get motivated while exercising, you can listen to many exercise songs or motivational videos.

#17. Stop being a perfectionist

I used to be an absolute perfectionist. I need to do everything perfectly. Everything.

Then, a great headache struck when I was 10 years old. I didn’t finish my homework in time. From that day, I know that being perfectionist in things that didn’t matter for my life is just not worth it.

You can still be a perfectionist, but only on things that you consider most important in your life. If you have a hobby of sculpting, you may want to be perfect at sculpting your sculpture.

But, why bother being a perfectionist doing an office task that nobody even cares about? After all, being a perfectionist in work details doesn’t guarantee that you will get a raise.

#18. Avoid multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is an effective way to waste your time and enhance your stress level. Your energy will drains faster if you’re multitasking.

Focus on a certain task, and change to another. Don’t do it at the same time. In another post, it is also told that multi-tasking will lower your brain performance.

#19. Don’t accept a bad job

Either you’re self-employed or you have a boss, don’t accept a job which you don’t like. The reasons are simple.

First, you would not enjoy doing it, thus increasing your stress level. Second, you would not be as productive as if you’re doing the right job.

Try to ask for another job that suits you.

#20. Invest in good things

Don’t buy cheap products when you can buy a decent one. Buying cheap products will just dragged you down because they tend to have more problems.

And in the end, you will spend more money repairing it or buying a new product. A broken tool can drag you from doing productive works.

#21. Avoid procrastination

Follow the 2-minutes rule: Do something for only 2 minutes, and you will ended up doing it for hours.

Browse social media sites for 2 minutes, and you will spend hours. Do your job for 2 minutes, and you will spend hours. Choose wisely.

#22. Learn from the experiences of others

Sometimes, we think that we’re effective and efficient enough to do a job. We think that our method is the best.

Well, you may be right, but in most cases, it is not.

When I started to blog, I used to think that updating my blog regularly is far more important rather than creating long and deep content. Quantity over quality.

Then, recently, I know that I should focus on quality first. After all, I don’t have the resource to get this blog updated regularly.

I know this because I have learned from the experience of Brian Dean, the founder of Backlinko, the ultimate resource of getting traffic for bloggers.

You don’t have to experience all the things yourself, simply because you don’t have the time and energy to experience all things.

#23. Stick to something that works

If you always fail to do something, chances are that you should change your way of doing it.

However, it your current method works perfectly, don’t bother to change it just because other people do it. You’re not them, and they are not you.

Some methods may works for them, but not for you. Some methods may work for you, but not them. Some methods work for you and them.

Don’t force yourself to do something the way your peers do it. Be brave to do something in your own way.

The problem with our society is that a lot of people do things just because others are doing it. Don’t be like that, be genuine and know what’s best for you.

#24. Ask for help

If you’re good at A but not B, and your partner is good at B but not A, why not work together? You can do his/her A’s, and he/she can do your B’s.

Even if you don’t have something to be offered, chances are they will help you. Be nice to them, maintain your relationship with your partners, and you can get a job done without any frustrations.

#25. Automate

If you can do things automatically and it works great, why the hell not?

For example, you don’t need to check out all the emails in the morning. Set up a filter by labeling each kind of email so you know what you need to read first and what you can read later.

This article by Leo Babauta is a good guide to set up Gmail filters.

Another example is, when I need to reduce the size of images I’m going to use in this blog, I will use a cheap software called JPEGmini to compressed them in just one click, instead of adjusting the quality of the images manually one by one in Photoshop.

#26. Hire somebody

Sometimes, the details of a task is important enough to be done, but it’s time-consuming. If you’re a business owner, you may know that hiring a person to do low-impact details is the best thing to do.

Don’t waste your precious time doing something that have low impact, when you can do another things that much more important.

#27. Wait

In some cases, some problems will solve themselves. Don’t waste your time doing things that are unnecessary to solve that problem.

For example, when your partner promised you to deliver an email regarding a certain task, and he’s kind of late because there is no internet connection available on where he’s at, don’t rush him to send the email right away. That might just break your relationship with him.

Instead, do other productive things while waiting for the email to be delivered. Bothering about something will not change the situation in most cases.

#28. Choose your battles

When faced with problems, take a look at the problems for a moment. Ask yourself, is it worth it to spend your time to fix this problem?

If yes, then try to fix the problem. If not, then you can ignore the problem and pick another path.

As an example, you can fix your broken phone with $100 and two weeks to repair it. Or, you can just buy another phone for $300 and you can make a phone call in the same day.

If you think your phone isn’t important, then fix your broken phone. If your job requires you to stay in touch with everybody at any time, then it is much wiser to buy a new phone instead.

#29. Be flexible

When you can’t do a certain task for some reason, don’t stop. Either you try to do it with an alternative method, or you get over with it and do other things that is also important.

By doing things differently, you might discover a more effective and efficient way. Just remember, most of the inventions in the world were made because the inventor tries to solve problems.

#30. Do a regular review

Do a review of what you have done in the past week. Then analyze the things that are working and the things that are not.

Stick with the working things, and find a way to solve the things that are not working. Doing a regular review helps you to avoid the same mistakes again and again.

#31. Quit

It’s okay to quit when you know that something wouldn’t just work. When Steve Jobs knows that the LISA computer wasn’t going to have the great impact on personal computing that he had envisioned, he quit, and he created a different computer, the Mac.

It’s better to quit and start something new, rather than forcing yourself to do something that you know exactly just won’t work.

When you know you can’t succeed in the corporate career, simply because you don’t enjoy it, quit. Quit and start a new path, become an entrepreneur for an example.


Basically, there are three main things to remember when doing a smart work.

First, focus on doing the right things, not doing things right. You can use a car to go to Rome, or you can walk to Rome.

Second, don’t waste time. If you have free time, then most likely you will end up doing something unproductive. Try to make yourself busy in the right time, or you will feel busy your whole life.

Third, I never said that we shouldn’t work hard. This post is trying to tell you to focus on the “smart” things first. Then, if you already doing the “smart” things, hit it “hard”.

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