“Work smart, not hard,” is how the conventional wisdom goes. This statement reflects a strategic approach and thoughtful effort, and it’s something that resonates with most of us. (You might even have it on a mug on your desk.) Why do we all seemingly ignore this advice and instead relentlessly context switch across disparate tasks, then?

Of course, no one was born to be a productivity whiz, which has led to a fair amount of strife and conjecture about how we ought to be managing our time—especially as remote workers.

Fortunately, some important changes are taking place in the world of knowledge work. Industry leaders have begun to denounce the toxicity of hustle culture, which is increasingly being ameliorated by more sane approaches to work. This has led to some welcome changes in our approach to goal-setting, managing expectations, and establishing boundaries. This significant shift is all the more reason for us to focus on top quality output that doesn’t compromise our well-being.

Maybe you’re close to achieving this, but it doesn’t quite feel attainable yet. You may spend hours on tasks that really don’t enable much progress to be made in the broader scheme of things, for example. A routine like this is frustrating, to be sure. Yet no longer spinning your professional wheels requires some deliberate thought.

What if I told you there was one way to unlock your most productive self, and that it didn’t require a lot of time?

By strategically reordering a menial action like your to-do lists, you can immediately take much greater control of your personal efficiency and effectiveness. Take a moment to get a good long look at your list.

OK, here we go…the following four tips will help you build momentum instead of wasting energy:

Work in 3D: delegate, discard, and delete. (What does this snappy phrase mean, exactly?)

    • Delegate means that if you can diplomatically hand off a task to a colleague who’d be better equipped to handle it, do so. (Don’t invest further time if you’re not the right “owner” for it simply because it’s something you can do.)
    • Discard refers to any tasks that have become obsolete or are no longer priorities that ought to fall off  your list—and anyone else’s—entirely.
    • Delete is just as it sounds—those stray email requests or unnecessary files can get the electronic boot as you purge your inbox of the excess that doesn’t belong.
  • Group similar items together. Yes, this rather obvious approach likely strikes you as intuitive. But are you putting it into practice? If you need to respond to emails, batch your responses into a specific time of day (emergencies aside), and let your colleagues know of your plans. If you’re sending PR pitches or making sales calls, do them in a bundle. Block time for code fixes and website troubleshooting so that you’re concentrating on that type of task alone. Try it: you’ll breathe easier and will get more done!
  • Tackle ultra-brief tasks in a certain window. Have a bevy of miscellaneous tasks that require yes/no responses, a quick sign-off, or a lightning fast update? Work them into an abbreviated window in your workday (of no more than say, 10 to 15 minutes), and you’ll have a much shorter list before you know it!
  • Mind your circadian clock. Schedule your most critical discussions and important presentations during the parts of the day when your energy levels are at their peak. Don’t tap into emotional or cerebral reserves to pull off an amazing exchange or think on your feet if you’re not at your best in the early morning or just after lunch. While the timing won’t always align with your personal high performance rhythm, leaving it to chance means that it likely rarely will.

Following these tips can hopefully help you become your most productive self!

Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com