Want to learn how to work smarter, not harder?
Regardless of who you are and what you do, there aren’t that many hours in a day to get everything done.
As a result, many people end up feeling like they’re always left behind, so they resort to working many hours.
But is working harder really the solution?
In this article, I’ll show you how you can work smarter and:
- become more effective in your life
- increase your daily productivity
- take back some of your time
So keep reading!
Simple facts to keep in mind when trying to work smarter
Here are a few facts we should get out of the way first before diving into how to work smarter.
FACT: We all have the same number of minutes and hours daily.
You, me, and FaceBook Zucky.
All of us.
FACT: We waste time we don’t know we’re wasting.
FACT: There is no huge secret to hacking some of that wasted time.
Well, there is.
Knowing what it is helps.
If you learn some things, you can steal back some wasted minutes and turn them into hours, energy, and money.
Minutes Turn into Hours
The very first, unskippable step to ‘finding’ more time in your life is to look for it.
Trust me. It’s there.
I found a lot working in intense jobs.
I’ve worked everywhere, from bars to corporate cubes to marine construction.
Today, I’m a producer and work in videos and TV, co-host the MyFixitUpLife radio show podcast, and write blogs, articles, and books.
I even run Spartan Race, but my source code—who I am and what I love—is being a carpenter.
And being a good one.
So while some weekend DIY working on the lawn, painting a room, or building a pergola can be recreational, when you’re doing it for money (I own the business) to buy food and health insurance and karate lessons for my boy, it takes on a whole new urgency.
Why does this matter to you?
Carpentry is an extreme example of everyday life, what I call Life_Amplified, or (I’m making this up now because I am a dweeb: ampLIFiEd… anyway.)
Carpenters—good and bad—manipulate hundreds of things per day, some tiny.
Some are really f-ing heavy.
And we do it in extreme environments with a perpetually ticking clock and budget.
If something weighs 600 pounds (like the steel beam we moved last week) or the stack of deck boards, you want to make damn sure you’re not moving it all over the place.
One deck board, who cares?
A hundred of them, and you’re paying attention.
So, the good ones move things as few times as possible.
And this requires a mindset.
It’s the first part of the secret.
The mindset to work smarter, not harder
Working smarter, not harder, is not about reinventing the systems of everyday life.
It’s about adjustments, about doing what we already do—we have to do—better, faster, and more efficiently.
That’s why ‘smart not harder’ is hard to see.
You’re not looking for one or two big things to change your life; you’re looking for lots of little things that amount to a few seconds here or a minute there.
The same way life happens.
A little at a time.
You’re saying: Are you kidding me?
I’m replying: No.
Every day, a minute here or there is 7-10 minutes at the end of a week.
Find a few of those (it’s so easy), and suddenly, you have an hour.
Find a lot, and you have a whole day.
Extrapolate that out a month, a year, a lifetime.
Gasp, that’s some math right there…
But, really, you have even more.
You have the compounded interest of not having wasted energy and bandwidth.
You don’t just have time; you have the energy you didn’t spend.
Now, you have more firepower of YOU to focus on bigger things, make fewer mistakes because you’re tired and distracted, be profitable in what you do, and get home in time to make your kid’s game.
See what I’m getting at?
Being efficient is a perpetual motion machine.
EXAMPLE: The kitchen trash.
Where is your trash?
___ Where are your trash bags? ___
One is in Location A, the other in Location B.
I’m nearly mathematically certain you keep the bags under the kitchen sink or in a pantry cabinet.
The location is B, not just somewhere else, but it’s also behind a door, inside a cabinet probably heaped with other crap.
(I’m not judging).
Instead, take the roll of trash bags out of the box and put them in the bottom of the trashcan.
Put the trash bag in over the bags and use them normally.
Next time you empty the trash, you will walk zero steps to get a bag, open zero doors, and futz through zero boxes and cans of under-counter whatever.
How much time did you just save?
The 15-Minute Rule
FACT: Everything takes at least 15 minutes.
Think about it.
There are a trillion examples; here’s just one: Going to the bathroom in your office building takes 15 minutes.
Not the toilet part, but the hello in the hall, the trip by the snack room, or forgetting what you were doing when you get back to your desk.
I’m not saying don’t do those things.
Be nice, eat, and drink coffee, but know that the second you walk away from your chair, you’re in the 15-minute cycle.
Why is this important? Because no one counts this time.
But it’s still time.
And knowing where you keep your minutes is empowering.
Now get back to your desk.
Organization is necessary to work smarter
Maybe your mom told you this or not.
Mine certainly did not.
I learned it bartending: ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’
While few of us will venture behind a bar, this is another example of ampLIFiEed.
Still, like a bartender whipping and flipping out drinks (a good one, not that numbskull talking to the girl while you wait), we manipulate a zillion things during a day.
EXAMPLE: Phone and phone stuff
If you manipulate many things during the day in your life—whether you’re cleaning your house or packing your bag for a meeting—know where your stuff is so you can get it with a ‘no look grab.’
