How to Work Smarter in a Digital Age

how to work smarter

“Working smarter, not harder” is a saying that makes us feel good and optimistic but does it really work in today’s connected world? The simple answer…yes. How? Keep reading.

Working smarter is definitely easier said than done. You can want to work smarter but if you don’t have the healthy habits as a foundation then it will be like rowing a canoe in sand.

So, let’s talk about getting the canoe in the water so life is easier and more fluid for you.

What Does Working Smarter Mean?

What does working smarter mean to me? I think working smarter is maximizing work time to accomplish things you set forth while eliminating wasteful activities so you can enjoy your non-working time. It’s taking full advantage of the human body and mind to accomplish great things.

I honestly believe people, myself included, take for granted the time we have in life. We never get back our time but we continue to focus on things that don’t move the needle or challenge us.

This article will provide different strategies on how to work smarter so at the end of the day you feel accomplished. As time goes on, you’ll look back on your life and realize you’re in a much different spot than you were in 1, 5 and 20 years ago. But, it takes hard/smart work and consistent discipline.

Enjoy Your Work, Even If You Don’t

Mindset is everything.

Most professionals dislike hate the work that they do. I was one of them. Every task seemed like a pain in the *ss no matter how small or large it was. I didn’t want to do anything work related but I felt like I had to. I thought that work was something every adult had to do and it was not meant to be enjoyable. Just reading this puts you in a worse mood, doesn’t it?

This is until I flipped the script.

I changed my mindset going into each day. Instead fighting it, I psyched myself up to enjoy it. Sounds pretty cheesy right? But, it worked. I focused on anything and everything good about my work and what it provided me.

Over time, I just naturally enjoyed my work. And, guess what? I didn’t even change my actually work…I changed my mindset associated to it!

Don’t believe me? Try it for an hour. Go into your project with complete enthusiasm and energy. You’ll probably notice a shift in how you operate.

Eat Healthy to Fuel Your Brain

eat healthy

One of the best things you can do in your everyday life and longevity is to eat healthy. I was always an active person but didn’t fuel my body very well.

As soon as I committed to eating healthy six days per week (let’s face it, seven is too much…I enjoy pizza too much), things became clearer. My brain fog lifted. I felt more sustainable energy. I was in a happier mood.

What you eat directly affects your brain. And, your brain is the control tower that enables you to move, feel, think and act.

Do you ever wonder why you get so groggy after eating fast food? Or, you eat a heavy meal late and wake up incredibly tired? Crappy food is to blame.  Foods that provide very little nutritional value affect the brain in a very negative way.

On the other hand, these foods have proven to help improve brain function and memory in humans:

  • Fatty Fish: like Salmon is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which helps in building brain and nerve cells that aid in learning and improved memory. As an alternative, many people, including myself, take an Omega-3 supplement. I recommend Dr. Tobias Omega 3 Fish Oil Triple Strength…I take this everyday and it’s definitely improved my mental clarity.
  • Avocados: I’ve come around to loving avocados. Avocados are packed with “good” fats that keep the blood sugar levels steady. A great source for vitamin K and folate, these fruits help improve cognitive function and prevent blood clots in the brain.
  • Berries: like blueberries and other colored berries are a great antioxidant that reduces inflammation that may contribute to brain aging.
  • Broccoli: high in vitamin K, broccoli contains numerous compounds that give it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which may help reduce against brain deterioration.
  • Almonds: Most snacks are very unhealthy, that’s why almonds made this list. It’s packed with healthy fats that provides nutrients to the brain.
  • Dark Chocolate: Believe it not, chocolate can be good for you! Minimally processed dark chocolate that is. Not the chocolate you typically see at the gas stations. Dark chocolate has rich antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Master the Pomodoro Technique

Tomato Timer PomodoroThe Pomodoro Technique is something I personally use everyday to focus on my work. The concept of the Pomodoro Technique is to be fully focused in 25 minute intervals then take a short break of 5 minutes. After four sets of pomodoros, you’ll take a longer break.

