work smarter not harder how to be more productive

Work smarter, not harder

Balancing work with family life can seem impossible. Office culture today can make you feel like it’s just not cool to leave work at 5.30. But if you have a baby to come home to, sometimes you might not have a choice. Fear not! You can get more done than all those who are burning the midnight oil, so you still have time for your family, if you work smarter. Take a look at our top five ways to be more productive at work.

#1 – Kill the To-do List

Most of us live and die by to-do lists, when it’s on the list, it’s under control. Or so we think.

So right now you’re thinking – “My to-do list is a lifesaver, how can I be organized without one?”

Think about some of the problems with to-do lists. First of all we tend to tackle tasks in order. Maybe we’re tackling a task because it’s number four on the list, not because now is the best time to do it. Another issue with the to-do list is that certain tasks stay on there and don’t get done. You know the feeling. You get the easy tasks done, so you feel good about crossing items off your list, but that awkward phone call never quite happens, even if is super important.

It’s not that to-do lists are evil. They are just the first step. It’s the next step that actually makes your to-do list helpful.

#2 – Schedule Everything

The secret to making your to-do list useful is to assign a realistic time slot to each task. Experts agree that if you don’t consider how long things take, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, writes a lot about productivity. He says:

“Scheduling forces you to confront the reality of how much time you actually have and how long things will take. Now that you look at the whole picture you’re able to get something productive out of every free hour you have in your workday. You not only squeeze more work in but you’re able to put work into places where you can do it best.”

To-dos are pipe dreams. Scheduling is a game plan.

#3 – Stop Procrastinating

Have you ever noticed how time pressure suddenly makes you insanely productive? Scheduling can have a similar effect and help you with procrastination. If you have a fixed window to get something done, it can help you to focus your mind on the task at hand.

Here’s what Cal Newport has to say:

“Assigning work to times reduces the urge to procrastinate. You are no longer deciding whether or not to work during a given period; the decision is already made.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t get up to go for a walk or get yourself a coffee. In fact, allowing a few minutes down time between tasks has actually been proven to improve productivity.

#4 – Notifications

It’s tough to get into the zone when your phone is buzzing every few seconds. You may get notifications for everything, from emails to retweets and pointless WhatsApp group banter. It’s essential that you shut these notifications off. You’ll see your productivity skyrocket, once you tell your phone to keep its mouth shut!

Of course as you’re a busy Mom, you need to be reachable in an emergency, so select which notifications you do need to keep switched on!

The news can also be a major distraction and also strangely addictive. We tell ourselves we’re keeping up to date but a lot of what passes as news is prettily packaged garbage – trivial, depressing and unreliable. So focus your attention on what’s useful and actionable.

#5 – Stop Drowning in the Shallows

Cal Newport has been studying work diaries and has made some interesting discoveries.

Although most Americans feel they’re working harder than ever, they aren’t.

The time diaries he studies show that average hours on the job, not only in the United States but also around the globe, have actually been holding steady or going down in the last 40 years. Everybody, he says, has more time for leisure.

The truth is, we feel busy because our time is so fragmented with little annoying tasks that drain the life out of us.

So if we supposedly have more time than ever, what are we doing wrong?

Not all work is created equal. There are two types of work: shallow and deep.

Shallow work is little stuff like email, meetings, moving information around, things that are not really using your talents. Deep work pushes your current abilities to their limits. It produces high value results and improves your skills.

The problem is that most of us spend most of our time in the shallows. In fact people who seem the most “busy” are often getting a lot less significant work done than those who finish work by 5 pm every day.

Cal Newport says:
The whole reason they need to work at night and on the weekends is because their work life has become full of just shallows. They’re responding to messages, moving information around and being a human network router. These things are very time consuming and very low value.

Most of us are more alert in the mornings. Schedule deep work for the mornings and use your afternoons for meetings and responding to emails.

You won’t get promoted because you went to the most meetings or responded to the most emails. Shallow work might stop you from getting fired, but deep work is what gets you promoted.

So remember:

  • To-do lists are just the first step
  • Allow a realistic amount of time in your schedule for each task on your to-do list
  • Schedule your down time
  • Kill those unnecessary notifications
  • Don’t spend all your time on shallow work
  • It’s the deep stuff that makes you successful

We hope these tips help you to become more productive so you can take control and keep up the great work being the awesome Mom that you are!

If you’d like to read more about the subjects discussed, take a look at these articles:
Read the full interview with Cal Newport in The Week
A great article on scheduling from this awesome productivity blog
Another article from the same blog about getting more done

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