Work smarter not harder: Tips to boost your efficiency without burning out

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Do you believe in “hustle culture?”

Hustle culture is “the mentality that one must work all day every day in pursuit of their professional goals” (Monster). This principle normalized working harder and longer to earn more money and become successful, even to the detriment of relationships as well as physical and mental health.

How do you know if you or your workplace is practicing hustle culture? You or your workplace follow traditional workplace values like:

  • not leaving earlier than the boss
  • being the first one to arrive and the last one to leave
  • being available for work 24/7
  • not taking vacations

It is a badge of honour to be overworked in this type of work environment.

Many newcomers can be swept up in this type of culture. We know how hard it is to move to a new country and get a job. So when we get hired, we do all that we can to prove ourselves. While this is a fantastic work ethic, taking it to the extreme can lead to job stress and burn out. In recent years (especially during the pandemic), many have realized that hustle culture is toxic and unsustainable. Many are shifting towards a healthier balance between work and life.

What does “working smarter” mean?

Working smarter, not harder means “finding ways to use your energy and time at work more efficiently, which can help you complete tasks more quickly” (Indeed). This allows you to have more time to pursue activities that bring fulfillment to you beyond work.

Why is it important to work smarter?
It has several important benefits. Working smarter:

  1. Increases productivity
  2. Prevents burnout
  3. Makes you a more efficient
  4. Makes you happier in general

7 ways to work smarter:

  1. Prioritize and plan

    Hacking through tasks aimlessly takes a lot of time and effort. Instead, have clear priorities and plan well. This will allow you to maximize your energy and time.

    Make a “to-do” list each day. Ensure that it is realistic and doable to keep from going beyond scheduled hours. Prioritize on three to five high-impact tasks. These are tasks that directly relate to your main responsibilities. They can also be tasks that affect others (they need it so they can fulfill their responsibilities) or those that have short deadlines.

    Here’s a great video for more tips on planning and time management:

    5 Time Management Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder, The Art of Improvement

  2. Set healthy boundaries and communicate them well

    It’s great to support your teammates. However, if helping out will keep you from meeting your deadlines then it’s okay to say no. It’s crucial that you know your priorities. Focusing on them will help you stay efficient and maintain high quality work.

    A good way to refuse additional work is to communicate the reason/s clearly and as soon as possible. Let them also know of a time when you will be available to help. You can say “I would love to help you but I have a deadline this afternoon.” You can add: “We can talk tomorrow afternoon if you still need my assistance.”

  3. Take breaks

    Taking breaks allows you to reset your brain and start fresh. This makes you more efficient and creative. Breaks should be 10-30 minute periods where you rest and don’t think about work. You can have coffee, stretch, rest your eyes, meditate, or even nap. You can use an app to remind you of these breaks. Try free apps like Time Out (MacOS) or Break Timer (Windows, Linux, MacOS).

  4. Get to it (don’t procrastinate)

    Thinking of all the work you need to do can bog you down. This can lead to procrastination. To prevent being overwhelmed, focus on one thing at a time. You can even break a big job into small, manageable chunks, and then start with the simplest task. You’ll see that once you’ve accomplished something, you’ll be motivated to complete more tasks.

  5. Ask for help early

    Asking for help early makes it more likely that you’ll get the support that you need. It also shows that you respect your co-workers’ time. Planning well at the initial stage will make it easy for you to determine if you’ll need help or additional tools.

  6. Try productivity hacks

    • Organize your surroundings – Clutter can bring your energy down and distract you. It also wastes time. Having everything in the right place increases your efficiency.
    • Group similar tasks – Work on aspects of the same project and try to finish one after another when you can. This allows your brain to focus on the same parameters, making you more productive.
    • Use apps and tools – Automate any repetitive task. Download apps that help you stay on target. This saves time and energy that you can spend on more important or high-impact tasks.
  7. Establish a closing routine

    Wind down at the end of the day by evaluating how your day went. Celebrate achievements as part of your routine. Being proud your accomplishments will help motivate you to do bigger and better things the next day!

Sources: 17 ways to work smarter, not harder in your career, Jamie Birt, indeed; and Hustle Culture: How “Everyday I’m hustling” became a mantra, Martina Mascali, Monster. Accessed November 14, 2022.

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