How many hours a week do you work? While most workplaces say that they average around 40 hours, it’s not uncommon to hit 50 or 60 hour weeks, and maybe even 80, depending on your field. There’s still a perception that working long hours is synonymous with productivity and hard work, even as we see data that proves the opposite.
Modern-day work environments have asked for more and more of their teams, but at what cost? A dramatic increase in hours can lead to mental burnout and decreased productivity as you burn the candle from both ends. When resources are stretched thin and everything is a priority, how do you balance your productivity and efficiency?
Although it might sound cliche, working smarter, not harder, is vital when you consistently find yourself working past 6 PM. Managing your time and projects effectively while setting boundaries can help you prioritize your time while remaining productive. Below are some tips to implement when you find that things are getting a little crazy at work.
Our brains naturally ebb and flow in terms of energy and attention span. On some days, it might be easier to enter a flow state and knock out a project, while on other days, you might get repeatedly distracted by social media and the news. Crafting a robust time management system helps you to be more intentional with your workload, thereby streamlining your day and allowing you to get more done.
- Make a to-do list. I recommend doing a brain dump of everything you need to accomplish and then sorting it by the due date and priority level. Sometimes it helps just to see all of your tasks mapped out instead of letting them live in your head. Nifty allows you to track your tasks and add deadlines and different tags to help you prioritize.
- Turn off your distractions. Easier said than done, especially when we live in a world that seemingly has a life-changing news event every day! By turning off your phone or committing to staying off of social media or news sites, you streamline your focus and can then project it onto whatever needs to get done. We’ve all been in that situation where a quick scroll turns into much longer than it ever should have been — remove that temptation by blocking or turning off the sites that are most likely to distract you.
- Break your day into intervals. Techniques such as Pomodoro can help you break your day into intervals to facilitate smaller bursts of intense focus. By dedicating your full attention to shorter periods of time, you can minimize distractions while breaking down complex projects or scratching off smaller items on your to-do list.
Basic project management types are also essential to helping you work more efficiently while maximizing productivity. Defining project scope, delegating, and streamlining your project updates helps everyone get on the same page about what needs to be done and reduces the chance of you working on something that has little to no relevance.
- Define project scope. A well-defined project scope enables you to execute on your overarching project goals and vision. A lack of exact parameters here means that you’ll keep getting pulled into tasks that divert your attention and steal valuable time and energy. Without a defined scope, that 1-month project can transform into two months that keep you in front of your computer until late while other projects fall to the wayside.
- Make sure to delegate. No man is an island, and no one person can complete every single task or project on their own. We’re not saying to shove your work onto your teammates or direct reports, but make sure to use them as a resource. Choose the right person for the job, articulate the desired outcome, and watch how they uncover information that you wouldn’t have even known was missing.
- Give project updates often. Structure your project updates so that your team is in the loop about how they need to contribute. By keeping open channels of communication, other team members can assist and share information more easily. Nifty’s chat function makes it easy for team members to stay in touch on key priorities to ensure that things are done efficiently and effectively.
Setting boundaries is key to managing your time and not letting it slip away from you. That might look like saying ‘No’ or even ‘Not now’ to projects that come your way. You might also consider setting up standard procedures for ad-hoc projects to execute them strategically and efficiently. Whichever you choose, firm boundaries are an essential piece of the puzzle when bringing your working hours back to an average amount.
- Learn how to say ‘No.’ We’ve all been in that situation where our plates are a little too full, and a co-worker sends an email asking if we can get something to them by the end of the week. You might be inclined to reply with a quick “No problem!” and then proceed to spend the next hour wondering how you’re going to get all of this done. By learning how to set boundaries with co-workers, you reserve more time for your own work. It’s a tricky practice, but it gets more comfortable with time.
- Establish procedures for ad-hoc projects. Another way to set boundaries is to develop operating systems for those last-minute projects that seem to pop up when you least expect them. By having teammates follow set processes instead of just blindly accepting work, you can work new tasks into your existing workflows without derailing current projects.
An 80-hour workweek is not sustainable. While your boss might be impressed, by the end of the week, you’re walking away with more stress, less energy, and less productivity. So what’s the lesson to be learned here? Working smarter — not harder — is the real key to standing out and impressing your team. Manage your time and projects, and don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ once in a while. You’ll end up accomplishing much more than you thought you could.