Work Smarter, Not Harder: 4 Ways to Manage Your Time Effectively

We are living in an age of a constant need to be busy and productive. Not only do folks spend more and more hours at work and less time at home, even their break time is consumed with emails, work calls, and nonstop text messages. Many people believe that staying busy means that you are working hard and will be more successful. This is not entirely wrong, however, it also means that you are constantly trying to complete too many things simultaneously without considering whether they’re getting you closer to your goals. In fact, a study published by John Pencavel of Stanford University found that employee performance drops after a 50-hour workweek and falls even more significantly after 55 hours. The research found that someone who puts in 70 hours of work a week produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours! So, how do we manage our time more effectively and achieve the desired results? Here are four ways to make sure you’re working smarter, not harder.

1. Plan ahead and get organized

One of the worst ways to start your work/school day is to jump right in without any plans to tackle the challenges ahead. If you’re a morning person, try to wake up 15 minutes earlier and use that time to plan your tasks for the day. If you’re a night owl like me, you can plan for the next day before you go to bed. To-do lists are great tools, but they become pointless when the list keeps growing longer and longer, and you still haven’t  completed the most important tasks. Over the years, I’ve found that it’s a lot more helpful to create an Action Priority Matrix to plan my tasks. This matrix uses a grid to define tasks according to the effort required and their impact, and has helped me stay sane while multi-tasking!

2. Learn to say no

This is one of the most important things I have learned in the working world. You can’t, and you don’t have to, take up every project in front of you. A lot of newbies at work make the mistake of piling too much on their plates, only to end up with no time to focus enough effort on all of their tasks. Be fair to yourself and politely speak up to your boss if you feel overwhelmed. There’s always a chance that he or she might not be aware of the extent of your workload.

3. Avoid distractions

While I’m at work, I always feel the need to reply to emails as soon as they come in and answer phone calls the moment they ring. This always takes my focus away from the task at hand. Nowadays, I set time aside to check my emails and voicemails, and make sure that I don’t touch my phone when I’m focusing on a task. With the designated time to focus, I finish my assignments much faster!

4. Take regular breaks

Working in front of a computer can be very taxing in a number of ways. Not only is too much screen time hard on your eyes, never leaving your desk is a great recipe for feeling tired and losing interest in your task. Studies have demonstrated that even brief diversions can significantly improve one’s ability to focus longer. I personally make a point to stop for a break a few times throughout the day, and this keeps me refreshed and interested in my task!

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Iswari is a small town girl from Malaysia who traveled across the world to attend Cornell University. She is now back in Malaysia, tiptoeing around reverse culture shock while trying to remain sane in the corporate world.