Santa Clauses throughout the country are returning to their natural habitat — shopping malls — and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to buckle down and make one final push to reach and exceed your annual goals.
Often, the knee-jerk solution this time of year is to work harder. Start spending more time in the office, and especially more time at your desk cranking out work. Unfortunately, while this might initially increase your output, it isn’t always sustainable.
Instead, as the old adage goes, “Don’t work harder. Work smarter.” But what does working smarter really mean?
Know How Long Your Work Takes
Before you can really get smart about your work and managing your time, you need to know how long it takes to do your tasks. It’s a basic but useful exercise. Knowing exactly how long your work typically takes will add certainty to your day and give you confidence to set realistic daily goals.
Of course, with experience doing your particular type of job, you’re likely to establish rough estimates for the time needed to complete your tasks. However, breaks and email and phone call interruptions can happen at any time, and your gut feeling may not actually be that accurate.
For that reason, consider using a timer and keeping a record of your tasks for a couple of weeks. Start the clock when you start a task, stop it whenever you get distracted, and write down how long it took when the task is done. With these useful data points, you’ll find it much easier to keep your day organized and to set reasonable expectations.
Set Smaller Goals
An important part of growing professionally is setting ambitious but attainable long-term goals. The difficulty with long-term goals, though, is that you can get lost or sidetracked along the way.
To avoid losing sight of your targets, research suggests that you should set a few smaller goals on a daily or weekly basis related to each long-term goal. Since these distant goals can sometimes feel insurmountable, the smaller goals keep you on track and headed in the right direction. Further, keeping track of your goals over time will help you recalibrate them when needed.
With that in mind, consider getting into the habit of setting daily or weekly goals on a regular basis. Either at the end of the day or on your way to work in the morning, focus on the two or three things that you want to achieve or tasks that you want to complete. Write them down and keep them visible. This will help you from getting distracted and you’ll enjoy the motivation from checking things off your list and getting one step closer to what you want to achieve.
Getting more organized and focused on your annual goals will give you a solid roadmap to success, but you’ll also need to protect yourself against burnout that can derail you along the way. The harder you work, the more you risk mental and physical exhaustion, which not only threatens your motivation, but also your health.
As with any long-distance endeavor, the best approach is to choose and stick to a pace that you can maintain through to the finish line. In the workplace, that means taking frequent and regular breaks. Whether you’re just going for a walk, grabbing lunch with a colleague away from your desks, or playing a quick game of ping pong, taking a break will help you recharge and boost your productivity overall.
The trick, though, is to build these breaks into your schedule as much as possible. If you’re just relying on taking breaks when the opportunity presents itself, you may find yourself deprioritizing them. Set a goal to take a few breaks a day, and set reminders for yourself in your calendar. It may seem counter-intuitive, but staying committed to occasionally stepping away from your desk will help you work smarter in the long run.
Using these tips will put you on the right path to working with an organized and sustainable plan to achieve your annual goals. What are your tricks for working smarter?