If you’re reading this article on your phone while in transit or on your computer during a break between pings and notifications, you’re familiar with the hectic flow of modern work. The paradox is this: While tech advancements were designed to give us more control over our work, they often cause us to feel more out of control, at the mercy of multitasking overwhelm. Most of us bounce between competing demands and feel like there’s just never enough time in the day.
In today’s work world of 24/7 communication and connectivity, it’s easy to confuse busyness with progress towards your goals. “It’s logical to think that doing more guarantees success…many of us were raised that way,” says Jan Bruce, CEO of meQuilibrium, “but that’s not always the case.” It’s true that you need to work hard, sure, but you also need to work smart—smarter than your smart devices and more importantly, smarter than the thoughts that hold you back.
The smartest way to push past schedule stress, Bruce says, is to get to the root of the habitual thoughts and beliefs that drive that stress. Here are the three steps she recommends to outsmart those self-limiting thoughts in order to do your smartest work:
1. Smart Step: Delegate. Pass off items to people you trust.
What Holds You Back: “If I want this done right, I have to do it myself.”
Often times, tasks pile up out of habit, rather than necessity. To get smart about your time, determine which to-dos actually need to be done by you, and which can be delegated to others.
Accepting help is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, using the resources at your fingertips enables you to yield stronger results where it counts. Here are Bruce’s top tips for delegating with success:
- Give others the benefit of the doubt. Tell your family, friends, and coworkers exactly what you need. Show your team members which numbers to pull, for example, rather than simply asking them for a report.
- Give those helping you the time and space to do the job—don’t micromanage. Allow your partner to fold the laundry in a different way than you do, for instance. Passing off the task often means allowing someone else to do it their way.
- Be ready to redirect when something doesn’t go as planned. Create an If/Then Plan. Leave extra time to edit a team project, for example, just in case it takes longer than expected. Once the project is finished, examine the process together to make it smarter for the next time.
2. Smart Step: Delete. Cross off to-dos that aren’t a top priority right now.
What Holds You Back: “I have to get everything done.”
You can do anything, but not everything. The cost of not prioritizing, says Bruce, is feeling like you have to do everything, right now. Working smart, however, means being an essentialist about your time; by aiming to do what matters most right now, rather than aiming to do it all. Do a brain dump on Sunday or Monday night of all of your to-dos—for both work and home. Review your list and number them in order of priority. Block out time for each of the important tasks, with high priority tasks earlier in the week and low priority ones towards the end. Move anything that can wait until next week.
If the whole task can’t be deleted, try to delete some of the task: Break big projects into small steps and schedule them according to your energy levels throughout the day. Save harder tasks for the morning, for example, if that’s when your mind is fresh. Or start small to gain momentum. The Progress Principle dictates that crossing just one item off your list boosts your motivation. Size down daily goals to create measurable mile markers and track each win—no matter how small—along the way.
3. Smart Step: Do it—and ditch the drudge.
What Holds You Back: “I don’t know where to start.” “It’s so boring…,” or “It’s not worth my time.”
- You’re waiting for the right time to jump in, or you’re worried about the outcome: “Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of “good,'” says Bruce. There is hardly ever a right time to jump in. You create these opportunities yourself, and the sooner you start, the sooner you can make progress. Rather than aiming for perfection, aim to take risks by adopting a growth mindset, in which the goal is to grow and learn.
- You’re dreading the drudge: Bruce recommends balancing drudge with joy. Use temptation bundling to combine tedious tasks with ones that motivate you. Listen to music while doing housework, for example, call a friend on your commute to work, or bring treats to an early morning meeting.
- It feels like a waste of time: The most enduring way to spark motivation, says Bruce, is reconnecting to your “why.” Ask yourself why each task matters and how it makes a difference. For example, grocery shopping might feel tiresome in the moment, but it allows you to stock your pantry and have mealtime with your family.
No matter what your motivation, energy, and balance look like today, keep in mind that every day is different. “Balance is not a noun,” Bruce says, meaning that it’s not a state that you can achieve and check off your list. Rather, “It is a verb; an ongoing practice you have to work at constantly.” Working smart, according to Bruce, means being honest with yourself when you’ve gotten off-track, remaining self-compassionate, and course-correcting as needed to keep moving closer to your goals.