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10 strategies for working much smarter

Greater effort doesn't always produce better results. Here are some ways to make the most out of working.
By Thai Nguyen |

3212603547_b1afe44b50_b.jpgWherever you are in the world; blue-collared or white, we've all got 24-hours to work with. Success comes down to what we're able to do in those hours. No entrepreneur can keep the sun from setting or add hours to their day, but there are strategies that will help maximize work habits and productivity. 


Here are 10 strategies for efficiency and effectiveness:


1.Parkinson's Law


"If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do,"observed Cyril Northcote Parkinson. We've all experienced Parkinson's Law. We struggle for a month to finish a project, then magically get it done in the final week. Or, the house is a mess for weeks, then spotless within a few hours of the in-laws showing up.

Find the sweet spot for productive hustle as rushed work can be a recipe for reckless work.


Related: How do I determine appropriate deadlines for my employees?


2. Finding your flow


For athletes, it's called being "in the zone," where you're so focused that you're numbed out to any distractions. It's a state we can all tap into: writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs. 

 If the task is too challenging and beyond our skill, then we go into anxiety and frustration, but not challenging enough and we fall into boredom.


Stretch yourself, but don't snap. We're at our most efficient when in the zone.


3. Single-tasking


There are many compelling cases against multi-tasking. A study found that even folks walking while talking on a cell phone run into people more often and were so distracted, many failed to notice a clown riding a unicycle.

The truth is, multi-tasking is a misnomer better termed "task-switching." We don't juggle so much as we jump around. A good quote on scaling back is by Alexander Graham Bell: "Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand, the sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."


Related: The truth about multitasking: How your brain processes information


4. The 2-minute rule7348035690_73473f4edc_z.jpg


From David Allen's Getting Things Done, he explains that the most productive people capitalize on the little windows of time opening up during the day. Having an inventory of two-minute tasks on hand whenever windows appear will increase productivity. 

 A major cause of procrastination lies in overthinking the next step. Allen says it takes less time to do the action than the time spent thinking about it. 


5. Working to circadian rhythms 


Nerve cells in our brains control our circadian rhythms, which influences sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, emotions and energy levels. Constant operation outside circadian rhythms (e.g. international pilots) creates fatigue.

Three sweet spots for maximizing your efforts:

In the morning we experience annalytic spike, a creative spike after lunch, and a physical spike in the afternoon. Experts suggest distributing task according to this rhythm to increase productivity and efficiency.


Related: 8 steps to having wildly productive mornings


6. Reverse engineering


It is disassembling and analyzing the components that make up the whole. Efficiency comes not only with seeing how parts relate, but being able to work on aspects out of order. Tim Ferriss notes his rapid mastering of the tango through deconstructing the dance, and learning the female role along with the male. 

Expert linguists do the same, breaking a language into pieces and having a bird's-eye view of the most common grammatical structures. 


7. The Willpower trinity


Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal says the key to hitting goals is understanding the three powers of willpower: I will power, I won't power, and I want power.

  • I "won't power'' is resisting temptation, such as saying "no" to social media.
  • I "will power'' is to choose an alternate behavior -- sending a social, but networking email.
  • I "want power'' is remembering your why, your goal, be itexpanding your career, business orprofits.


11738863_1c95b28803_z.jpg8. 57 on, 17 off


The entrepreneurial hustle makes breaks non-existent. Recent studies show only one-in-five employees take lunch breaks, despite clear cognitive benefits for our fatigued brains. 

Our brain can focus for up to 90 minutes, then needs roughly 20 minutes of rest. It's backed by scientists, pointing to the natural rhythms of our attention span.


Related: Want to be more productive? Take a break and check out this infographic.


9. Power poses


Taking a high-power pose causes an increase in testosterone (confidence, assertiveness, energy) and a decrease in cortisol (stress, anxiety, nervousness). A confident, testosterone-perked person is much more productive than a cortisol-crippled, stressed person. 

Our brain is wired to respond to certain physiologies. A forced smile will still release endorphins. Pulling yourself out of a figurative slump is as simple as pulling yourself out of a physical slump.


10. Validated progress


A good warning from Eric Ries: "If we're building the wrong product really efficiently, it's like we're driving our car off a cliff and bragging about our awesome gas mileage." 


The strategy is about being calculated and conscious in our efforts, with a flexible, rather than fixed process and goal. It's being productive and ready to pivot, rather than simply charging full-steam ahead.


Related: Desk yoga to improve your posture


Copyright © 2014 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editor.


Pictures from (ZURB, Michael Coghlan, and Kenji Oka

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