The concept is so simple and probably why it’s so effective in a world full of distractions.

The benefits of the Pomodoro includes increased productivity, strengthened focus, feeling much more accomplished and more!

Read more about the Pomodoro Technique and how it helps me get more done in less time.

Prioritize then Eliminate

I used to go into my bed like a charged up Superman with a long list of tasks I needed to get done. A list of 20 things that need to checked off can really motivate you. Or, it can leave you feeling like you accomplished nothing.

How does this happen? Not prioritizing your tasks. It’s great to accomplish even the smallest things but if it doesn’t progress you forward to your end goal then you may feel unfulfilled.

I recommend condensing your list to 1-3 of the most important things that day. I’m not talking about replying to Susie about why she short changed my invoice by $.41. I’m thinking bigger. Like, finalizing the layout of my client’s new construction site.

What about the other life stuff? Get to it after you completed your most important tasks for the day.

Stop Overthinking and Do Sh*t

take action

Humans tend to overthink everything. It’s in our nature to think about thinking, even the most minute things…

  • What should I have for lunch today?
  • Should I wait to send this email now or after lunch?
  • Does this ad copy need a punctuation or not?

Then you have bigger things you think about…

Here’s the cure to your thinking and constant questioning…do sh*t.

Taking action eliminates many questions you have or keeps you so busy that you forget about them. And, many times it’s healthy to ignore questions that really don’t have a positive impact on you.

Here’s what happens to your questions when you are busy doing stuff…

  • What should I have for lunch today? I’m too busy that I’ll make up my mind 5 minutes before noon.
  • Should I wait to send this email now or after lunch? I’m sending it now. Question answered.
  • Does this ad copy need a punctuation or not? Put it in. Question answered.
  • Is digital marketing the right profession for me? I’m busy getting better and feel great about it so “yes!”
  • Am I really happy with life? I’m pushing towards my goals and progress equals happiness so “yes!”

Don’t get me wrong, thinking is necessary to be successful. But, too much thinking can lead to stagnation and taking action is where the magic happens.

Prep the Night Before

Preparing your day the night before is a habit that will help you structure your day to help you work smarter, not necessarily harder.

Before you head to bed, physically write down 1-3 things you must accomplish tomorrow. Also, add anything on the calendar that you need to do even if it’s personal like mow the lawn or grocery shop.

You’ll feel like you are controlling the day rather than the day controlling you.

Multi-Tasking is Not Working Smarter

I secretly love when people brag about how they the best multi-tasker. “That’s awesome Tom. Keep doing your thing.”

Switching between tasks has shown that it actually decreases your productivity. It takes more energy and brain power to transition between tasks than if you simply focused on one thing.

one thing bookAccording to they American Psychological Association:

“Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

Again, it comes down to prioritizing. Work on your priorities and see it through. If that’s a larger project then break it down into manageable tasks.

Also, this is why the Pomodoro Technique works. It forces you to work on a single task, distraction free.

If you’ve been a habitual multi-tasker then it will take some time to build up the habit of singularly focused work. But, I guarantee it will free up much of your day.

A good read is “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Know When to Drink Coffee

I love, love coffee but I also know that caffeine can’t put your brain out of wack. What’s the remedy?

Coffee is a great source of neuroprotective antioxidants that helps improve brain function similar to the foods listed previously.

With this in mind, it’s not always beneficial to get up and drink coffee first thing in the morning. Although you “need it”, you may consider changing it up for the sake of your productivity.

Here’s why. Humans have a biological clock otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm runs on a 24-hour cycle and is regulated by the environment.

There are many factors that determine the circadian rhythm including your sleep schedule.

Humans experience natural cortisol boosts throughout the day. For most, the peak is between 8am-9am. And, you’ll hit smaller peaks 12pm-1pm and 5:30pm-6:30pm.

You’re naturally the most alert during this time so consuming coffee at this time doesn’t do much for you.

