How to Work Smarter: 7 Tips to Increase Productivity and Save Time

Productivity Time Graph

From the entrepreneur who is just starting to build their business to the nine to five worker who is trying build a passive income on the side, time is always a limiting factor. As the saying goes, there are only 24 hours in a day, and you spend around 8 of them lying in bed. More often than not, motivated people looking to grow their business and increase their income turn to working long hours to make it all happen.

But what if there was a better way to working so hard and start working smarter instead? Or perhaps you just want to get more accomplished in the time that you have available instead. The truth of the matter is, that there are many methods and systems that you can utilize to help bring in the results that you desire with less time and energy.

Focus on Important Tasks First

Focusing on important tasks seems obvious however many people, including myself, can get distracted or end up working on something that really doesn’t matter. This includes everything from managing emails to making copies or even attempting to format documents unnecessarily. Don’t let the perfectionist within you ruin your productivity.

Did you know that there was a time in my life where I often spent hours writing perfect and detailed email responses to every client and customer just to have them skimmed over or glanced at? No one has time to read a long email, and you don’t have time to write one neither. Now, I focus on getting to the point as quickly and succinctly as possible. I only go into detail when necessary.

Results and productivity are what matters not necessarily the little details that most customers wouldn’t notice anyway. When you are starting your business or trying to make it grow, focus on the big picture. Later on you can go back and make little edits or tweaks to the things that you have completed earlier to make them better if needed. However, this does not mean skimping on quality. Depending on the product you are selling or the job that you are doing, quality may be the most important factor in predicting success. Usually, quality is the most important thing you can focus on. The details do matter, however, don’t overdo it.

An hourglass in the sand.

It’s Not Just Time Management, It’s Task Management

Working smarter isn’t just a matter of managing your time better. It’s actually about managing priorities and tasks better. Of course, time is a factor, however, you need to focus on keeping the main thing the main thing. If an item or task does not contribute to your overall goal or mission, then you must ask yourself, “why you are doing this?” Avoid tasks that contribute nothing to the mission and add no value to your business venture.

“Do first things first and second things not at all.” – Brian Tracy

When it comes to managing your tasks and to-do list, it helps to prioritize things by order of significance. Significance is an indicator of the kind of impact that the particular task can have on you and your company. Prioritizing by significance also helps to incorporate long-term thinking into the work that you do every day. In addition, it helps you think about what tasks and items really matter and what don’t. When thinking about the tasks that you have before you, the most important one will likely be the one that will have the single most significant impact on you and your life.  These are the things that matter most. Oftentimes there are small tasks that we could do today that will have a big impact over the long term.

One Easy Method to Manage Tasks and Work

To Do List on a desk.Probably one of the best ways to manage your time and prioritize tasks is to employ a method I use called the A-B-C-D-E method. Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of your work day or perhaps the night before, list out every task that you need to complete. Next, assign each task one of the letters, A-B-C-D or E. The most significant tasks that will have the most impact on your productivity and results are given the letter A. Failing to complete an A task can result in significant consequences.

Next, assign the letter B to tasks that are also important but have less impact and fewer consequences for not completing them. These tasks should be completed to help with your mission however, they shouldn’t take precedence over tasks that are assigned the letter A. The rule of thumb is that you should never start a B task with an A task undone.

After you have labeled the “must do” and “should do” tasks, focus on the ones that are “nice to do.” These will be assigned the letter C.  C labeled tasks are things that you would like to do but aren’t necessarily that important because they don’t directly contribute to the mission or get results. There are also little consequences for not completing these tasks.

After this, there are tasks that should be labeled the letters D and E. D tasks are everything that you can and should delegate to someone else to do. Delegation is a great tool that can free up your time while utilizing someone else’s skills to get them done. It is a great practice to delegate as much as possible.  This will free up more time for you to focus on your A tasks. It’s helpful to write the name of the person that you delegated a task to so that you can follow up with them later to ensure that it was completed.

And finally, any task that is labeled with the letter E is something that should be eliminated. E tasks have no significance and contribute nothing to the results you are trying to achieve. If you’ve identified a task that should be label with an E, it has no business being on your list in the first place.

