Many of us have heard repeatedly – work smarter, not harder. It sounds good, but is it really that simple? Do we just need to put some thought into how we operate, and we’ll suddenly be way more productive while feeling better? Can we really get more accomplished without burning the candle at both ends?
The short answer is, it depends.
Let’s talk through how you can assess what you need to work on.
Do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing?
You want to make sure that you’re clear on your values, who you want to be, and where you’re headed. There are many people who are running full tilt, without knowing whether they are heading in the right direction. You can’t make strong decisions without a framework for making those decisions.
Another way that we can be unclear on what we’re doing is that we start reacting instead of planning. This can be randomly responding to emails, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, or doing stuff for other people just because they asked. This doesn’t move us forward effectively.
Identify your big goals, your priorities, and your values, so you have a foundation for making decisions like a BOSS. Be thoughtful about how you spend your time. When you’re deciding to do tasks and be active, do that thoughtfully. Plan it out. When you’re resting – actually rest. Don’t spend too much time spaced out in front of a screen (unless that’s where you’ve decided to be). Take charge and plan.
Can you say “no” when you need to?
When you become conscious of why you’re doing what you’re doing, it becomes more and more important to say no to things that don’t fit for you. Too many people say yes to everything due to FOMO or fear of disappointing people. You have to evaluate and assess each opportunity and then say no to the ones that don’t work. That can be a challenge if you typically say yes to everything.
If you have no problem saying “no,” say it more often and more strategically. If you do struggle to say “no,” identify ways to ease yourself into it. Offer other resources or referrals. Remind yourself of your other, more aligned (or important) commitments, so you can stay on track. Explore why it’s so hard to say no and identify how to say no gracefully and without guilt.
Have you optimized your schedule?
Whether your schedule is ad hoc and chaotic OR regimented and scheduled down to the minute, you could be in trouble. Optimizing your schedule is fairly unique and many people have a real challenge in getting it right. So many people are inefficient in how they use their time, energy, and other resources.
Identify the most important things that must be in your schedule (your biggest priorities) and allot a generous amount of time for each one. Schedule in breaks (to recharge your energy) and buffers to account for things that could go wrong. Assess your energy and focus. Don’t do creative activities during a time when you’re more likely to knock out administrative tasks. Don’t do admin tasks (or mindlessly scroll through Facebook) when your creative juices are flowing. Find your rhythms and honor them, while making sure to carve out time for your highest priorities first.
Do you have systems in place that streamline your activities?
Too often we recreate the wheel every time we do something. We have emails that are so similar and yet we retype them every time, we struggle to get appointments scheduled and spend days going back and forth by email, text or phone calls. We are clunky getting repeated tasks completed because we’re trying to remember what to do when. All of this takes more time than needed and causes our schedules to get crunched (and we can even feel discombobulated and incompetent).
Identify what you do frequently (repeated tasks) and create a protocol for how you manage it. Create templates for emails or documents you frequently write. Make checklists for activities that you do more than a couple of times. These checklists or procedures should be carefully thought out (to make sure you’re putting things in a logical order) and evaluated as they are used. These solutions can help make your tasks routine and take very little time. You can also incorporate electronic solutions (like a scheduling program) to decrease the back and forth when you’re trying to schedule with someone. When you put these things in place, you can accomplish a lot more because you don’t have to think about it.
Have you delegated or outsourced tasks when needed? (and done so effectively)?
When you start getting more efficient, the last step many people take is to delegate or outsource tasks to other people. This is the biggest way that you can make a bigger impact (and not burn out) because you’re not actually doing these tasks. Oftentimes, people push back on delegating to others because they worry about the expense or how well a task will be done. Another concern is often the difficulty with managing others effectively.
Identify the stuff that you hate to do or don’t do well. Start with delegating these things. Make sure that you are clear on the task, so you can communicate to someone else what to do, in great detail. Don’t expect someone else to read your mind or get it right the first time. Investing time up front to delegate something saves time in the long run.
Are you clear on what is truly a crisis?
Too many people have a really loose definition of crisis. Anything that people get upset about – that’s a crisis. I don’t like this definition because it means that we are dropping everything for everyone else way too often.
Instead, let’s use a really extreme definition of crisis: life or death. Or life-changing. When we can empower others to take care of their small problems, we get less “emergencies” that are really inconveniences. I’m talking about the times when you’re asked to talk to someone about something unfortunate they said, run home to get a lunch or homework assignment, or other equally uncomfortable, but manageable situations. You don’t need to drop everything, you can redirect them or schedule time later to handle it. Just don’t throw away your own progress for everyone else. That’s the road to burnout!
Have you seen yourself in any of these challenges? Or do you have other challenges that you’re facing that seem to get in your way? Please don’t hesitate to set up time for us to talk (on my fancy scheduler of course). We can look at what’s going on and make your unique plan to increase your impact, without burning out.