When is the best time to drink coffee? For maximum affect, drink coffee between 9:30am-11:30am and 1:30pm-5:00pm when your natural cortisol level drops. Anytime after 6:30pm could affect your sleep.

Which conveniently leads me to my next action item…

Get Great Sleep

A great night’s sleep can yield many benefits including more focus, improved memory, lighter mood and better decision making.

I don’t really have to tell you, right? You know when you get 3-5 hours of sleep that you’re struggling throughout the day. At least I am. I’m a terrible human when I get anything less than six hours of solid shut-eye.

Sleep is a chance for your body and brain to reset for the next day.

Based on two years of heavy research, the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

My ideal hours is 7. I make it part of my routine to go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 5am.

My recommendations to get a good, quality night’s sleep is:

  • Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock – go old school
  • Try to avoid screen time an hour before you go to bed
  • Drink plenty of water and don’t drink alcohol (easier said than done for most)
  • Stick to the same schedule seven days per week

Eliminate Decision Fatigue Like Steve

steve-jobs-decision fatigue

We make an incredible amount of decisions throughout our day. What Spotify station should I listen to? Should I have fruit or eggs for breakfast? Should I text my crush back now or wait seventeen minutes? The list goes on…and on…and literally on.

The late, great Steve Jobs wore the same outfit everyday. Do you know why? Not because he ran out of laundry detergent. But, because getting dressed with a black shirt and jeans everyday took zero mental energy.

When you make any decision – large or small – you actually use mental energy. If you make too many decisions in a short duration, you reduce your ability to make good decisions. This is knowns as decision fatigue.

By limiting the need to decide on unimportant things, you can reserve your brain power for more valuable tasks.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

For most of our lives, haven’t we all heard to drink plenty of water? There’s a reason why…it’s super important! Especially for the health of your brain.

Our bodies are made up of two-thirds water. Your brain is 80% water. And, other organs like the heart are made up of 75% of water. Water isn’t just a “nice-to-have”, it’s a necessity!stay hydrated

When the brain doesn’t receive enough water, the neurons are not able work as efficiently. Dehydration can actually cause the brain to shrink. This is one of the main reasons why people experience brain fog and headaches.

What’s the solution? Drink more water throughout the day.

How much water should I drink? Health professionals have commonly recommended eight 8-ounce glasses which equates to two liters or half a gallon per day.

The easiest way to get your daily water intake during your workday is to keep a water bottle with you at all times.

Side note: Eating a consistent healthy diet and drinking water can often lift brain fog you are experiencing. I personally notice that I think much clearer these days thanks to these two basic “life hacks”.

Ship Stuff

“I always tell people if you want to know the secret to happiness, I can give it to you in one word: progress,” – Tony Robbins

This is such a true statement (in my world anyways).

When you make progress on your goals, you create motivation for yourself. Motivations enables you to make progress and progress equals happiness.

One of the best ways to feel like you’re making progress is to get “stuff out the door”. For example, let’s say you are working on improving your SEO. You can do all the research in the world, get all the stats but what’s really going to feel like progress is to perform keyword research, write that 2,000 word article, optimize it using the focused keyword, publish it, socialize it, market it and so on. That’s progress!

If you sit on the research, you’ll be spinning your mental wheels.

Let it fly!

Monk Out Your Desk

declutter desk

I don’t know about you but I feel much more productive and creative when I have a clean desk. Ideally, there’s only my computer and notebook. And, possibly a plant that desperately needs to be watered.

Without any distractions (and the Pomodoro Technique), I’m able to accomplish tasks without distractions. I simply get “in the flow”.

Some argue that a messy desk promotes more creativity and sparks new ideas. I get it but it’s not for me.

I think the key is to be mindful of how YOU operate and what fits your personality.

In Conclusion

When it comes to working smarter, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is what works for you. I’ve written what works for me and many others.

It all starts with you. If you set a high standard for yourself and your body, the working smarter part will come as a byproduct.

Consistent effort is the key. You want to form healthy habits that will carry throughout the day, weeks and years to come.

Please share your thoughts on what you do to work smarter and be more efficient!