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25 Genius Tricks for Working Smarter and Not Harder

You've heard of the to-do list. Now try the "done" list.

It's more than natural to feel that there are too many things to do—and too little time to do them all. Here's the thing: you don't need more hours in the day. You just need to make the most of the hours that already exist—by working smarter, not harder. Generally, boosting productivity doesn't require a major overhaul. It just means making tiny tweaks to your work pattern, which, in tandem, will kick your mindset into high gear—without running the risk of redlining. Here are 25 such tweaks.

Turn Off Smartphone Notifications While You're On the Clock

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Those "dings" are more distracting than you realize. From texts to tweets to the latest Facebook message, it's easy to get off track and out of a productive state of mind. Also, it's harder to break concentration and repair it once it's been broken. If you can't bring yourself to completely turn off your notifications, at least put your phone on airplane mode for the duration of your work.

Take Routine Breaks

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Your productivity will not suffer from taking a step back; research shows that it will actually improve if you take the time give your mind a rest. Besides boosting your output, taking a break now and then will work wonders on your wellbeing by giving you more time for healthy habits such as exercise, meditation, or even eating a healthy lunch. So, if you want to be more productive, be sure you're scheduling breaks as part of your workday. Your boss (and your sanity) will thank you for it.

Schedule Email Time

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Emails are like smartphone notifications in a lot of ways: checking and answering these constantly can be a time vortex, and also throw you off of whatever task you were working on before you decided to switch your focus to the dreaded inbox. Instead, schedule time at the beginning and end of your day to answer your emails. Of course, answer anything critical that might come your way, but make a general rule to put email on the back burner until necessary.

Make the Most of Time Blocking


Never heard of time blocking? It's a method of scheduling out your day to maximize productivity and give you a better overview of what needs to be completed and when—and it's quite simple. For instance, the 11:00 a.m. hour could be your "emails" hour, which means you only work on emails during that time. Maybe a longer stretch—3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.—is your "forward planning" time block, where you dedicate work to long-term projects. Stick to these time blocks like glue.

This deadline-based approach not only gives a sense of urgency that is sometimes needed to get stuff done, it also gives you a good idea of how much time you're spending on tasks and how much is truly necessary. Give it a try.

Understand That Willpower Is a Limited Resource

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Relying on willpower to get your tasks on your to-do list done will not be very productive in the end. There is a theory called "willpower depletion," which explains that willpower is much like energy—we only have so much to expend, and overuse leads to fatigue. With this in mind, start your day with tasks that might take a little more out of you and leave the more mindless tasks for end-of-day when your willpower is dwindling.

Realize You Can Say "No" if You Don't Have the Bandwidth

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Saying "no" is hard, especially when work is involved. We all want to do our very best at our jobs and take on more responsibility to impress our boss, grow our careers, and mature professionally. However, there is definitely such a thing as taking on too much and this will impact your productivity greatly. Instead, if someone asks you to take something new on and you know you can't, figure out a way you feel comfortable saying no. It is okay that you can't do everything.

Get Up a Little Earlier

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No, you don't have to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to be successful, despite what some wildly rich CEOs might tell you. However, even an extra 20 to 30 minutes added to your morning actually makes a huge difference. This helps you ease into the day with the extra time. Everything will feel less rushed, therefore less stressed, therefore giving you a more positive and productive mindset. Win, win! Just make sure you to go bed earlier, too, as missed sleep won't do you any favors either.

Prep Everything the Night Before


To really make the most of your time, prep everything you need for work/your morning routine the night before. Lay out your work clothes, prepare the coffee, pack your lunch, tidy up a little, and put your work bag right by the door. Having less to think about in the early morning will give you more peace-of-mind and more room to focus on other things once you get to work.

Dress For Success

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Psychological research has shown that getting dressed for work, even if you work from home, will strengthen productivity. As reported by Forbes, as long as what you choose is dedicated work apparel, you will be able to accomplish more and wore quality work will get done and you will be more focused. Make sure you set aside certain outfits as work-only and see how you feel once you start your day.

