Eighteen Tips For Working Smarter, Not Harder

I’ve received a bunch of comment requests for an update on how we’re doing when it comes to finding the ever-elusive work/life balance that we’ve publicly proclaimed that we want to get a handle on this year (we never aspired to work nights, weekends, and even on vacation – and we only have ourselves to blame).

So we thought it was a fun subject to tackle while we’re working away on the front porch (can’t wait to share an update for you guys tomorrow!). The scallops are a-tumbling down and the columns are getting boxed in.

But back to the whole work/life balance battle. The first step in the not-working-every-second-of-every-day thing for us was definitely acknowledging the problem (it has definitely been harder for us to shut things off now that both of our jobs revolve around a 24/7 internet, and our laptops are only a room or two away). Then we just started chatting about it to the world at large (nothing lights a fire under your butt like a public proclamation). So we mentioned it here, here, and even here in this BBC video:

And now that we’ve been working on it for the last four months or so, with some noticeable progress, I thought I’d share a few things that seem to be helping us get more done in less time (we still have a ways to go considering that we still work three weekends out of four, but we’re moving in the right direction).

  • Writing out a specific list of things that need to be accomplished and circling the top five priorities, then working towards completing those first. Prioritizing is helpful to me because it I can resist the urge to check smaller things off the list since they’re easier, which isn’t efficient if the bigger tasks are more important or time sensitive (I’m just stalling if I’m putting small easy things in front of the big important things that have to be done anyway).

  • Being satisfied when we each complete the five most important items of the day on our list. It usually takes us all day to get to that point thanks to switching off on caring for Clara, but once we finish them we have to resist the urge to add five more things to the list and work until 1am. Instead we’re trying to be satisfied and allow ourselves some non-work time in the evening when we can. It feels weird to cut ourselves off – but it’s so good for us to step. away. from. the. laptop.
  • Cutting down on inbox clutter. John and I receive about 200 emails a day (it’s a pretty even split since we divide and conquer when it comes to managing ads, giveaways, and inquiries in general) but I noticed that around 30% of those emails are junk mail, so I took ten minutes one morning to unsubscribe to those daily offenders. Turns out it’s a lot nicer to wake up to emails in the double digits (even if there are 72 in my inbox by 8am) than triple digits (ex: 145 the first time I check my email) – so I’ll take it. We’ve also been using the canned message function in gmail to help us handle certain emails more efficiently (sure beats writing up the same info every time).

  • Stepping down to seven posts a week instead of eight. This has actually really helped since we implemented it after mentioning it here. Even though it doesn’t sound like it should make much of a difference (it’s just one less post a week), it adds up to 52 fewer posts a year – which means that now one week night or even a whole Saturday may get to be spent doing something fun as a family instead of scrambling to maintain our old eight-posts-in-five-days pace.

  • Being realistic. This year one of our resolutions is to remember that we’re only two people. Two highly dedicated folks who love what we do, but two people who can’t do the work of ten people, no matter how hard we try. So we just have to do our best and accept that projects could always be bigger and posts could always have more pictures but we can’t beat ourselves up about doing things as thoroughly as we can manage and then pressing “publish.” Especially when we’re churning out around 30 posts a month (which means that noodling one project or post too much can actually rob time from other things on the agenda).

And while John and I are very much a work in progress on this subject, my friends and relatives are all much smarter than we are (most of them work regular hours and spend every night, weekend, and vacation without being connected to a computer). Can you imagine?! It’s the most romantic notion, and we’re desperate to get in on that action someday. So I decided to text them all one simple question and see if they had any advice. The question? “How do you work smarter, and not harder?” Here’s what they all had to say:

Emily, a senior booking agent, mother of three (and John’s sister) says: Realistically I work smarter by asking for help and having a support network of friends. I literally spend hours in a car shuttling kids and can’t be in more than one place. So a very organized network of carpoolers is my lifeline. I realize and accept that there’s no possible way for me to do it alone. I also work smarter by having my older kids (ages 12 and 14) do their own laundry and put it away. They make their own lunches too. That old saying “don’t do for your kids what they can do for themselves” definitely contributes to our household running more smoothly.

Cat, a mother of two says: I put things away as I find them. Everything has its place. I designate a time each day to take a laundry basket and carry it floor to floor to put things away. I like to give myself a deadline like ten minutes to see how much I can get done. I read something once that said “Where does a fork go in your house? In the utensil holder in the utensil drawer in the kitchen. Make everything a fork. Everything needs a spot.” It really resonated with me. Oh and I don’t do auto pay on any bills because I like to look them over and make sure I’m not getting hosed, but I pay them immediately upon receipt. I’ve often found overages I would’ve missed if I signed up for auto-pay that way.

