Working too hard can make you LESS productive. This might be a shock to some, but the secret to fantastic productivity and achieving success in life is NOT just about working hard. Instead, it's about working “smart” and about simplifying your life to focus only your top priorities.
What does it mean to work smarter and to simplify your life?
One of the most important things is to learn to say no. Don't consider this a weakness or a sign that you are not giving your all to your work. Politely inform your colleague that while you would like to help them you have a full schedule. Tell them you would not be able to meet the deadline and they would be best advised to find someone else to complete the task. If the direction has come from your superior, put the onus back on them and ask them which task they want prioritized. Tell them that your schedule will be less hectic in a couple of days and you would be happy to complete the task then. The bottom line is you need to be assertive to be respected in a workplace. If you stretch yourself too thin, the quality of your work will suffer.
Simplifying your life is about narrowing your focus to the things that are really important to you and letting everything else go. Are there certain activities in your work that you don't really need to do, but you do them because of habit or tradition? Can you say “no” to these activities or delegate them to someone else?
Working smarter is also about taking the appropriate breaks throughout your day. After 90 minutes to two hours of solid work you will not be able to concentrate as effectively. Working for six hours straight without getting up from your computer might feel heroic, but it's NOT effective. It's important to take regular breaks throughout the day. Every 90 minutes take some time to stretch, or if you are working from home, doing some brief exercise will definitely increase your concentration. Taking a couple of deep breaths is also a very simple way to reduce stress levels. Also make sure that your breaks are truly “breaks”. If you are half-working during a break then it's not going to have the same positive effect on your productivity.
To be able to achieve peace at work, a crucial factor is to realize you do not need to get everything accomplished. If you are a busy person with lots of conflicting priorities (and almost everyone falls into this category nowadays) you need to be able to live peacefully with having a lot of things to do and NEVER getting them done. Instead of getting stressed that you still have a lot to do, just relax. Choose your top priorities and focus on achieving these priorities. The more that you can live and be at peace with the fact that you can't get everything done, the happier you will be.
In fact you will probably be LESS effective if you strive to get everything complete all the time, because you will be focusing on items that are not really top priorities for you. Instead, you will be far more effective if you focus always on your top priorities, and be at peace with the fact that you are not getting everything done. You might have 100 items on your to do list, but you don't have to do ANY of them. Instead, think to yourself, “what is the most productive task I can work on right now?” and focus on that task. Be at peace with the fact that you can't do everything in your life.
Another way to simplify your life and reduce stress levels is to set aside some time each day where you are not distracted by work. Technology today often means we are contactable 24/7 but it's important to set aside some time to clear your head and relax. Go for a walk and leave your mobile phone at home!
Finally, it's not healthy to strive for perfection in everything you do. This is not possible and can drastically increase stress levels. We can often get caught up with a task that is “not quite perfect”. Instead, it's usually more effective to leave tasks in a complete but not perfect state, and then move on to the next thing.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to simplify your life AND be more effective:
- What low priority activity in my business or personal life can I eliminate?
- How can I feel at peace even when I have a lot on my to-do list?
- What should I say no to in my life?
- Do I need to introduce more exercise and stretch breaks into my day?