9 Secrets to Work Smarter and Improve Work Ethic

Focus on results and limit multitasking to produce better work and leave more time for leisure.

Articles published December 6, 2018 by Mike Rice

Female and male coworkers collaborating at idea board wall with colored sticky notes

On average, Americans work approximately 40 hours per week. Professionals who have pressing deadlines tend to work even more, clocking in at closer to 50–55 hours of work per week. Ancient hunter-gatherers worked only 15 hours per week.

So, why the drastic difference in hours spent on the job? It’s possible that our ancestors knew how to use their resources and time to work smarter but not necessarily harder.

And let’s face it, there were also less distractions to contend with back then.

Sometimes, people working in challenging industries feel there isn’t enough time in the day to finish their workloads, which increases stress. But the answer to this problem isn’t to work harder or extend your working hours. According to a 2014 study on workplace productivity by John Pencaval at Stanford University, employees eventually reach a point where their work will no longer be productive.

“Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work week and falls off a cliff after 55 hours — so much so, that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours,” one assessment of the study said.

Instead, people may find that working smarter and using their time more effectively will produce better work and leave more time for leisure. Practice these nine tips to work smarter and improve your time management skills and work ethic.

1. Focus on results.

Focusing on the project at hand without worrying about completion time reduces stress and increases productivity. For example, one can separate a big project into segments to focus their attention on one part at a time, returning to each as needed.

Research from Adobe’s Behance platform, an online portfolio that showcases creative work, found that "placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results leads to a culture of inefficiency (and anxiety)."

Adobe also explains how physical presence can affect daily work duties.

“The pressure of being required to sit at your desk until a certain time creates a factory-like culture that ignores a few basic laws of idea generation and human nature: (1) When the brain is tired, it doesn't work well; (2) Idea generation happens on its own terms; (3) When you feel forced to execute beyond your capacity, you begin to hate what you are doing,” Adobe noted in its Behance platform research.

2. Hire smart people.

Successful business leaders realize the best hires are smart and reliable. An ideal candidate should go beyond simply checking the boxes of your job description. The best employees find creative solutions to challenging problems and are also forward-thinking. When interviewing or hiring, give preference to someone who is or has the potential to become an expert in their field and then stay out of their way.

As the CEO and co-founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs explained that business leaders should let their employees do what they do best instead of micromanaging them.

“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do,” Jobs now famously said. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

3. Embrace technology.

Technology tools, when used correctly, allow people to work more efficiently. Make an effort to learn about the technology options available to you and consider adopting them for your business. There are time-saving technology solutions available for nearly every business unit or service, including customer support, project management, employee communications, appointment scheduling, and more.

By incorporating these solutions into your business, you can make your life easier and minimize inaccuracies. An IT consultant can also help you find the right tools.

4. Focus on what you can control.

Although there is much you cannot control such as traffic, weather, and world events, there are many things you can control. The more you begin to focus on what you can change, the more productive and the less stressed you will be. For business leaders who like to have more control over daily activities, consider planning your day the night before by jotting down your top priorities. This will keep you more organized, less stressed, and will give you a sense of accomplishment once your tasks are complete.

5. A positive mindset encourages productivity.

You have probably heard this numerous times, but it cannot be stressed enough. A positive mindset will lead to a better work ethic, healthier habits, and a happier life.

The more you shift your mind to positive thinking, the more you will actively take an interest in work and daily activities. Having a positive mindset will also allow you to make ethical decisions at work. The content team at Mind Tools, an on-demand career management website, believes a better attitude leads to a better work environment.

"People with a good attitude take the initiative whenever they can,” Mind Tools noted. “They willingly help a colleague in need; they pick up the slack when someone is off sick, and they make sure that their work is done to the highest standards."

6. Communicate.

It is extremely important to have clear and open communication with co-workers and employees. Strong communication skills encourage collaboration.

7. Empower your team members and employees.

Good leaders empower their peers, co-workers, and employees. By motivating and inspiring them, you are allowing them to voice their suggestions and take initiative.

This will position you as a leader who is trusting and empowering. Marshall Goldsmith of the Harvard Business Review believes empowering employees will lead to success.

“Your role is to encourage and support the decision-making environment and to give employees the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions,” Goldsmith wrote in his Harvard Business Review article.

“By doing this, you help your employees reach an empowered state,” he added.

8. Find a suitable routine.

Automate your tasks so they become routine and require less daily decision-making. Once your tasks are in order, you simply do them without thinking. President and CEO of The Energy Project Tony Schwartz agrees, as explained in his Fast Company article.

“The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy,” Schwartz wrote. “It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem."

"Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on,” he concluded.

Schwartz said his go-to routine is to:

  • Have a daily alarm set, so he gets eight hours of sleep.
  • Hit the gym shortly after waking.
  • Start the work day with the most important task — decided right before.
  • Write down any tasks or important thoughts that occur throughout the day.

“Anytime you start to feel frustrated, ask yourself this question: ‘What’s the story I’m telling myself here, and how could I tell a more hopeful and empowering story about this same set of facts?’” Schwartz wrote.

We thrive on routines because they require less thinking, which allows us to perform our tasks faster. After you master your routine, it will gradually become a ritual.

9. Manage and limit multitasking.

Many of us multitask to complete a varied amount of work quickly, but multitasking actually slows us down. In fact, researchers have found the human brain struggles to manage multiple things at once. Our brains concentrate on one thing at a time.

Neuroscientist Earl Miller believes multitasking won’t solve problems.

“People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves,” Miller said in an NPR interview. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”

The Bottom Line

Practicing these nine tips to work smarter will increase productivity, deliver positive work results, and build self-esteem while reducing overall stress. Working harder can mean longer hours, which leads to negativity and a lower quality of work.

Fortunately, working smarter allows for the completion of more productive work in a shorter time span and with a better work ethic. So the next time you start feeling stressed with deadlines at work, consider following these nine steps.

Are you and your team members seeking out more ways to work smarter? You may want to consider bringing in an outside perspective to inspire change.

About The Author

Mike Rice

Mike Rice, president of Aureon Consulting, is responsible for Consulting’s strategic growth, leadership and business operations. Prior to being appointed President, Mike was the Vice President of Aureon Consulting (previously Midwest Project Partners), and a founding partner of Midwest Tech ... read more

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