Work Smarter, Not Harder
Resources to help you find the time for the most important things in life.
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What does it mean to work smarter, not harder?
It's about making time for what matters most
We are busy. Burnout is a real thing. But working harder, not smarter isn’t just another productivity hack so that you have more time in your day for your to do list.
It’s about setting up boundaries and sticking to them so that you can make space for what matters most in your life. It’s about being mindful of how you spend your time and being organized enough with your thoughts to realize what’s being wasted.
It’s about better understanding how your mind works, and using that knowledge, and the science behind it, to better plan out your days, your weeks, your years, your life.
And sometimes, it’s about doing nothing at all. It’s about pausing in the midst of our busy lives to be grateful for what you have, to allow yourself the time and space to just be, to find the space between.
Why does it matter?
Time is our most precious resource
We all have limited time. Not just in your days, but in your lives. We have but one life and we’d better make the most of it. Some of us already do this, but most of us live in default mode just letting life happen to us instead of really living it. Some of us are reminded with trauma or the loss of a loved one, but you don’t have to suffer through adversity to learn this lesson the hard way.
How you spend your time is how you spend your life. If you don’t make time for the things that matter most, you won’t have time. Joy and happiness comes more from the tiny moments that make up your life, not the grand gestures and major milestones along the way. So you have to learn to make space for happiness in your everyday life.
Having greater control of how you spend your time and setting up the proper boundaries to make space, will provide you with a calmer, less stressful, more meaningful life.
Sounds good, but how do I do it in reality?
Create intentional space with boundaries
Working smarter, not harder is about being mindful of three important aspects of your life:
- What it is that matters most in your life, and how much space is needed to thrive
- Understand your mind’s limitations and capabilities and how that affects your behavior and habits
- Establishing healthy boundaries and expectations with others over how you spend your time in order to reduce distractions, keep you focused, and remove other barriers to living your best life
But if you don’t yet know your purpose, you won’t be able to figure this out. Luckily for all of you, I’m in the process of developing a new course, Purpose for Obsessive Planners, that will guide you through the process. It’s designed to be re-visited often and you’ll have access for life so that as you discover more about yourself, and what matters most to you, you can update and improve the clarity and definition of your own life’s purpose.
STEP 1: Determine your needs
Establish an intention for how you want to spend your life. Imagine your ideal day if real world concerns (like earning enough money to live) weren’t an issue. What is the optimal use of your time based on your purpose? how would you choose to spend your days?
Re-evaluate how you spend your time. Now spend a week tracking how you actually spend your time. Set up categories like sleeping, eating, working, driving, checking email, social media, reading, watching tv, exercising, house work, spending time with loved ones, etc. Then everyday, for a week, track how much time you spend doing each activity. You can extrapolate out to figure out how much this equals over a year and don’t forget to adjust your accounting for things like vacations, sick time, etc.
Analyze the results. Compare how you spend your day vs. how you wish you could spend your day. There are likely some things you can save time on, if you consciously consider your choices. Even if things seem difficult now, consider what those savings could be over a year, or a lifetime. In particular consider:
Some of these things might seem drastic, and most of them require some reductions in your available income, but truly consider what you’re willing to ‘buy‘ with your money, and which purchases will make you happiest in the long term.
STEP 2: Change your mindset and behavior
Working smarter is about having a better understanding of how your mind works. Most of the actions we take each day occur without any conscious thought, which is usually a good thing. Imagine how exhausting it’d be exert so much mental energy on every basic thought or habit. But sometimes our subconscious behaviors result in actions we wouldn’t choose if we were aware of them.
I love neuroscience, psychology and the other behavioral sciences that are figuring out what is really happening in our brains and minds, why, and how that affects our behavior. If this topic interests you as well, I recommend you read Daniel Kahnemen’s Thinking Fast and Slow.
With a better understanding of your cognitive biases, and what you can and can’t control in terms of your habits and behavior, you can begin to make the necessary changes to improve your life.
Changing your mindset can be easier than changing your behavior, so try that first. Many researchers believe that your reality exists only in your mind. So if you wan to change your reality, you have to work on changing the thoughts in your mind.
I know this sounds crazy, but it’s actually quite simple (but not always easy). Imagine this scenario: you’re running late to your dentist appointment because your last call with a client ran over. You have two options:
- you can choose to feel stress, worry and anxiety about being on time for the dentist, rush to your car, rage at all the other drivers for not understanding your situation, and walk into the dentists office stressed out and agitated.
- you can choose to acknowledge that today, you’re going to be late. You can drive peacefully to your dentist, arrive with a calm mind and positive disposition and with sincere gratitude acknowledge your delay and apologize for any inconvenience.
In both scenarios you get to the dentist 10 minutes late. That part can not be avoided at this point.
But in the first scenario you put unnecessary stress on yourself, you put yourself and the other drivers on the road in danger, and you arrive at the dentist in a specific ‘mood’ that is likely unpleasant to be around. I can almost guarantee you the receptionist would prefer you take the latter approach.
But the point is, you get to choose. The choice only exists if your mind is calm enough to have that awareness. Here are some ways to train your mind to be more calm and receptive to understanding and interpreting your own thoughts and feelings:
At the same time though, you should be actively work on changing your behavior, in particular your habits. I wrote all about how to do this on the Find Your Focus page. It’s in the final step 4: commit to change.
STEP 3: Establish healthy boundaries
When you get right down to it, the only way to ensure you’re saving space for what matters most, is to make it. You do this by establishing, and sticking to some intentional boundaries.
Determine your work hours, and stick to them. This includes checking and responding to work-related emails when you’re home. This is particularly important if you work for yourself and/or work from home.
I work from home, but don’t check my emails till my family is out of the house. You choose what works for you. Just let your clients or colleagues know what those hours are to establish expectations. You can always tell them that if something is truly urgent, to call you, don’t text or email. But don’t worry, they won’t.
Remove digital distractions from your day or establish specific periods during the day when you can check things like email or social accounts. I dedicate 3 specific times of day for social media:
- In the morning, with my coffee
- After lunch as a reward and a welcome break
- After I put my son to bed while my husband tends to his own rituals, and before we get back together for our shared time in the evening
Remove all notifications from both your computer and your phone. They are intended to distract you from what matters most, and they’re effective. They send a bit of dopamine to your brain signaling that someone loves you, that someone needs you, and that you should respond.
But they also cost you dearly in what scientists call ‘switching costs.’ Our brains take a long time to recover from a distraction so just get rid of them. You don’t need them. You can check what you need to check during a scheduled time.
And just like that, you’ll be enjoying your life again, right?! Thank you for reading through this ‘Start Here’ series, and if you missed something, or want to go back to something you read, here are the links: