The art of working smart - 5 ways to get more done in less time
I am usually not the biggest fan of buzz words, but allow me to use one here. I am talking about “hustle culture.” The term refers to a whole generation that idolizes working 18-hour days and views that as ultimate productivity. There seems to be a feeling of pride for not taking lunch breaks and a constant fight over who works the most hours.
The reality, however, is that work consists of constant distractions. An extremely urgent email that (seemingly) requires immediate attention. An intriguing news headline. A conversation about a colleague’s latest holiday. And maybe worst of all, there is that constant feeling of guilt during the rare hours you are supposed to relax. People feel tense because they know there is still that task waiting to get done, and maybe 18 hours of work were not enough?
Allow me to make a bold statement: This is not productivity.
It is constant work, but it does not allow you to get into a state of complete immersion in the activity at hand. A state where you forget about time and the space around you and you are highly focused. This state is otherwise known as flow after psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I think it is time we rethink productivity.
More work hours do not equal more productive work. What if there was a way to get more done but in less time?
Now, that sounds like productivity to me. The secret is to be very focused during short blocks of work. And most importantly, to switch off when you are not working. Switching off means not feeling guilty for relaxing. No thinking about that never-ending to-do list or answering those urgent emails (surprise, many emails are less critical than you think). The result is feeling rested and ready for a new cycle of focused work. It is a big myth that resting is not productive. We need rest to work at our best. The solution is to be really “on” when working and be “off” when you are not.
So, you may wonder how do you do that? How do you find that flow and get more done in less time?
Here are 5 tips I have found most helpful.
1. Eliminate distractions
This may not be a big surprise for you. Most of us will have heard that distractions are detrimental to our productivity. Yet, many people still get lost in emails check Instagram for 5 minutes only (that turns into way more than 5 minutes). Research has shown that even after a short distraction, it can take more than 20 minutes until you are fully back into the task. So, make it hard for yourself by
Turning off your phone, or leave it in another room
Muting your emails and
Only focusing on one task at a time.
2. Schedule time blocks of deep work
I recommend scheduling times of deep work into your calendar. The concept of deep work was popularized in Cal Newport’s book of the same name that I highly recommend. Deep work sessions consist of a block of work where you focus on a single task.
According to research, 90-minute time blocks are the optimal amount of time for a working interval. However, this will depend a little on your task and yourself. The Pomodoro method works quite well for some people where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. I suggest experimenting and finding out which time intervals work best for you. But never forget to take breaks.
Bonus tip: Align these blocks to your peak time of the day. Some of you may be morning persons and can focus best in the mornings. Other’s may do their best woreek in the afternoon or evening.
3. Break the task down into smaller steps
Having goals is essential because they can motivate us. However, if a goal is highly ambitious, it may feel overwhelming, and you start to procrastinate. So, it can be helpful to break big goals down into small, actionable steps.
4. Take care of yourself
Our body and mind are highly connected. So, make sure to take care of your body too. Getting enough (and good quality!) sleep, getting the nutrition you need, hydrating yourself, and releasing tension through exercise are necessary to function well. Finding ways to relax and switch off after work is just as essential as working efficiently.
It can be helpful to group similar tasks together and do them all at once instead of doing them as they come in. For example, you may decide to reply to all messages at 3 pm instead of replying to every single one as it comes in.
I believe that this type of productivity is closely related to self-leadership 2.0. It is a way to thrive and not just barely get by. Like self-leadership 2.0, this revised productivity is a framework for individuals to accomplish meaningful work and flourish. Here is how the three components of self-leadership 2.0 play into productivity.
First, there is self-knowledge. Understanding what is important to us and how we work best is a prerequisite for productivity. We work best when we can prioritize our tasks based on our values and strengths and when we know the conditions we need to perform well - such as the best time to focus.
Self-goalsetting is essential for productivity, too. When we define our tasks and goals in actionable ways, we gain clarity and motivation to focus on them.
Lastly, self-regulation plays a considerable role in productivity. We want to monitor ourselves to see when we need a break and how we can work at our best.
Hopefully, you are intrigued by this new way to think about productivity. I would love to hear your thoughts and if my tips help you to experience more flow.
Marie is a final-year psychology student in her Master’s in Stockholm, Sweden. She is also a content creator for topics around psychology, healthy habits & productivity. Marie’s goal is to help emerging adults thrive through science-based tips and education. Outside of psychology, Marie enjoys coffee, music, and exploring personal finance.
You can follow Marie on Instagram @positivemindedlife.