I've always believed that you don't need to work harder or longer to achieve more. You simply need to work smarter.
But that doesn't often come naturally or easily, especially if you are inexperienced and junior or still new to a role where you want to prove yourself.
Over the years, I've managed to build some habits that allow me to work smarter and fewer hours and simultaneously to achieve more with better results and higher quality.
Work less but achieve more? That sounds a bit impossible, right?
But it's not. It's all a matter of knowing yourself and your strengths and then utilising them to the maximum when you're most productive so you do a certain task in the fastest manner possible at the right time.
What's helped me are certain habits that I want to share with you today which you can try and see if they'll make you more productive to achieve more but in less time.
How to Achieve More in Less Time - My 3 Key Tips
#1. Prioritise sleep, exercise and healthy food
Now this one might come as a bit unusual but it's key.
When your body works at its best, your brain also works at its best. Your abilities and capacities expand and your productivity and efficiency jump as well.
I didn't realise this until I started training regularly about eight years ago. Since then, I've been exercising 5-6 days a week in the morning for just about 30-40 minutes and this has made a huge difference to how my brain functions. It's faster, smarter, better organised and most importantly has more energy due to the benefits of exercise.
With sports came the need for better sleep. I know that I need 7-8 hours of sleep so I can function well. I also have a sleeping routine where I go to bed at the same time every day and I wake up at the same time every day. My body has now been programmed when to get tired and when to be alert. When I get up at the same time every day, I'm awake right away, I don't need a long time to start doing things - in fact, I'm writing this blog post at 6.45 am on a Sunday morning and the words are just flowing.
With sports came the need for better nutrition as well. I educated myself on how to eat right, in what proportions and what macro- and micronutrients were important. I cook for my family, we rarely eat out or order in so we know what we're putting into our bodies and that's so important for your general physical health and brain too.
So if you want to begin working smarter professionally, start by caring for your body and health first.
#2. Know yourself and when you're at your best
I mentioned earlier that you need to know where you're most productive. You are the only who knows how you work. You need to analyse this and define when are you at your absolute best.
For me, that's early mornings. This is when my outputs pretty much outperform my expectations because of their quality and efficiency. This blog post took me not even 30 minutes to write just because I'm doing it at the right time of the day when I know that I am most productive - in the early mornings. Had I tried writing this post in the afternoon, it would've taken me at least an hour or longer because my energy gets depleted the further I go in the day even if I take a walk to refresh or rest.
This is why it's key to know yourself, when you are your best and then plan accordingly on how and when you should do the most important work activities.
#3. Plan your day in advance based on when you are most productive
Once you know when you're at your best, it's time to ensure you truly use those time slots for the work that's key.
I use my calendar as my project management tool - it hosts my to-do list, my meetings, my personal engagements or tasks, lunch, breaks, everything. (I realise this might work best for people with a desk job like me but the overall principles are the same for any job.)
You might think that's a bit extreme but it's helped me get my days (including weekends) well organised, ensuring that I do what I need to do, I do it at the time that's best based on the importance of the activity, I don't forget anything and I don't fall into the trap of dealing with last-minute but not urgent items (there's a time for them too but not immediately).
For example, I had a calendar block to write this blog post at 7 am on Sunday. By programming it that way, I knew I had this one hour to really get this done and over with. And I felt great after it because it's now done and dusted and I didn't procrastinate.
At work, I block time slots for projects or other tasks that I need to do instead of writing them on a to-do list which always ends up being pushed back because someone will schedule a meeting at the time you were hoping to get to your to-do list. That's why I block my time and my calendar is private so others just see busy. That way I have a plan for when I am going to complete the tasks on my to-do list and I stick to it. When the time pops up in my calendar, I just do it and move onto the next task or meeting and at the end of the day I feel super accomplished and as if I've achieved a ton.
So next time an email comes in requiring you to do something, look at your calendar, find a free slot based on when you're most productive for the needs of the task (e.g. if it's admin, I leave it for the afternoon, if it's more creative or urgent it goes right in the early morning), estimate how long you'll need to complete the task and put a block in your calendar specifically for it.
By doing this, my calendar is blocked out about two weeks in advance which allows me to know exactly what I need to accomplish the upcoming week so I don't need to spend crazy time planning the week, it's already planned for me.
Of course, you can always shift things around if anything urgent comes in and that's the beauty of calendar planning - you just need to move time slots around and still nothing gets forgotten.
I also try to space out meetings instead of being back to back and sometimes just drop a block for 30 minutes in between so I can take a toilet break or grab a snack and not feel under so much pressure so that I can do my meeting with full attention and energy.
By doing this, I've also learned to say no or to request new time slots and really stick to my needs because otherwise, I couldn't be of great help. If it's my lunch break that's clearly blocked and you book over it, I'll decline it. Same goes for my to-do list tasks. The time is already blocked, even if it's not a meeting I still need it.
So with this system, I know what I need to do every day and every week in advance and I start the day and week with a plan already that allows me to get done what really needs to get done at the times I'm most productive and I feel accomplished at the end.
By making these habits part of my normal day-to-day life, I achieve more not just at work but also at home because I end up having more time to spend with my family, to cook, to go out and take a walk or enjoy nature. Everything is organised and has its time block.
I believe working smarter is the only way to finding that so desired work-life balance (which I prefer to call work-life integration) and this is how I've found how to achieve this.