Working Smarter, Not Harder
About a year and a half ago, I found myself a little addicted to getting things done. Actually, I may have always had this tendency. Every day I’d fill in my planner with tasks big and small, often with no regard for how important they were or the amount of time they’d take to complete. I loved the little hit I’d get when I’d cross each item off. It made me feel productive.
Except I wasn’t always crossing things off, because, 24 hours. Or I was gravitating towards the easy “busy work” tasks and rarely tackling the ones that involved my habits or goals. I started getting overwhelmed by what was undone and eventually ignored my planner all together. I was doing too much of the “wrong” things and not enough of what was “right” for me and my people.
Productivity does not equal doing all of the things.
I was focused on the easy outcomes instead of the slow, steady process of achieving my goals. It’s taken me months to get back on track and today I’d like to share some of the ways I’m currently working smarter, not harder, in my personal life, my relationships and my creative work.
Do what is most important to you first thing in the morning. For me this almost always involves some kind of habit I’m working on maintaining. In the past, that’s meant activities like running or writing. From past experience, if I push it off until later in the day, I’m much more likely to make an excuse not to do it at all.
Have an idea of what’s next. If I’m working on a big project, one of the first things I do is break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. This helps it feel a little less overwhelming and I can see exactly where I need to start. While it’s important to stay on task, knowing what’s ahead helps me stay focused on the big picture and less likely to stray to the inevitable shiny new project. To do that, I like to keep a list on my desk of what I call my “Next 5.” These are the 5 tasks I am currently working on and I don’t move on to anything else until they are all complete. Once those 5 things are done, I create a new “Next 5” list.
Define what success means to you. It took me a looooonngg time to get in my head that I can be successful in my creative endeavours and not push myself to work insane hours for the sake of being busy. For me, success means knowing what is most important to me and why, and making time for all of it. That almost always means removing everything else because again, we can’t do it all.
Here are just a few of my own measures of success - I’m dedicating specific hours in my day and week to fully focused work. I’m available to take my kids to and from school. I’m sitting down with my husband to discuss the week ahead. I’m moving my body in some way a little each day. I’m meal planning and food prepping so our kitchen is stocked with healthy meal options.
Success is not just about our professional lives or how much money we’re bringing in. I absolutely think it’s a feeling. A feeling we have at the end of the day, of satisfaction, content, or pride perhaps, that we’re moving forward with our goals and dreams, that we’re doing the best we can and we’re ready to do it again tomorrow.
Batching everything. Emails, meal prep, laundry, cleaning the house, running errands, making phone calls, printing photos - you get the idea. Related to this, I also like setting a timer to give myself a limit on how long I spend on activities outside my most important work. It turns batched tasks into a game where I see if I can “beat the clock” so to speak.
Limit your online consumption. Instead of endlessly looking to Pinterest and YouTube in hopes of finding a solution to your problems, and create your own experiments. Take what you’ve learned from others and combine it with what works best for you. Just because someone (myself included!) shares the way she does XYZ doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. Try it. Tweak it. Or completely ignore it.
Whether you are seeking out a solution or not, we live in an age where everyone is sharing their opinions, their thoughts and their lifestyle, with everyone, all the time. In the process, it’s causing guilt and judgement and comparison because we’re constantly being bombarded with these images of how everyone else is living their lives and begin thinking we “should” be doing the same. In my experience, limiting who and what you seek out and take in is a big help in curbing these feelings.
As someone who has shared her life online for over a decade, I’ve also become aware of my own motives for posting. For example, when I was on Instagram, if it took 20 minutes to write a caption, there was a problem. If I felt slimy about it in any way, there was a problem. I started asking myself, “Why am I sharing this? Is this helpful? What do I really want people to know?”
Assess what’s working and what’s not. I like to do this at least once a month, or more frequently if something is really off. During my kids first week back at school, it was difficult getting them up earlier and out of the house on time. Rather than assume that the new routine would get easier with time, I switched things around. Now, they pack their snacks and backpacks and choose tomorrow’s outfit the night before. Spending 5 minutes each evening to get ready for the next day saves us at least twice as much time in the morning.
Keep a “stop doing” list. When life gets crazy (because it always does), it’s important to know what really matters, what can wait, and what you need to ask for help on. When this happens, I look at my calendar and to-do list and ask questions like, “What can I take off my plate today? What is draining me? What can I stop caring about?”
CHECK OUT THIS FUN NEWS! I was thrilled when Amanda and Kristin from the Crafty Ass Female podcast invited me onto their show to chat about so many of my favorite things! We talked about my creative background, self-care, small business, Instagram, December Daily, and more. You’ll also hear a few new ideas on how I am working smarter, not harder, that I didn’t share in this post. It was loads of fun and the episode is now live! I really love what these ladies are doing and hope you enjoy listening in!
Top Image Credit : Death to Stock