Your work is important and worth approaching in an informed way. Working smarter, not harder draws on a balance of preparedness, thoughtfulness, and diligence.
Understanding the tasks at-hand and carefully planning what is involved it the first step in the process that will lead you to reach your goals. Collaborating and maintaining a consistent pace that brings out your best work, not a frenzied stop-and-go dash for the finish line that leaves you and your team panting for breath when the end of the day comes.
We’ve handled our fair share of big projects and know what steps we use to work smarter, not harder, so we’re sharing them with you. Of course, these steps go well with a cup of coffee and a side of Teamwork Projects.
Know your workload
Being familiar with the task at-hand is essential, but knowing about your big picture goals and detail-oriented needs will equip you with the mental tools needed to approach your work best.
Start and end your day by reviewing your project goals and the immediate tasks to get you there. Once you understand what needs to be done and in what order, you can strategize the best approach, delegate as needed, and focus on the tasks at-hand.
Prioritize and detail the tasks involved
Create a list of tasks and place an accurate priority on each. Delegate when appropriate for the task to ensure it is completed effectively, but also efficiently. The list should be tangible, not just in your mind.
To create and organize your list of tasks, use paper or Teamwork Projects. Create a task for every detailed element of your project, from ordering supplies to submitting vendor invoices, so nothing slips through the cracks.
Prioritize your tasks either by listing them in order of what needs to be completed first or use a color coding or tag to note tasks that are urgent and important.
Set your goals and timeline
Determine what needs to be completed and by when, then focus on which tasks help you and your team reach your goals. Set milestones so you have cause to celebrate along the way, making the project path a series of steps on a timeline, not just a long journey.
Estimate the time needed for each task or set of tasks so you can anticipate a realistic and informed timeline.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
In addition to knowing your work and what you need to do, also know what has already been done.
Realizing predecessors or colleagues have done their own research, work, or outreach and incorporating that into your work may save you and your team valuable time that would have otherwise been spent doing that same work over again.
It often takes less time to update research than to do it from nothing. This is also when ego needs to be checked at the door and someone else’s work must be accepted, not disregarded.
Knowing when to accept help and when to step aside and let someone else’s work shine are two key lessons in collaboration; don’t learn the lesson the hard way.
Keep a steady pace
As the say goes, slow and steady wins the race. Too fast of a pace or too much strain on your team can burn you all out before the project is complete, which does no good to anyone. Work in 90-minute bursts then take a break to refresh and recharge before starting again. Though pulling an all-nighter is always tempting because it is quiet, but it only entices early burnout and a wasted day that follows. Trust your task list and priorities, uphold them with a steady pace approaching and managing your workload, and support your team to get the work done.
Listen to your body and gut
To best approach your work you need to be ready for it physically and mentally. When you begin working on a task, do not switch to another task too quickly, have your necessary resources close by, do not get distracted by notifications or email, be hydrated and nourished, and be rested.
If your pace slows down, or you are feeling distracted between scheduled breaks, take a brief five-minute walk and drink a glass of water. Don’t try to multitask or you will definitely lose momentum.
Know your work, at all times, not just in the beginning. Goals change and new tasks are regularly added or removed from projects so your goalposts can be moving as you’re trying to get the work done.
It is one of the greatest challenges of project management and task organization, so re-evaluating your work regularly is vital to stay abreast of what needs to be done next. What was once the most important task could be demoted when additional research is required, a permit isn’t granted, or a patent needs to be filed.
Working smarter is a nice idea, but it doesn’t happen until you let go of the idea of toiling away for hours on end at the same desk with some take-out food by your side.
Balancing your workload and breaks keeps you charged and ready while also allowing you to retain your identity without being sucked into a seemingly never-ending workload.
Facing important and urgent issues first helps you focus on the supporting and less vital issues next without the stress of a more urgent issue chasing you down as you try to focus.
We hope these steps help you approach your next project with a fresh mind and proactive attitude so you can work smarter, not harder.
Do you like learning how to be more productive or collaborate better? Subscribe to the Teamwork.com High Performance Blog.