Remember the days when you set aside time to deal with correspondence, had an assistant to handle your filing and took fixed lunch hours and coffee breaks? Computerization changed all that. Today, business people do all their own admin, juggle emails during lunch, and drink their coffee on the go.

Even though we are busier, it doesn’t mean we are more productive. Further, simply working harder is not the answer – not only from a productivity viewpoint but from a work-life balance angle too.

Here’s how to work smarter and achieve your business goals without expending unnecessary effort.

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Planning is the cornerstone of achieving maximum productivity, but it doesn’t end there. Start by creating a schedule of the tasks you must do each day, week, or month. To-do lists are time-tested and proven to create productivity and discipline as long as your list is realistic.

[quotesright]If you’re trying to cram too many things onto each day’s list, you could get stuck having to choose between them. [/quotesright] That’s not only a time suck, but decisions made on the fly are often wrong, and constantly stopping to assess how you’re doing eats into your productivity.

Instead, make a shorter list of priority items and allocate a time slot to each one. Then, work according to your plan as tightly as possible to avoid going off on a tangent.

Look for Efficiencies

Any time you must duplicate a task (or a component of a task), it’s wasted time. Spend a bit of your precious planning time to identify areas where you can maximize efficiency. For example, if you perform the same prep work for several tasks, try to batch them so you can just do it once and implement it across the board.

This situation might apply to you, but the converse could also be true. If multi-tasking causes mistakes that take time or money to fix, you aren’t improving productivity by keeping multiple balls in the air. You might find more efficiencies by limiting your focus to one priority task at a time, making sure you get it right and avoiding any do-overs or wasted costs.

Track Your Time

[quotes]Most people are bad at estimating the time it will take them to perform a task. [/quotes]So bad, in fact, that there’s a term for it: the planning fallacy. Coined in 1977 by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the planning fallacy refers to our tendency to avoid taking into account the time similar tasks have taken in the past, and the assumption that we won’t run into any complications that cause delays.

Tracking your time achieves two things, it

  • Helps you determine exactly how long a particular task normally takes, and
  • Gives you a historical record on which to base future estimations.

In addition, since time is money, knowing how long a task takes helps you make better decisions about pricing, employee management, and financial matters.

Automate Where Possible

It sounds like a big task but automating any ongoing routine processes can be very beneficial for your company. You can move away from using human resources for mundane and process-driven tasks and refocus them on their (and your company’s) goals. Smart automation creates intelligent human-machine collaboration, improving both the employees’ experience and your bottom line.

According to McKinsey, automation also boosts productivity by reducing errors, enhancing quality, and increasing speed. In some cases, automation can achieve outcomes that go beyond human capabilities.

Some of the processes you can automate to free up employee time and speed up results include email processing and replies, AI-driven chatbots to handle basic customer service queries, backup and storage of customer data, and payroll management. Most of these actions can take place with just a few tweaks and checks by a human each time they run, and present you with comprehensive reports showing patterns, trends, and anomalies.

Develop Your Strategy

[quotes]Getting started with a new strategy is always the hardest step[/quotes], so the sooner you begin the better. Determine your Work Smarter goals and timeline. Identify the processes you can automate, delegate, or outsource to improve productivity. Get quotes for any capital expenditure needed to make these happen.

Communicate your plan to your employees and make sure they understand how the changes will benefit them in their work. Obtain their buy-in and support through motivation and incentives. Encourage every employee to plan their own goals and dates for implementing changes.

Measure the Successes

Every strategy requires measurable criteria against which you can compare the results to see how well your plan succeeds. As you set goals and actions for working smarter and increasing your productivity, it’s important to identify how you’re going to know when you’ve achieved each target. Metrics could include reaching a new profit milestone, delivering a specific inventory quantity, or attaining a revenue goal. Whatever criteria you choose, if it’s meaningful to your company, you’re on the right track.

Finding New Ways to Work

The days of working harder to achieve more are over. In 2022, the aim is to work smarter instead, finding new, cost-effective ways to increase productivity without increasing your investment of time, money, or effort. [quotesright]Technology can help, but the biggest driver of a smarter work ethic is your people. [/quotesright] When employees feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to support cultural and work-life changes that benefit your company.