Roo, a mother of three and humor blogger says: I use canned responses in Gmail along with a lot of helpful labs in Gmail. And I like the send + archive button (here’s a post with more of her tips).

Noah, an artist, author, and brand new father says: I try to maintain inbox zero as a way to not let email be my to-do list. So I immediately respond to short emails, especially at the start and end of my workday. I think of it as hitting the tennis ball back across the net, “pok, your turn.” Sometimes I’ll quit my email program or cover the notification bar during the middle of my work day when I don’t want to be distracted. I also unsubscribe from mailing lists and have an auto response for messages that only need a stock response. I also separate personal and work email so I’m not distracted by the other when I’m at/away from work.

Katie, a blogger and mother of two says: For blogging, I think batch editing, grouping like projects together (spray painting ten things instead of just one), and writing out a post to-do list helps. I also like to upload all of the photos for five different posts in one day and then write the narration for one of them each evening that follows. I also have set times for comment-reading and post-writing that coincide with sleep times or independent play time for my children. I also like to plan out a morning craft or activity the night before so if I stay up late working I don’t rob the kids of something fun in the morning. Oh and I use a crock pot a lot, and always have shredded chicken on hand for quick meals.

Kristin, a freelance copywriter says: My calendar is my boss. I plan ahead, and live/die by it. I put workouts on there so time is scheduled in, along with lunch dates, deadlines, and whatever I’m going to work on each day. That way, I see my day, know what needs to be done, and feel good checking things off. You can easily work harder if you just fill your calendar with stuff until you’re not sleeping, but I don’t do that. I need a break. I also never ever EVER work on Saturday. Saturday is my day. No exceptions. Also, I like a glass of wine after a long day. It unwinds me ;)

Megan, a senior marketing director says: Efficiency and technology. Develop strategic systems and plans the first time you do something so that the next time you attempt it the path is already laid out for you. Evaluate the process a few times a year to allow for evolution and refinement. And if a computer can process something faster than you can, let it or learn how to let it.

Dan, a chemist (and my push-up loving brother) says: Multitask so there’s not a minute wasted. Like brush your teeth while you shower or watch a TV show and do pushups during the commercials.

Dusty, a full time quality improvement manager, mother, and blogger says: If you’re doing something you love, it won’t matter how hard you have to work to get there. The smartest people know this, and choose their tasks accordingly. And if its a job you hate to do, but it still has to get done (like cleaning the bathroom, prepping taxes, proofreading) it’s not a crime to outsource those to save precious time that could be better spent doing something else.

Heather, an advertising art supervisor and mother says: All of the following things seem to help me make my day go smoother and cut out inefficiencies: being prepared, doing research, hiring the right people with the correct skill set, making a plan, making a list, asking questions, thinking ahead, and preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.

Nicole, a blogger and mother of two says: I had to work more efficiently when I became a mom because I had less time (and desire) to work. I use canned email responses for pitches that aren’t a good fit. I try to get a little more done at night if I want to have a mid-week day off, and I started saving drafts in my WordPress admin with ideas for future posts. They could just be a title or a few links but they’re great for keeping me on track when I’m stuck and I don’t forget topics that I want to cover. I also have a secret Pinterest board (“Things To Blog About”) to visually bookmark ideas.

Lisa, operations director and mother of two says: It’s got to be technology. Keeping to-do lists, reminders, and calendars on my iPhone helps me get things done and get my family where they need to be. Menu planning also saves me a lot of time.

Diana, a trial attorney of thirty years (and my mom) says: The key to efficiency for me is identifying what I want to do, mapping out specific and realistic tasks that will lead to accomplishing it, and completing those tasks without distraction. I find that multitasking is usually too chaotic for me, so focusing on one task at a time leads to a better personal result.

Isn’t it interesting how something that works for someone (my brother loves multitasking) doesn’t work for another (my mom loves focusing on one task at a time – which is usually the best approach for me – so I guess I’m my mother’s daughter). And now, since I’m convinced you guys have secrets of your own, let’s pretend I just texted you the “how do you work smarter, not harder?” question. Any tips or tricks out there that work for you?


  1. says

    love reading posts like this. while I may not be able to relate as far as blogging goes, I totally agree with everything you have to say from a professional level (blogger, teacher, doctor, or whatever!)

  2. says

    THANK YOU for this post. I’m not even finished reading through. I got half-way through and just had a….”THIS is exactly what I need” moment. :)

    I am so amazed with what you guys accomplish. Between blogging, my 19 month year old, home projects on our 100 year old home, and LIFE I sometimes just realize there aren’t enough hours in the day.

