There’s no straightforward answer in the age-old debate of working hard vs working smart. More often than not, many of us use a combination of both methods. Hard work can be defined as putting in numerous hours to complete tasks, emphasizing quantity over quality. Smart work, on the other hand, is about finding effective and efficient ways to complete one or multiple tasks without compromising on quantity or quality, though the quantity output may be smaller than the hard work method.
As a freelance worker, I have found that a combination of both methods, in addition to a few other key ingredients, leads to higher productivity. Regardless of our professions, every individual should learn how to find that middle ground that works for them through the optimization of their workflow, building momentum as you go, and keeping that momentum going in order to maximize productivity.
Optimizing your work
Optimizing can be defined as making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource. In the context of optimizing productivity for work, it’s a mix of getting into the right mindset through the adjustment of your external surroundings as well as developing effective and good work habits. Although they may at times appear to be superhuman, people who are highly successful in their own fields have most likely developed their own ways of optimizing productivity through the cultivation of good work habits and other best practices for optimizing work.
Optimizing work and productivity has also become increasingly important in a time when most people are still working from home because of the ongoing pandemic. Working from home tends to blur the line between work and rest, hence why it’s crucial for workers to optimize work or risk underperforming and burning out. There are many good work habits that any worker can and should develop in order to become more efficient and achieve optimal productivity. Here are some key areas that you can develop good work habits around in order to optimize your work:
Everyone has 24 hours in a day, but it’s what we do with it that sets highly productive people apart from those who aren’t. Good time management can be useful in getting more done and even make you feel like you’ve increased the number of hours you have in a day if done right. In addition, good time management can also help you reduce anxieties, create more time for yourself, and make your goals more attainable.
Being better at managing time isn’t very hard at all, but these practices should be cultivated as a habit over the long run. These habits include setting a timer when tackling tasks, learning how to prioritize all your tasks in a to-do list, and planning ahead for your day or week by using tools such as a calendar. Doing so can help you combat any feelings of procrastination, the thief of time. It may take awhile for you to get familiar with your own pace and knowing how much time to allocate for a certain task, but you’ll know as you go along.
You may also want to develop a habit of being punctual to any appointments or meetings, and honor task deadlines. These habits will go a long way in making you dependable at work, as you begin to develop a respect for the value of time, whether it’s yours or others.
The big working from home experiment that was forced upon office workers worldwide by the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that where you decide to set up your work space can make a lot of difference in terms of your productive output. Ensuring that your workspace is set up right will lead to a better mindset and ultimately, optimized productivity.
Whether you’re working from home or at the office, you should identify what you consider distractions and find a way to eliminate them. This differs from person to person, and can sometimes be challenging to eliminate. I am someone who gets distracted easily by any kinds of sound, such as loud typing sounds or clicky mouses. Sometimes it’s a colleague who talks very loudly, or a person who lets out frequent sighs.
If this is happening in a workplace, speak to your supervisor to see if you can be given your own space that’s free from distraction, or discuss the issue with the culprit. If this is happening at home, you’ll need to dedicate a workspace in your home and speak to your housemates or family members to respect the work boundaries that you’ve set.
There are also several other ways to optimize your external work surroundings and boost productivity, such as listening to mood music. Though I find noise to be a distraction, the right music can actually help set the mood for me to be productive. It’s usually instrumental music, with no words sung. See if this can help you set the right tone for working.
Lastly, being organized with your computer, your desk and work tools will certainly make you more efficient in completing tasks. Many unorganized individuals waste a lot of time looking for misplaced items or files. Besides, an organized workspace can actually create a conducive working mindset if you’re a neat freak like me.
Focusing on tasks
One of the biggest challenges that many people face in the era of information technology is the ability to focus. There are numerous sources of distractions that primarily come from the internet, such as social media, the option to multitask with a computer, and just browsing the internet in general which could lead you down a rabbit hole.
