How to Work Smarter (Not Harder)

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I share a room with my two sisters. The only place I can work alone is downstairs — where the kitchen and living room are in one giant room.

However, we live with my grandparent’s, so sometimes, they’ll watch TV in the living room as I work.

Interruption follows me everywhere. I don’t have space where I can close the door and tell people not to bother me for the next couple of hours.

This was an issue for a while because I wanted to work harder, which to me meant to work more hours. However, with every little delay, my time would disappear.

With people everywhere, my goal to work longer hours wasn’t possible to achieve.

Of course, it wasn’t just my family. My thoughts and social media drag me down, but these are much easier to control. They’re not as distracting as your sister coming downstairs to tell you a funny story or about the strange dream she had.

Eventually, I realized I had to stop working harder. Instead, I had to learn how to work smarter.

Working harder is different from working smarter

It wasn’t until later that I realized my idea of working harder had nothing to do with working smarter.

On my lucky days, when I’d manage to get ten hours of work in, I recognized that I wasn’t even doing work that mattered.

Real productivity is measured through what you accomplish and the value that creates - not through the number of tasks you tackle or the number of hours you work.

Jari Roomer

I’d feel productive by the end of the day, but I’d also notice that I wasn’t a step closer to my goals. I’d crossed off ten items from my to-do list, but I never seemed to cross off the more significant tasks.

A couple of months back, I read an article called, Forget A To-Do List, Use The ‘ABCDE Method’ Instead, but the author, Jari Roomer, talked about a phenomenon known as “productive procrastination.”

Productive procrastination means that we work, but not on the tasks that matter. We do the small things that make us feel productive, but aren’t priorities or real productivity.

The idea that lots of tasks are crossed off or have a checkmark beside them make it seem as though we got a lot of work done. If you look closer, however, you’ll see we didn’t do the work we needed to do.

I may have been working harder, but I wasn’t doing the tasks that meant something. I wasn’t working smart.

That same piece offered a solution that’s helped me work smarter, not harder. However, I put my own twist on the solution, which is what I’ll cover right now.

The 'ABCD?' list

I used to make daily, simple to-do lists. I’d write down a list of all of the things I had to do that day.

The problem with to-do lists is that we tend to overstuff them with items we don’t have to do, or things we can do another day — non-priorities.

Then, I read about this thing called an ‘ABCDE’ list, but I made it my own and called it an ‘ABCD’ list.

This is how it works.

First, I write down everything I have to do. I don’t think about it or hold back; I just write it down.

Once everything is listed, I go through and add a letter beside the items.

  • A is for the urgent and most important tasks I need to do today
  • B tasks also need to be done, but they can wait until the end of the day. If it has real consequences, consider making it an A task.
  • C is for the tasks that if I have time to do, I will, but they can be done later in the week.
  • The D is for five to ten-minute tasks that need to get done today. You can separate a half-hour of your day to go through these items.
  • The D is for five to ten-minute tasks that need to get done today. You can separate a half-hour of your day to go through these items.
  • If there's an item that doesn't get a letter, I erase it.
  • Tip: Never give a letter more than three tasks.

Once I’ve done that, I get to work. I start with the “A” items because those are the priorities. These are the things I mustdo no matter how long they take.

I don’t move on to B unless I’ve crossed off all my A items. As my day goes, I move from B, then to C.

I always get around to my B items, but if I miss one, or I miss my C items, I’ll move them until tomorrow. If I notice that I keep moving an item “until tomorrow,” I’ll erase it until it’s time to make it an A task.

If I don’t get to the C jobs, I don’t break a sweat because I know I managed to do the significant tasks that day.

This list has helped me prioritize and get work done that matters. This is how you can work smarter, not harder.

Let's talk about you

Let me know in the comments below.

What do you use to work smart? Do you have your own version of a to-do list, an app, or specific planner you use? 

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