    Yes, work smarter, not harder. :)

    Okay…back to READING! Thanks guys for the reminder ;)

  3. says

    I love this post. I am forever questiong how you guys do it. You blog, post, travel, take time out to do family fun stuff that actually involves getting out of the house and all with a smile on your face.

    I find that I struggle to find time to do anything and jump from one thing to another without actually accomplishing anything.

    Love all these tips…good to know there is hope out there…just need to change from working harder to working smarter. :-)

  4. says

    You guys have NO IDEA how timely this is for me. I’m becoming seriously overwhelmed especially as I’m scheduling vacation posts and social media scheduling and have forgotten about the simplicity of a “to do list.” I let it swirl in my mind and I feel so much better when I can physically see it and cross it off. (Which is also my tip! I should take my own advice!)

    I’m off to grab my Hello Kitty notebook! (Don’t judge me! HA!)

  5. says

    My husband and I are in a similar spot- we both work from home and have a young daughter while my hub’s son from his first marriage is in Virginia and visits on occasion. Add to that the hub is a grad student.

    What works for us:

    *we work on different schedules (I’m an early morning person and he’s a wee hour morning person)!

    *we communicate really, really well!

    *we know what our priorities are and we support each other!

    I could go on, but that’s for another day!

    Balance isn’t easy, and sometimes one has to accept that things are heavy at times and lighter at others.

  6. says

    Much like Kristin, I live and die by my planner. Dinner with friends? Workout session with my trainer? Hosting Bible study? If it’s not on the planner it doesn’t happen.

    But while my “real” life is pretty organized, but my blogging life is a mess. I don’t have a dedicated time to write posts and often end up putting something together last minute. You publicly declared you need to take time away from your blog; I’m publicly declaring I need to spend a little more time with it!

    • says

      Jess, I’m right there with ya! I want to focus more on my blog than I actually do. I have so many post ideas in my head that I end up getting nothing done, or it takes me longer than expected. It’s so frustrating and overwhelming at the same time-especially staying home w/ my 2yo and expecting another. I’m thinking if I set small goals for myself (like 2 posts a week) and write them down, I’ll know what’s coming up and can spill all my ideas out so I don’t forget anything.

      Here’s to blogging more while the Petersiks are blogging less ;)

  7. Sarah says

    My current boss has really instilled in me “aces in their places.” We all help run a pizza restaurant and lead a great group of people. If D is the best in the kitchen on a busy shift and I’m the best at running the floor, it doesn’t make sense for us to switch places on the shift where our best performance matters most (not to imply we shouldn’t always do our best!) Likewise, you want your best stretcher to stretch the dough, your best guy on ovens, your fastest girl to churn out those 2-minute salads. I wouldn’t scheduled my weakest server in the most crowded, highest volume sections or only one bartender on a two-bartender-night. It’s all about having the right people in the right spots at the right times.

  8. says

    The tip that resognated most with me was, “And if its a job you hate to do, but it still has to get done (like cleaning the bathroom, prepping taxes, proofreading) it’s not a crime to outsource those to save precious time that could be better spent doing something else.” I, honestly, never even thought about that. About the possibility of me NOT doing something necessary but maybe I don’t love, in order to give me more time to do the things that mean most to me.

    For me, I definitely don’t have it all worked out–not nearly, but I work smarter, not harder by not sitting down until I have my to-do list done. It sounds crazy. But if I can stand and answer e-mails, it is easier for me to run to the dryer when I’m done and get the laundry and bring it upstairs, and get Greta breakfast and organize that stack of bills. Once I sit down–my body and mind go into break-mode.

  9. says

    Do little things in your off times. Like research flights while waiting for a meeting to start, call and make that appointment while waiting for water to boil, the bus to come etc. Choose your outfits or make lunches while husband is in the shower. It’s the little things that add up on my to do lists, and they feel great when all done. Also don’t procrastinate, also click ‘save’ a lot! lol. #whohatesdeletedblogposts ?

  10. Jessica says

    What is the “canned message” feature in gmail? And where do I find it? Sounds like a fantastic time saver!

  11. says

    I maximize my time as best I can. It means that sometimes I have to go buy store-bought cookies on my lunchbreak at work because there’s no time to bake homemade for preschool.

    I also share a calendar with my spouse, and all family appointments get added each evening so that we don’t forget anything. Everything goes on it, from date nights to due dates, to appointments, and even dinner plans. We both get home late, so to ensure that we get adequate family time it helps if we have our game plan rocked and ready.

    • says

      lol…isnt it crazy that as mamas we feel like we have to do things like makes home made cookies :) I am TOTALLY on the buy some store bought and pat yourself on the back for even remembering to pack a lunch!! hee-hee

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