One of the greatest benefits of employing a method like this, are the feelings of accomplishment that come with it.  As you go through your day accomplishing tasks and marking them off your list, dopamine is released into your body which helps you feel good.

The above technique is eloquently described in Brian Tracy’s bestselling book, Eat That Frog.  If you are interested in improving your productivity further, and mastering time management, I highly recommend that you read his book.  Get a copy of Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog on Amazon (affiliate link).

Light Bulb with Ideas on Chalk Board

Build Systems to Make Things More Efficient

Any process or task that can be standardized or optimized is going to make your job a lot easier. In addition, automation is often a great way to eliminate tasks that a computer or another device can handle for you instead. You can set up automated processes to handle a variety of jobs. Some common examples include payment processing, email marketing, and even social networking.

Whatever your business is, I am sure there’s a way to automate at least some of what you do. Once, I was tasked with creating dozens of forms to help customers provide information to a company that I worked for. Instead of making each form individually, I sat down and thought about the commonalities between all of the different forms that were needed. Next, I worked on creating a template that could be used as a starting point for each them. Once the template was developed, I had 60% of the work done with a single form that can be duplicated and changed to match the variety of scenarios that needed to be accounted for. When you create a template like this, it is called developing a boilerplate document.

Work When You Are at Work

I know many people who work a nine-to-five job but only actually work 3 or 4 hours a day. In fact, quite a few workers find themselves only being productive 25% to 50% of the day. Focus on removing distractions from your office. Remove anything that doesn’t help you get the job done.

Avoid water cooler chit chat and don’t let other people slow you down. I find that I often have to schedule time to get tasks done and shut the door so that I am not interrupted. When people come to my office they’ll see it that I’m busy and will come back later or send me an email. The benefits of uninterrupted work are paramount to success in any field.

Work hard when you’re at work and the time will fly by while you get more positive results than anyone else.

A computer desk with a laptop, tablet, and phone on it.

Group Similar Tasks Together

It can be difficult to be productive when you’re constantly switching from one task to another or trying to multitask. A significant amount of time is wasted when switching tasks because there is a cost to changing systems and changing your focus because your effort is duplicated. Your brain will often spend time reallocating its resources to restarting or redoing a task that you left unfinished. In addition, many things are repeated when restarting any given task. If you can group similar tasks together and get them all done at once, you’ll save time and be more productive.

For example, where I work I usually try to call people back in the afternoon. I’ll take all of my messages and call them all one by one until it’s done. This is a lot better than taking and responding to phone calls all throughout the day especially if their questions require me to do common research like look up data or sending them documents.  Furthermore, this avoids interruption of the other things that I am working on at the time the phone call comes in.  It helps to have employees who can also take calls on your behalf.

Train Your Employees

Training your employees to work smarter and to improve their skills will do wonders for your group or company as well as your own productivity. If you invest in their success they will automatically invest in yours. Ensure that your employees get the proper training to get the job done and encourage them to strive for greater things. Support your employee’s efforts to get an education and pursue additional certifications.

It’s also important to cross train your employees to make sure that you have people available to get the day-to-day tasks done if someone takes a vacation or gets sick. Never let yourself remain 1-deep on critical tasks as you are setting yourself up for problems. I knew a supervisor who never thought about cross training or succession planning and when one of his top employees left, productivity dropped by 90%. He and his team were left scrambling trying to pick up the pieces while also still having to do their own jobs.

If you are a supervisor or a middle manager, there’s likely only so much you can delegate to your employees. However, you need to focus on what’s important and utilize your employees to the best of their skill set. Be sure to meet with your employees often (I use the WONG method discussed here) and coach them to ensure they are not being under or over utilized.

Be Organized and Save All of Your Work

The iconic floopy disc represents saving your work.I cannot stress the importance of being organized too much.  In my line of work everything that I have created or written can often be used again in the future, at least to a certain extent.  This is why I carefully organize everything that I do so that it can be potentially used again. This saves me time, especially when another customer needs the same document that I created in the future.

You never know what things you create could end up saving you time in the future.  I’ve created maps, images, video and audio content, or prepared written documents that I have ended up having to use again in the future.  Nothing is more frustrating than to have to re-create a document for a customer or a project for the tenth time because you didn’t save your work. In addition, if you run out of creative ideas, you can always review your past work to help you come up with new material.

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