When I started working for myself, I had no idea what I was doing. My hours were ridiculous – I would take a 4PM workout break stay on the computer until 1-3AM. This felt…not great the next day. It was not the best way to get things done and in the long run, is just not sustainable. My stress levels were terrible and found myself feeling burned out. There had to be a better way. I eventually grew the company I poured my heart and soul into, and found myself working with and managing a team. I had no idea what I was doing but knew things needed to change. As someone who has worked leading a team, and now, on my own again for two years, I know that you can actually get more done in fewer hours if you work smarter and not harder (or longer hours). 

How to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Certain aspects of the way we worked made it difficult for me to get my work done. Far too much time was wasted, and once I became a mom, it only felt harder. Taking care of your physical and mental health is so important. I found myself. desperate for some flexibility and understand the privilege in that. But isn’t part of working for yourself getting to have a little balance? . As a leader, I implemented a few strategies to make it easier for everyone to focus. I found that multitasking, slack (when not used properly), and an open-concept office made it extremely difficult for most people to be productive. When hours are wasted on unnecessary meetings and chatter and you find yourself feeling distracted, that can lead to less productivity, less time for self care, and ultimately, unhappiness. 

Allowing people – yourself and employees if you have them – to have some flexibility will make for a happier and more productive life. And that is all I hoped for. 

I understand that not everyone can control their work environment, but there are things we can do to make it easier. Many (most) people are expected to be on the clock from 8-5 (ish). That is not something I valued as a leader, and I know that many companies (again, not all) are offering a little more flexibility. I am not suggesting that you do whatever you want all day. Get your shit done. But allowing people – yourself and employees if you have them – to have some flexibility will make for a happier and more productive life. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about. When we have some freedom and feel valued, we find ourselves feeling happier. And when we’re happier and more balanced, we do better work. It’s that simple. 

What I’ve Learned as a (former) Leader and Entrepreneur.

Naturally, this does not work for every position and company. Maybe you’re meeting with new clients or seeing patients. But when you do what I do, or work in a field where you are able to have a little flexibility, there is a way to shift things. A way to be more flexible and feel more balanced. This is something I believe in as a (former) leader and entrepreneur. 

So today, I want to share the lessons I’ve learned and how I wanted to lead my team. How I implemented some strategies for a better work culture. Even after those changes, when two leaders work so differently, it doesn’t always work out and that’s ok. At the end of the day I felt stuck and stressed out – things needed to change, so I made a change. So I now spend my days working for myself. I still work a lot (or I do when I have childcare in place), but I get far more done and am able to sign off to do the things that give me those breaks and the balance I craved for so long. Here’s how to work smarter and not harder. 

Focus on One Thing at a Time

Time management skills do not come naturally to all of us, managing time is an essential skill for everyone. You may not believe this, but working on one task at a time is the most effective way to get things done. Multitasking isn’t good for you and it certainly isn’t something to be proud of. Do your most important tasks first to alleviate stress. If it’s time to check email, just check your email. And it’s best to do this on a computer and not your phone. If it’s time to sit down and write, close everything out to focus. Are you in a meeting? Researching something? Focus on the task at hand.

Edit How You Communicate

It’s important to know the productivity method that works for you. I strongly prefer emails to phone calls. I find that it’s a good idea to have details in writing (visual learner here), and I end up with more extra time at the end of the day. But having those notes to reference really helps me. Sure, there are times that calls make more sense, but I try to keep things to email since that is what works best for me.

When it comes to team communication, I’m not saying not to use Slack, but it’s really important to be able to sign off. This was a huge struggle for me, because I was not the kind of leader that expected an immediate reply, but some people are that way. So once I changed the rules a bit, created away messages, and allowed flex hours so everyone had some balance, Slack felt a lot more balanced. If your team has a “fun” chat room, set some ground rules. It’s a great way to have some camaraderie, but chatting away all day is not productive. I know people think Slack (or other methods of team and client communication) are great, and in many ways, they can be. But you have to know how to use them. 

Shorten Your Work Day 

This might sound counterproductive, but you’re actually bound to be less distracted when you do more work in a shorter amount of time. For me, taking a break is key. Even short breaks can make a difference, and you are almost guaranteed to feel more focused for the rest of the day. That free time is essential and will change how you work, sleep, and feel. Popping out to a yoga or pilates class, or taking a real lunch  or coffee break break gives me the reset I need to do my best work. Brain breaks will give you greater productivity. 

Take Care Of Yourself 

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, don’t find time to work out, and are not giving yourself some downtime, you are sure to be less productive. Working round the clock, multitasking, and not practicing any form of rest and self-care will lead you to feel burned out. Eat, drink water, take a workout break, and spend some time doing nothing at home. Everyone needs a couple of hours away from a screen and meetings – time to relax and recharge. 

Be Smart About How You Use Your Phone and Computer

Turn off your notifications so you can focus! When social media is a part of your job, being on your phone is pretty much inevitable. But there are ways to keep yourself focused on the task at hand. I have notifications turned off, so texts do not pop up while I’m doing what I need to do. Fewer distractions helped me spend my days more productively. 

Schedule Tasks Based on Your Time and Energy

When you map out what you need to do in the upcoming days or weeks, don’t save the most challenging work for when you’ll feel the most burned out. I am guilty of this so it’s something I’m still working on. I save the things I don’t really want to do for EOD, when I feel even less like doing them. 

Shorten (or spread out) Your To-Do List

If you’re anything like me, you have a long to-do list. But there’s no way to accomplish everything in one day. So set realistic goals, and utilize reminders and tasks. I use Google calendar to assign different tasks to different dates. I use reminders to set reminders for specific days and times. It is often the case that I have partnerships to work on, SEO optimization, blog posts to write, etc. I like to split things up throughout the week in ways that are actually manageable. Assigning tasks to days on your calendar or making a good old-fashioned to-do list will help you focus. Another tip: spread out and time block mundane tasks or the things you don’t love doing. 

Learn to manage your time, energy, and work in a way that works for you (and your company). This productivity method will help you find yourself working smarter and not harder. If you want to do good work, long hours are not always the answer. And if your energy levels are suffering, it’s time to rethink things. And as a result, you may find yourself feeling happier, and more productive.