Work smarter, not harder

Updated Feb 5, 2024

Shutterstock 151447985How many times have you seen that quote?

Over time, the idea that your best performance is a result of how you work, not how long you work, has become widely accepted. Studies have shown that the last employee to leave each day isn’t necessarily the hardest worker; they may simply lack organizational skills or the ability to prioritize work.

The most productive employees are the ones who are able to get real, meaningful work done during regular business hours, and then return home at a reasonable time to rest and recharge for the next day.

Of course, it’s easy to advise someone to get organized or polish up their delegating skills, but it’s much harder to achieve that dramatic change in work styles and management approaches. Also, not every business management tip will work for every person. If you’ve tried in the past to incorporate changes to the way you work with little success, try instead to incorporate lifestyle changes that will impact your overall well-being – including those hours you’re on the job.

Boost sleep

How you sleep is the number one factor in how successfully you conduct your day. Lack of sleep decreases your ability to pay attention and retain information, can cause psychological problems such as depression, and interferes with your ability to create memories.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not functioning at your peak. Although the amount of sleep needed can vary from person to person, research indicates the majority of healthy adults require between 7 and 8 hours per night.

According to the Mayo Clinic, even if you feel rested on less sleep, tests have shown that adults who sleep less than 7 hours per night do not perform as well on complex mental tasks as those who get a full night’s sleep. Sleep durations of 4 to 5 hours have proven to cause a negative neurological and physiological impact in laboratory tests.

So, make sleep a priority. Schedule it and treat it with the same importance as you would any other appointment. Ramp down in the evenings so that you are not engaged in stimulating physical or mental activity as you approach the time you need to go to bed. Create a comfortable and soothing environment that is conducive to restful sleep. Once you’re in the correct sleep pattern for your needs, you’ll find you’re more alert and productive during the day.

Improve cognitive function

As we spend more and more time in front of screens we increase the amount of time we spend in sedentary, passive activities, and reduce the amount of time we spend interacting with others – an activity critical to retaining cognitive function.

According to Psychology Today, you must “work out” both hemispheres of your cerebrum and cerebellum, which is something that simply cannot be done by staring at a tablet, smartphone, or TV screen.

Disconnect as often as possible

Reduce the temptation to check your smartphone every few minutes, and connect with others in person whenever possible. Break up your routine by changing your habits and trying new things, especially with friends and acquaintances. New real-world experiences will help your brain stay sharp, which will boost both your decision-making abilities and your productivity.

Reduce stress

While it’s likely impossible to completely eliminate stress, just accepting it and trying to deal with it is not a workable solution. The negative impact of stress is well-documented, and it’s more than worth trying to eliminate it wherever possible. Acute stress can cause or worsen a variety of serious illnesses such as heart disease, strokes, and cancer, and at a minimum will impact your sleep, your cognitive performance, and your psychological and emotional well-being.

Determine what types of events or situations create the majority of the stress in your day. Pay attention to the things that really make you upset or angry, and then try to assess them objectively. Is what’s upsetting you really worth the harm it could cause? Can the situation be corrected? Once you isolate the stressor and analyze it a bit more calmly, you’ll find you deal with most situations rationally.

You can also incorporate ways to help you deal with stress. Not every stress-busting tip will work for every situation, but doing something pleasant like taking a walk or going for a cup of coffee with a friend will take the edge off your stress. Realize that although you’re confronted with a negative situation, there’s no need for it to occupy all your time and consume all your thoughts. Once you’re managing stress properly, you’ll improve your concentration and focus on other tasks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amy Materson is the former managing editor for sister magazine Equipment World.

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