When I first heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”, I dismissed it as business jargon for “work harder for us with no extra pay”. My cynicism did not allow me to see its potential in my own life. Since starting this blog in 2009 the time that I spend in non-work mode has shrunken substantially. One of the benefits of holding down two jobs is it has forced me to prioritize my activities; otherwise, I might have no life. I have been particularly sensitive to this issue over the last year, and this is why “work smarter, not harder” has come into play for me.
Just like everyone there are repetitive tasks that I must complete as part of the business of living. While it seems like a ton of work to take care of organizing and streamlining these tasks in the beginning, the potential payoff is huge. Not only does it save time in the future, but I have also found that it alleviates some of the mental obstacles I have towards starting new projects or even just getting through normal tasks.
Fortunately, organizing for clarity and efficiency does not need to cost a dime. It does cost time and energy, but the time spent up front should reap great time investment returns in the future. Here is how I have begun to work smarter in my own life:
Cleaned Up My Online Experience
I spend many hours per day on the computer for both my day job and for blogging, so making this area of my life more efficient was a no-brainer.
- Sifted through My Favorites Folder: I have this habit of making articles and websites a “favorite” and then not getting back to read them for months, and sometimes even years. To cull this list down I made an effort to visit each of the blogs/websites/articles and erase what was no longer useful to me at this time (or in the very near future).
- Unsubscribed like a Mad Woman: My main email account had become a barrage of unopened mail I have to sift through each day in order to find the 2-5 emails that matter. And I even began to miss those! I spent about one hour unsubscribing to 50+ websites/newsletters/groups (look in the small font at either the top of the email or the bottom for a link to unsubscribe).
- Customized: I took the time to minimize the number of clicks I have to make each day in order to get where I want to go (and potentially save me from carpal tunnel syndrome). This meant setting a homepage and choosing a browser that all of the websites I visit are compatible with (rather than going between browsers depending on what site I was using).
- Downloaded HootSuite: This service is free, and offers one screen for all of my social media (social media—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—is very important to a blogger but can quickly become overwhelming). Now I can go to one location and see all of the updates from my friends, family, and blogging community.
Created a Cheat Sheet Word Document
I found myself using certain information over and over again and so decided to create a word document with all of this information in one place (sort of like one of those Bar Charts you buy in a college bookstore). For me, this sheet includes code I can copy and paste into posts, specific information needed to fill out my staff writer invoice, and a few passwords for sites that are not super-secretive but require one anyway. This is also a great document to park any daily information I need from emails until I get around to taking action on these items (like coupon codes I want to use).
Organized the Paints in Our Garage
I cannot tell you all of the mental energy and hours that it takes each time we have to touch up a room. We must have had 50+ cans of paint on the shelf—some from us and some leftovers from the previous owners—and had to scratch our heads in figuring out which one was “the one”. I finally took several hours to organize the rack of paints by identifying which paint was used in which room and making free paint swatches. After labeling these sticks, I was able to recycle at least 20 cans of paint. Not only will this save us future headaches, but it will also save headaches for the next owner if we ever decide to sell!
Created a Magazine Tear-Out Binder
I receive several free or nearly free magazine subscriptions and like to thumb through them while watching television for ideas and current trends. When I find a recipe I like, a craft project I want to do, or information for a future article, I rip the page out and send it to its proper pile (recipes in the kitchen and the other two are sent to my office upstairs). I finally took the time to put the crafts/information magazine sheets into a neat and organized binder. Now when I rip out future pages I just punch holes into them and put them into my new book of favorites. Next I will be making a binder for recipes I would like to try organized by either seasons or type so that I no longer have to sift through a huge pile of tear outs every other week before grocery shopping.
Maximized Convenience of Location
When we first unpacked after moving into our home in 2009, we put items where they fit and where it made sense to at the time. I have found that certain items are out of place as far as convenience is concerned. So, I took the time to move a few things around to keep me from walking upstairs or downstairs for something as much as possible. This meant moving all of my business/frugality/money books out of the library downstairs and into my office bookshelves upstairs, and moving my stash of coupons from my office upstairs to the kitchen downstairs where we make grocery lists and have our recipe pile.
In my evaluation over the last year or so I have found that there are certain tasks which are reaping me next to no return (not even in entertainment value). I was continuing these tasks because they had been part of my routine and it felt like I needed to continue doing them. The following are examples of tasks that have been cut mercilessly: reading every magazine, article, or book that crosses my path (recently I have even been able to stop reading a book I am not enjoying instead of finishing it), filing away documents as soon as I receive them (I now keep them on a pile on top of our filing cabinets and file once every few months), and excessively checking financial accounts (though I do derive a bit of pleasure from this, I realized it is a major time suck and completely unnecessary).
Cleaned Off My Desk
I am currently reading a book called “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time”, and one of its recommendations I wholeheartedly believe in is to keep a clean desk. There is something completely unsettling and sticky about coming up to my office on the weekends and finding piles of “should have’s” and “need to’s” everywhere. To get rid of this “hot mess”, I went through each of the piles and sorted. I either took action on the item, filed it away, recycled it, or wrote information down on my whiteboards so that I can more clearly see what it is I need or want to do with it. Then I wiped it clean and got to work! What’s left is my beloved dictionary and thesaurus, a small Mickey Mouse can of desk condiments, a holder for scissors/highlighter/pens, a calculator, and post-its. Oh yeah…and my play-doh.
None of these mini organization projects cost me money, and yet they have made a big difference in both my personal and professional life. I feel collected, focused, and ready to work on what matters to me the most.
Are there areas where you can organize to gain more efficiency and time in the future? I would love to hear them, as it might help me and others!
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