How to work smarter, not harder

Reading time: About 3 minutes

We can all get things done if we’re willing to work hard enough. But here’s some useful advice on how to work smarter….

I’m working on a big project right now. I’m writing and recording lessons for a course on editing that I plan to sell later this fall. Clients have been asking me for this product for years, and I’m very close to releasing it, which thrills me.

That said, it’s sucking up great big gobs of my time right now. I’ve been spending two to three hours a day on it for the last six weeks. Typically, I don’t spend more than 30 minutes a day on just about anything, so this is a big switch for me.

But I’m focusing on working smarter, rather than harder, so that I can sustain this pace until the project is done. Have you ever thought it would be better if you could work smarter, too? Here are 11 tips to help you do that:

1-Create a morning routine: Try to start each day with a bang. Most of us have more energy in the morning, so we shouldn’t waste that precious time checking email or reading the news. Instead, figure out what task is most important to you and start doing it. I’ve been earmarking mornings for this course for the last six weeks, and that decision has helped me make huge inroads.

2-Batch your work: You know the expression “like attracts like”? That’s the idea behind batching. Do similar tasks together in batches, rather than whenever they show up on your desk. For example, you’ll spend less time on email if you can check it three times a day and only three times a day, rather than checking over and over as messages dribble in all day long. Ditto for returning phone calls. Ditto for doing research.

3-Delegate as much as possible: I’m not saying delegate your most important project to other people. I’m saying delegate all the other stuff. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful assistant right now (thanks, Melodie!) and she has made my life easier and better in so many ways. Besides being an outstanding copy-editor, she’s also skilled with technology. Technology doesn’t frighten me, but it usually takes me three times as long to figure things out as it takes her. I’m more than happy to give her all that stuff — and it leaves me with more time for the things I can do really well.

4-Work during your best hours: We all have certain times of day when we’re most productive. For me, it’s morning. Then I get another little burst of energy around 3 pm. As a result, I try to schedule my most important work for first thing in the morning and last thing in my day. Your “best” times will differ, but make sure you do your most important work during them.

5-Measure your results, not just your time: Time is both slippery and elastic. But tasks and results are concrete. Focus on the tasks you need to accomplish and figure out a way of tracking them and keeping them top of mind. I like to work from lists, and I often attach due-dates to those lists.

6-Reduce your to-do list: Many of us have monstrously long to-do lists. But don’t allow yourself to become captive to this potential time-waster. The next time you have a big, important project, cast a wary eye over your list. Pretend you’re going on vacation tomorrow. How many of these things do you really need to do? Can you jettison any of them? If you can, jettison.

7-Use a To-Don’t List: We all have certain tasks we love doing and, of course, others we hate. But dealing with the ones we love is often the bigger challenge. Why? They get in the way of whatever big project we need to do. I know I can plan endlessly — it’s something I love to do. I had so many plans for my course. Finally, I had to put my foot down and tell myself, “Daphne, no more planning! Only writing.”

8-Don’t wait for inspiration: One of my favourite quotes about inspiration comes from Peter de Vries, who said, “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Dentists don’t expect to be inspired. Neither do plumbers. Writers shouldn’t expect it either. We just need to show up and do the work. If we’re not feeling creative enough, the problem is likely that we haven’t had enough down time or “fun” time. (And the best way to deal with that is to stop working immediately and go for a walk outdoors.)

9-Trying working in 90-minute blocks: Generally, I favour 30-minute blocks of time, otherwise known as the pomodoro. For most of the last 10 years I have run my life by pomodoros (complete with a “noisy” timer) and I’ve found it’s made me infinitely more productive, especially when paired with time-blocking. For this big project, however, I need to devote more time to it. Pioneering sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman was the person who discovered that human beings operate in 90 to 120-minute cycles called “basic rest-activity cycles.” (We do this both at night, when sleeping, and also during the day.) Science has proven that our brain can last for about 90 minutes at optimal levels before losing steam, after which it needs a break.

 10-Make sure you get enough rest (and fun): It’s easy to cut back on socializing, eating healthy meals and getting adequate sleep when we’re pushing to finish important projects. But we’re doing ourselves no favours when we make cuts like that. First, sleep is a basic requirement for any writer. You won’t help your productivity  — or creativity — if you shortchange your sleep. And if you’re feeling like someone who is “all work and no play,” you won’t be a productive person. We need time to exercise, to see friends, to enjoy entertainment. That’s just part of being human.

11-Don’t fall into the trap of working smarter AND harder: If you’re a super productive person, you might be tempted to implement some of these tips and see if you can pull off working both smarter and harder. Don’t do it.

We all want to manage our time. But by remembering that we’re human beings, not automatons, we’ll be able to accomplish big goals and still have lives that are fun, rewarding and worth living.


My video podcast last week offered advice on how to increase your blog traffic. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Do you know how to work smarter rather than harder? How do you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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