Or at least close to it.
Fumbling around in a purse or bag takes 10, 20, or 30 seconds.
If you do that for your phone, wallet, keys, notebook, or charger thing—don’t.
Find a #@$%^&* place for it and keep it there whenever possible and practical.
Quick self-defense note because I can feel what you’re thinking:
This is NOT being OCD. It’s being diesel.
Firefighters don’t put the hose back on the truck in a different place every time for a reason.
And bartenders don’t put the vodka (yummy, yummy vodka) back in a different place every time they use it.
I organize my carpenter’s tool pouch like this.
Because I’m not fumbling with my tape measure, I can think about the measurement and my goal.
I only have so many brain cells.
We all do.
An added benefit: This also helps you notice if something is missing before you need it.
Please, can you please shut up now?
I love talking with people and hearing interesting stories.
I do it for a living.
But with some people…. well, you know your co-workers.
Or your spouse’s hot buttons.
And when time is about to get away from you.
While plowing through a mountain of emails sucks sometimes, you’re not getting ahead or even getting paid to chit-chat.
So if you’re stuck—or better yet, think you might be—in a conversation and want to guard the time you see hour-glassing away, a good way to get control of those minutes is to set a timer in your head for how long an interaction should and can take.
Then, within the bounds of decorum, stick to your schedule.
EXAMPLE: When the meeting tails off with small talk about your colleague’s passion for football (shared or not), be nice.
However, clipping it off is easier and more delicate when you’ve pre-decided that this conversation is 5-minutes, not an open-ended sports radio rant.
Your body language alone will be an aid.
You can talk about the game at the bar after work.
Work is for working.
Grab the wheel
‘Early is on time’ is not employer bull crap they use to siphon a few more minutes out of you.
Being a little early—for work, a doctor’s appointment, whatever—makes you on time because it means you’ve given yourself some breathing room for the chaos the world throws at us.
And it makes you better when you’re there.
Traffic snarls, a last-minute call you really need to take, whatever.
Leaving earlier than you think you should is a great way to work smarter.
Besides, arriving cool and collected is better than arriving freaking out—can the doctor still see me?
Pull up the directions the night before.
I’m offensively old and don’t enjoy doing it on my phone.
I do it on my phone, but I hate it.
Maybe I was a cartographer or Amerigo Vespucci’s nephew in a past life, but I loved the paper maps and map books I used as a young contractor.
I’d get lost reading them.
The phone works (sort of) better but is heartless.
Point is, map the route before you’re sitting in the driveway so you can see the route and know the alternates.
FRIEND ME, FRIEND ME!
Unless you’re pouring over every detail of my life (of MyFixitUpLife to be precise and grossly self-serving), the thumb swipes and endless novelty of social media are fun.
That’s why Zucky has achieved what he’s achieved.
But they’re your thumbs.
And there’s no question it can be a drain and a drug.
If it is, know before you dive in that you’re in charge of it.
Set a time limit for yourself.
Or make sure you balance out screen time with a paper book that requires you to be engaged for more than a pixel or two million.
There are a million more.
Your life is your life.
Here’s another one I like.
A hundred bucks say most of us just dump our silverware in the strainer and run the dishwasher, right?
Then we sift through them like organizing a deck of cards to put them back in their bins in the drawer—one by one!
Save a step: As you load the strainer, organize them there.
Knives in one bin, spoons in another, forks in another, and so on.
When you remove them, you remove a category (the forks) and take them all at once.
How much time would this put back into your life, 120 seconds at a time?
Recommended Reading… not really…
I have more.
How to make a New Year’s Resolution or exercise and diet hacks you never knew would help, but the point is the mindset.
If you don’t look and don’t try, you wasted your time reading this.
If you do, you’re one or two (million) no-look grabs away from winning life.
I can’t stop
Car a mess?
Full of little papers and stuff?
You may never keep ahead of the hurricane of kids’ snacks crunched into the carpet, but you can keep it ‘trash-free.’
Bring that in no matter what’s in there—coffee cup, soda can, wrapper.
You’re going inside, anyway.
And it keeps the car one layer of clutter cleaner and easier to use.
I also keep some car-cleaning wipes in there (I drive a work truck, again, life amplified) to knock down the dust without having to set up an entire few hours to clean the truck.
I can clean the grime from my speedometer while waiting in traffic.
For us on the job site, SNH means smart tool set-ups that make for easier, better, and more profitable work.
Failure shows up fast for us—and is a big deal.
Nothing weighs much less than 50 pounds, and wasted effort is like lighting money on fire.
Final thoughts about working smarter, not harder
So, save time, free your mind from as much petty busy work as possible, and focus on those big moves you want to make.
Or just spend more time on or with those you love.
How you win life is up to you.
The good news is that we all have the same number of daily minutes to do it.
So work smarter, not harder!
*One more thing: I am guilty of falling victim to every single one of the things on this list.
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