Attempts to increase productivity by multi-tasking, working longer hours, and remaining constantly tied to technology often backfire. The harder we work to get more done, the more likely we’ll feel frustrated by our lack of attention span and reduced performance. The solution to decreased productivity isn’t that we should try to work even longer hours. Instead, we can take steps to work smarter instead of harder and we’ll get the same job done in less time. Working smarter is something that we all strive to achieve and most top inspirational sites and blogs have covered it in one way or another – here is a compilation of the best ideas for working smarter, not harder.

  • Make a “to don’t” list. Prepare a list that contains all the things you shouldn’t waste your time on – useless tasks, unnecessary meetings, worthless phone calls, and so on. Then place it next to your “to do” list – and stick to it.
  • Carry a notebook and pen. All the great thinkers seem to have done it – carried a notebook with them everywhere and wrote down ideas that popped into their heads. Always remember to page through the notebook occasionally. This is a fantastic way to spark ideas and to weave creativity into the fabric of your life.
  • Hone your elevator speech. Be able to explain who you are, what you do, and why someone could benefit from your unique talents – in 30 seconds. Then cut your pitch to 15 seconds. Practice it. Sharpen it. Note to self: An elevator speech shouldn’t sound like an elevator speech. It’s really an exercise in being honest, concise, and interesting.
  • Establish an opening ritual. Try to begin your day the same way. If you work at home, maybe take a short walk before you go to your office. Have a cup of tea or read or meditate before starting your work. An opening ritual will ease your mind, body and soul into the day.
  • Establish a closing ritual. Know when to stop working. Try to end each work day the same way, too. Straighten up your desk. Back up your computer. Make a list of what you need to do tomorrow. Have a cup of herbal tea.
  • Get used to the three “-ty’s.” Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Volatility… Projects fail. Money evaporates. Customers are lost. Get over it. That’s the way it works.
  • Learn. Become a learning machine. Ask questions. Take smart people to lunch. Read. Read some more. Listen to audiobooks. Take classes. Go to conferences (which are also great places to network.) Added benefit: This makes life more interesting. Yet another benefit: Studies have shown that people who make constant learning part of their lives end up living longer.
  • Failing is OK. Not failing is not OK. If you don’t fail every so often, you’re not trying hard enough.
  • Guard your calendar. Make sure your time is focused on your one or two top priorities. Ask yourself: “Is this how I want to be spending my time right now?” Remember: you are your calendar. So treat your calendar with respect.
  • Be paranoid. The good times won’t last.
  • Don’t be paranoid. The bad times won’t last.
  • Never say up front that you can beat a deadline. Just turn your work in early and look like a hero. Under promise, over deliver.
  • Be quick. But don’t hurry. This is really great advice and the more you read it, the more it makes sense.
  • Respond to calls and e-mails quickly. As difficult as this is, it is just common courtesy. Reality check: sometimes you’ll violate this rule.
  • Spend 10 minutes today laughing out loud. Turn on Comedy Central, read a funny book, do whatever it takes, but laugh. Fully. It really is the best medicine.
  • Take a day off. Choose one day during the week when you don’t work… Respecting your own “Sabbath” will be good for your soul – and better for your business.
  • Practice gratitude every day. When you’re so busy that you don’t feel like you have time to think about anything other than work, take time to practice gratitude. Acknowledging all that you have to be thankful for and express thanks to your employees, supervisors, and business associates alike. Research shows that gratitude increases resilience to stress, reduces physical health issues, and produces an overall increased satisfaction with life.
  • Take the Sunday night test. If you’re like 99 percent of the population, you’ve experienced “Sunday night black dog.” This ailment usually begins creeping up your spine around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon and reaches a crescendo around 11PM, as you realise you’re going to have to go to work the following day. So this Sunday night, when you go to sleep, ask yourself: “Am I suffering from Sunday night dread?” If so, you might be doing something wrong. But if you’re not getting it – if you’re lying there in bed thinking, “I’m not dreading tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it” – then you’re probably on the right path.

It does seem strange, but slowing down can actually speed up your productivity. Be more in the moment, but make sure to rest when you need it and you’ll certainly find that your productive time is even more productive. At QuickBooks, we believe in working smarter, not harder and want to help you achieve that goal.