Work 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).

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?

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