Learn to work smarter, not harder. We all keep hearing this – hence my 4 tips to work smarter, not harder post today. And truth is, nowadays I am focused much more on working smart and not just hard. I’ve come a long way from the days I used to spend 10, 12, 14 (and sometimes more) hours in the office working on client deliverables and never-ending projects. But it wasn’t all for nothing. I do believe the grind was somewhat necessary. It allowed me to build up my work persona and to distinguish good work from bad work, good performers from not-so-good ones, good projects from bad projects, etc. I’ve learned a thing or two as to how to manage my time, my energy, and the way I present myself and my work. So in this post, I wanted to share 4 tips to work smarter, not harder, in 2023. They’re tips that can be easily applied to your day-to-day work and if done right they can help you take more control of your work life, and really just take your power back at work
My 4 tips to work smarter, not harder
Make a habit out of doing brain dumps
This is such a simple tip yet so effective. Especially when it comes to keeping your brain clutter-free. Doing a brain dump – so pouring all of the to-do’s, follow-ups, unknowns, potential risks, etc. onto a piece of paper often called a to-do list – will help you with two things. One, you will end up with an actual to-do list and this way avoid forgetting about important things. And second, it will free up mental space and spare you from unnecessary stress. Oh, and you won’t be thinking about work at ungodly hours, such as bedtime, that much.
Whether you use a paper or digital to-do list/notebook, try it out every other day or at least weekly, and you will see an improvement in your organization and productivity. I love using Notion for my digital to-do list and can wholeheartedly recommend it, and I often also complement it with a to-do list in a paper notebook for overarching weekly goals.
Make use of calendar blockers
Block your calendar with important to-do’s and focus time. Do that regularly, and ideally plan a few weeks in advance or set up some recurring blockers where needed. This way you ensure that you get the important work done with dedicated calendar blockers. And, you will also block enough focus time to get things done. As a Product Manager, my day – and really the full week – can easily get filled with back-to-back meetings. I need to align scope with stakeholders, brainstorm ideas with the team, report on progress to management, etc… But guess what, I also need some downtime to put my thoughts in order, do discovery work on topics, think strategically, and just get stuff done.
To keep my calendar in order and my sanity in check, I do two things. First, I have recurring weekly blockers for both focus time and recurring tasks such as filling out reports. Second, at the end of every week, I check my calendar for the following week. I adjust my focus time depending on any double bookings, and also on my priorities and needs. And I also book any priority tasks with their dedicated blockers. I am not very rigid with my calendar and when something important arises I will adjust my blockers. However, I make sure not to do it for every single small thing so I can stay both productive and sane.
Start to underpromise and overdeliver to your clients or your stakeholders
Nothing ruins your reputation with clients or stakeholders faster than this. So instead of overpromising and underdelivering, start to underpromise and overdeliver. I know it can feel difficult to break out of it, especially with demanding clients. Depending on the nature of your work, how you approach this can look different. However, it’s extremely important that you start to actively manage expectations around the workstreams that you own.
Promise less scope, and deliver more. Always, always be careful with deadlines. If you can’t avoid giving one, make sure you add plenty of buffer time. It takes work and time and often also “re-educating” your manager, clients, and stakeholders. Really teaching them how to work with you. Something I found helpful over time was also creating more transparency as to how I prioritize the work and why – a simple “impact x effort” matrix can be a great tool to communicate priorities. I used this approach years ago in tech consulting and project management, and now as a Product Manager, it’s my bread and butter.
Don’t ask for permission for time off, simply announce it
Start practicing this one and see how good it feels to take what’s yours. This is something simple, and not so much a productivity hack. But it’s something that allows you to have a bit more control over your work life. And it feels so good. I know a lot of people don’t “dare” to do it and always ask for permission, but the truth is you have a life and you have the right to take time off. So next time, instead of asking for permission to take a day or a week off, simply inform people of your plans and don’t let them have a say in it.
This is it, these are the 4 tips to work smarter, not harder in 2023. They’re simple tips, but they help you take a bit more control of your work life and just have a better day-to-day work life.