76% of employees report their chronic stress is linked to work (Key Organization Systems, 2013) and this is not a very surprising statistic. Nearly everyone I have talked to feels stressed from work. How many times have you had to stay at work to finish a project? Do you feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the work-day to complete everything? The problem may be that you are not working efficiently enough. In the 1930s, Allan F. Mogensen once said “Work smarter not harder” and this quote is still very relevant to this day. Working smarter consists of prioritizing your tasks and combining tasks to reduce your stress levels.
Some strategies to consider when working smarter are:
- Do the most stressful tasks during the times of the day when you have the most energy. The best times to do cognitively demanding work or novel tasks are during the morning hours before lunch (Morton and Kershner, 1991; Wieth & Zacks, 2011) This means you should schedule the most cognitively demanding tasks during the morning. Alertness slumps after a meal, known as the “post lunch dip” (Matchok, 2001) so tasks that are less cognitively demanding, perhaps phone-calls and similar tasks can be scheduled during this period. The afternoons are the best for creativity and open-ended thinking tasks (Wieth & Zacks, 2011). For example, afternoon tasks can be tasks that require brainstorming, idea generation or solution generation etc. I would also like to note that although studies have found these times to be the best for certain cognitive tasks, it is important to remember that everyone is unique. These strategies are meant to shaped according to what best fits with your body, work routines and schedules.
- Combine tasks that can be combined. This strategy is based on the principle of combining tasks explained in the textbook “Strategic Human Resource Development” by Kandula (2001). It is believed that combining a series of smaller tasks to form a larger work task can result in higher work motivation (Kandula, 2001). For example, if you have several phone calls to make throughout the day, try doing them consecutively instead of spread out during the day. Sending emails? Schedule a times in your day just for emails. How exciting would it feel to get all of your phone calls/ emails out of the way at once so you can devote the rest of your time to other tasks?
- At the end of your workday, take 10 minutes to make a schedule of things to do for the next work-day. This way you can come to work the next morning being mentally prepared to tackle your list. Having a clear to do list allows you to get to work and not waste time thinking of things that need to be done and you avoid forgetting important things to do. After you are done your list, leave your work at work. Do not take it home with you. By this I mean once you step outside of work, make it a habit to not worry about the list while you are at home. Tell yourself it will get done the next day and do not bring the work-stress home with you. We all know the importance of having a work-life balance, yet 1 in 4 Canadians experience conflict between work and family (Abercromby, 2007). This is one way to help you achieve that work-life balance. Although it can be difficult, try to create a separation between your home life and work life. This is an important strategy to reduce the chronic stress employees experience due to their work.
- Work in bursts. Studies have shown that working long hours does not actually add to high productivity. According to Hayden et al., (2014), participants who took breaks throughout a task reported that the task required less effort and was less temporally demanding than those without rest breaks. Helton & Warm (2008) noted a similar finding. Thus, after completing a major task, take a short 5-minute break before starting your next task.
- Schedule time in your calendar to do some physical activity. If you are not a regular gym-goer, schedule a 30-minute walk or bike ride either before or after work. Maybe even incorporating it into your lunch break and heading for a 30 minute walk after your lunch.
We’d love to hear tips from you that you use to work smarter, not longer! Please share your thoughts below.
Abercromby, M. (2007). A report on the importance of work life balance. Business Improvement Architects. Retrieved from https://www.bia.ca/articles/AReportontheImportanceofWork-LifeBalance.htm
Kandula, S. R. (2001). Strategic human resource development. New Delhi: PHI Learning. Key Organization Systems. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.keyorganization.com/time-management-statistics.php
Matchock, R. L. (2010). Circadian and Sleep Episode Duration Influences on Cognitive Performance Following the Process of Awakening. International Review of Neurobiology, 93, 129–151. Retrieved from http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0074774210930067
Ross, H. A., Russell, P. N., & Helton, W. S. (2014). Effects of breaks and goal switches on the vigilance decrement. Experimental Brain Research, 232(6), 1729–1737. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-014-3865-5
Wieth, M. B., & Zacks, R. T. (2011). Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal. Thinking and Reasoning, 17(4), 387-401.