Work Smarter Not Harder

by Suba

No matter how clichéd the title of this post sounds, its surprising how much more efficient we can be by just following this edict. Sometimes it helps to get another person’s perspective because we tend to be blind to a lot of our own mistakes. Every month or so, DH and I spend an afternoon, which we call the “No Holds Barred” time. We go out, either to a restaurant or bookstore, get some snacks and basically review each other. We consciously avoid being hurt or affronted by what the other person is saying and when we leave the restaurant, there are no bad feelings and we only take away constructive criticism. Over the past several months, we’ve each made several changes in the way we approach tasks and I thought I’ll share some of these with you in the hope that it will be useful to others. I’m also soliciting feedback on what you do in your life to improve you efficiency.

The first thing we did was to define a few different levels of comfort. The first level covered all the basic things we needed to live. Next came, what I’ll call for lack of a better term – “necessary luxuries” like high speed internet, cell phones, etc, the next level up was the “nice to haves” level that included eating out once a week or so, vacations once a year, etc. This allowed us to see how much we really needed. That put a ceiling on how much income we needed. Apart from allowing us to figure out how much income we needed to live the life we wanted it also allowed us to avoid over buying. Whenever we are tempted to purchase something, we mentally went through which level of comfort it fell under and how much money we had left over in that category.

Eternal clock

Having controlled spending, the next step was to improve work efficiency so that we could achieve the same results as before but in a shorter period of time. This then provided us with more of that most fleeting of resources – time. Here are some of the things we did to work smarter instead of harder:

  • Analyze the tasks that need to be done and classify them into categories like – Needs to be done NOW!!, can wait till later, can get done when I get a chance, etc. Essentially a prioritized TODO list.
  • Armed with this souped up TODO list, schedule an appointment with yourself for a time at which you know you are at your peak efficiency (wee hours of the morning, after dinner, etc).
  • Create a work friendly atmosphere, (I find that a clean workplace with plenty of light and ventilation really helps get me going).
  • Attack the high priority items on the list during this peak efficiency period.
  • The key is not to try and go whole hog until a task gebuts done. Mix things up. Its okay to complete a task over two or three periods separated in time. Intersperse high efficiency periods with downtime or with getting less strenuous tasks done. During these times, try to multitask such as calling your friends up while folding clothes, etc.
  • Don’t forget to allot downtime for yourself everyday. Relax, stretch and basically enjoy life.
  • Learn to say no to all the frivolous time sucking activities that you do just because you can’t turn someone down.
  • Delegate. You don’t have to do everything. Even if you are a control freak like I am, you can find tasks that don’t need to be perfect and either pay someone to do those or do a kind of swap. Partner with your neighbors to pick up the kids for example. That way you only have to do it on alternate days, at the most.
  • Stir things up every month or so. That way things don’t get monotonous.

Following these steps I was able to take advantage of the resulting snowball effect. As I started to free up more time, I was able to get even more accomplished, which freed up more time and so on. But because I was setting aside downtime consciously I never felt like I was over working and so I didn’t feel stressed out.

What are your favorite tips for making efficient use of your time and getting things done?


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Krantcents June 29, 2011 at 8:12 am

I spent time analyzing my expenses then I only need to look at them by exception versus entering into my budget every month.

Suba June 29, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Krant cents, we spend sometime every month analyzing out expenses too. But we use mint to take care of the categorization.

cashflowmantra June 29, 2011 at 9:55 am

I need to have a list to get the most done. Otherwise, I will just flit away the time and not get a lot done. Having a list with a self-imposed deadline next to it ensures that I can get it done and move on to the next item.

Suba June 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Lists and deadlines work great for me too. They help me to break down a single item into sub-items and get this done quickly.

Money Beagle June 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

Same with me. I have to have a list as well in order to work best. If I don’t, I generally know what I have to do but there isn’t any big hurry to do it. Once I write it down, though, there’s suddenly this long list of stuff that needs to get done all on one page, and I can start hopping to it.

Sandy @ yesiamcheap June 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I’m horrible at this. I constantly forget things but there’s a new thing that will send you a text message at an appointed time to remind you of everything that you’re supposed to do.

Suba June 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Sandy, our plan doesn’t include text messages, but a google calender works great for us actually – reminders, common todos between me and my husband…

101 Centavos June 30, 2011 at 4:46 am

Mrs. 101 and are big lists persons. We each have both daily and long-term lists, and lists of projects that need to be done. Earlier this year, I asked her to put together a wish list for ALL of house projects the needed getting done, with the understanding that I’d pick and choose getting them done, in whatever order and however it fit my own schedule.
I really like your idea of going out to a restaurant *specifically* for the purpose of planning and review. We’ve got a yearly budget that needs to be updated, but are having a hard time sitting down to do it. Combining a date of sorts and a planning session is brilliant. Nice post!

Squirrelers June 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’m big on setting aside some quiet time, without distractions, to work on a to-do list and a plan of action. Then, I set aside dedicated time to certain tasks and plan the rest of the things accordingly. After a week, I’ll revist the list…once I set aside that planning time:)

jana July 11, 2011 at 5:38 am

one of the things that i do, especially when it comes to housework (which i hate), is set the timer on the microwave for 20 minutes. we have 3 levels in our house; each level gets 20 minutes. whatever gets done in those 20 minutes is whatever gets done. the rest will have to wait.

i am also a huge proponent of lists. they help me keep on track and prevent me from becoming completely scatterbrained!

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