For me, optimizing to complete a task means a 100% focus on the task at hand, which means I tend to avoid multitasking. Some may argue that multitasking greatly helps them and makes them more efficient, but a study has shown that multitasking is actually less efficient because it takes extra time to shift mental gears every time a person switches between tasks.
You should also want to pay attention to distractions on the internet, with social media being the main culprit. Not only does it make you waste time by scrolling endlessly, you are also overloading yourself with unnecessary information (for example, what your friend ate for dinner yesterday) and cluttering your thoughts in the process. I’m not saying you should completely deactivate all your social media accounts, but set a certain time for scrolling if you must, and limit the time you spend on it. Eliminating easy access to your social media accounts while you’re working may also help.
Your health is a big component in being optimized for work. You won’t be anywhere near productive or producing your best work if you’re in an ill state. Health includes both physical and mental health, with the latter being harder to recognize when it’s deteriorating. Learn how to listen to your body, and cultivate ways to boost and maintain good physical and mental health.
Getting exercise and enough sleep are the two most important ingredients to your health. Many times we sacrifice these two aspects in return for higher productivity, or so we thought. If you do this once in a while, you might get away with it. But sacrificing sleep and an active lifestyle in the long run and the consequences will certainly build up and manifest itself in all kinds of diseases and illnesses.
Don’t forget to also take intermittent breaks between your work, but not so frequent as to disrupt momentum. Taking short breaks at work can be especially useful when you’re feeling stumped for ideas or want to feel refreshed when tackling an extremely tedious task.
Ultimately, finding the right balance between work and rest is key to optimizing your productivity. Don’t feel guilty for taking some well deserved down time if you need to, and remember that being healthy is just as important as all the other habits you need to cultivate in order to optimize productivity.
Keep the momentum going
Once you’ve reached an optimized point in your workflow, maintaining the work momentum that you’ve built is the next challenge. Being a freelancer, it’s detrimental for me to always keep the momentum going and maintain a habit of working, otherwise I risk losing my income. Momentum is key, because losing it will set me back into a lull mode of inactivity. It’s important to recognize how valuable momentum is before striving to maintain it.
Many of us set goals, develop a plan around them and get excited about them when we first start. But after a few days or weeks, the excitement dies down and they lose the momentum. It’s a familiar situation, and a tough one to overcome, but not impossible. The initial stages of building up momentum is one half of the work. Keeping the momentum going is the other half. For example, if you’ve never prepared a report for your superiors before, it can be challenging initially. But as you overcome that and keep writing more reports, you start to familiarize yourself with the process and it becomes easier over time. That’s how momentum works. The key is to keep it going, because once you stop, it can be hard to get the momentum going again, and especially so if you stop for a prolonged period.
So how does one go about maintaining momentum? The first rule is to never give up, no matter how tough it gets. You have to be consistent by sticking to your plan and persevere. Beyond that, here are some tips on keeping the momentum going:
Set realistic goals
Setting an attainable and realistic goal can set you up for even bigger goals once you’ve accomplished them. On the other hand, an unrealistic goal with an illogical time frame will only make you feel lousy about yourself.
Have a purpose
Individuals with a strong sense of purpose are very driven and self-motivated. A strong sense of purpose is like the fuel you need to keep going, especially on tougher days or more challenging tasks.
Everybody has to start somewhere, and tackling the simpler and smaller tasks counts as progress. There’s a feel good factor that can help sustain momentum when you accomplish tasks, no matter how small.
Celebrate your progress and accomplishments
Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’ve accomplished a task, because now you are that much closer to your end goal. Share it with someone, or reward yourself for it.
Many successful people have cultivated good working habits in their daily lives, resulting in optimized productivity. At times, they may even seem superhuman, but the secret to success lies in knowing what works best for them that leads to an optimal level of productivity. Each one of us can do it too, if only we have the right mindset to adopt good practices and stick to them. Be inspired, not intimidated.
Here at Bridge, we believe that individuals should cultivate good work habits in order to optimize their productivity.