Working harder and for longer hours can be an easy habit to slip into — especially during this pandemic when the lines between work and home are blurred. Nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work due to the pandemic say they now work on the weekends. And according to a survey by a staffing agency Robert Half, 45% say they frequently work more hours during the week than they did before.
Generally, it can be difficult to switch off at the end of the workday and stop thinking about your seemingly never-ending to-do list. So how can we break the pattern of “always working” instead of working smarter? Below we share five good ideas on how to avoid falling into the “working harder” trap.
1. Avoid Multitasking
If you haven’t heard this already, multitasking is a myth. Research tells us that the brain can’t handle doing many tasks simultaneously, despite our best attempts. In fact, each time we switch tasks quickly, there is a start / stop / start process our brain has to counteract.
This process is hugely detrimental to our productivity because it’s less efficient, a huge time-suck, and eventually saps our energy. So how can we train our brains to avoid multitasking?
One of the best methods is to prioritize your to-do list and then time-block your calendar with all of your prioritized tasks:
- Start by writing down everything you need to get done for the week and then choose the most important tasks. Move everything else to next week’s to-do list.
- Then, block off time in the calendar for each prioritized task. Each day is planned in blocks, with open blocks in between for any miscellaneous things that may come up. You might try half-hour or one-hour blocks, depending on what works best for you. Just make sure you add some padding around blocked-off time for breaks and unplanned events.
2. Take Breaks Often
This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually an excellent way to work smarter. Without real breaks, our brains become fatigued and we get distracted. Once you’ve kicked the multitasking habit, try taking a break between each task, or after each 90-minute block of deep work to reset your attention span.
Why take a break after each 90-minute block? Psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie found that our energy during the day follows “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles. Therefore, longer focus sessions of 90 minutes followed by short breaks sync more closely with our natural energy cycles. So, taking breaks actually allows us to maintain higher energy levels and focus throughout each day.
3. Schedule Tasks with Your Energy Levels in Mind
Taking breaks to preserve your energy is important, dut so is scheduling your tasks according to energy fluctuation throughout the workday.
Don’t ignore your energy levels when planning your task list. Everyone’s energy is different, based on our personal body clocks, also known as circadian rhythm.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the circadian rhythm dips and rises at various times of the day. It’s common in adults for strong sleepiness to occur between the hours of 2:00–4:00 a.m. and in the afternoon between 1:00–3:00 p.m. However, it depends on whether you’re a “morning person” or “night owl.”
We can apply this method to the workday by figuring out when sleepiness is at its peak and then scheduling tasks around it. For instance, if you’re a morning person, you may reserve the hours before lunch for deep, focused work. As for meetings and catching up on email, save these tasks for the afternoon when you’re feeling less energetic.
In either case, the point is to put your hardest work in the periods where you’re feeling the most refreshed, and save easier tasks for when you’re less energetic.
4. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Chances are, there are many little tasks you do over and over again that could be automated. Thus, it’s useful to make sure you automate everything you can to save time and breeze through the workday with less resistance.
Here are a few examples of outstanding tools for a more efficient and less time-consuming workflow:
- SaneBox — An email management tool that organizes and prioritizes your inbox
- actiTIME — Tracks work hours and progress on projects
- TextExpander — Types out snippets of texts you use frequently
- 1Password — Manages your passwords and confidential information
- ActiveCollab — Organizes your entire workflow, including all tasks, communication, team members, and files
Automating the smaller tasks you do almost daily will free up your mind so you can focus on the bigger picture and get more creative and complex things done.
5. Turn off Notifications
This one is a biggie. Avoiding distraction is an essential part of working smarter, not harder. Oftentimes, notifications can be blamed for causing distraction.
When you’re working, try turning off all notifications. That means all notifications your email, phone, iPad… The list goes on. If that sounds too extreme, turn them off during your “deep work” periods when you’re working on your most important tasks.
If you need added accountability, try an app like Freedom that will block apps on your computer. So, the next time you’re tempted to check social media while working, you won’t be able to!