Use Templates for Repeated Tasks

man on computer

Templates make a job more productive because you are not constantly beginning from scratch for projects. Personally, speaking as someone who worked at an office where there were no designated templates for regular business tasks, I can assure you that a lack of templates leads to wasting time, ultimately causing unnecessary stress by constantly forcing employees to start from zero, every single time. While it may take time to set up, in the end, the investment is totally worth it.

Have a Clean Work Space

being lazy can lead to cluttered work spaces

A clean work space is important for a myriad of reasons, but one such reason is that clutter has been psychologically proven to cause stress. According to the folks at Psychology Today, clutter can cause feelings of guilt, distract us, and inhibit creativity and productivity. Instead, make sure the items that are on your desk serve a purpose and get rid of the excess. Organize your files and tuck away messy cords. For help keeping your space spotless, steal these 20 Genius Tricks for Having a Perfectly Organized Desk.

Clean Up Digital Clutter, Too!


Most work these days is heading into the digital realm. Same as a messy desk, a messy computer desktop or disorganized digital files (or lack of files) can also cause unnecessary stress. Instead, make sure you have a solid file structure created, clean up your desktop regularly, organize your emails, that sort of thing. Being able to navigate your way and find important documents will for sure increase productivity.

Get Enough Sleep

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Sleep is so important, yet most probably don't get enough of it. Making sleep a priority will help you in so many areas of your life, your work-life being one of them. Getting the recommended amount of sleep will help prevent burnout, assist you in recovering from distractions faster, improve your memory, and so much more. While staying up just that one extra hour to get that one extra thing done might seem productive, it will hurt you the next day. Most things can wait longer than you'd think. So, in taking care of your health, you're taking care of your work. It is a symbiotic relationship you cannot ignore.

Take Advantage of Technology

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In the age of apps, there are so many productivity tools on the market to help you work smarter and not harder. Hootsuite helps you schedule out social media posts ahead of time, Google Calendar can alert you for even the most minute tasks, and there are countless project management tools on the market (for instance: Basecamp). Make these tools like your personal assistant. Or, if you need an actual human…

Hire a Virtual Assistant

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Hiring a virtual assistant, or VA, is a great idea, especially if you run your own business. A VA helps you in that you can delegate tasks you simply don't have time for to them and allows you to focus on the bigger, more specialized tasks that you would rather spend time on. As well, a VA will help the rest of your staff work more effectively as well.

Make Sunday Your Reboot Day

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Sunday Scaries. We all get them. One way to make that anxious energy into productive energy is by utilizing the day as a reboot (or get-your-life-together) day. Do your laundry, do your meal prep, slate in a workout, then check your schedule for the incoming week so there are no surprises or missed deadlines. Lazy Sunday, be gone!

Make Sure All Your Goals and Deadlines Are Actually Achievable

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There is nothing worse than missing a deadline or not achieving a goal you set out for yourself. Often, feeling like a failure happens because of a missed deadline or flubbed assignment. But it's important to take a step back and ask yourself not only what went wrong but also if what you set out to do in the time you allotted was realistic in the first place. According to Larry Kim from The Startup, starting with baby steps and working your way up from there is the best course of action.

Watch the Caffeine Intake

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Yes, everyone loves a good cup of Joe in the morning. But overdoing the caffeine can cause feelings of restlessness and anxiousness, which all inhibit productivity. While there are many benefits to a coffee—improved memory, boosted cognitive function—it is important to be mindful of consumption and make sure you're drinking it effectively. Oh, and too much caffeine also leads to sleep problems and physical dependency.

Avoid Music with Lyrics

Female graphic designer listening song while using laptop in office

As much as you want to sing along to the latest Top 40 hit, it might not do you good to blast music with lyrics, because those songs can be more distracting. According to Inc., many professionals turn to ambient music or instrumental music while they work to avoid the distractions the latest Drake song might cause.

Adhere to the Two-Minute Rule

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When your plate is loaded with tasks both big and small, it's easy to get paralysis and be unsure where to start. This is where the two-minute rule comes into play. Uh, what's that? The two-minute rule of productivity generally states that, if a task takes two minutes or less to complete, you should tackle it immediately. If not, shelve it for later. The little things add up, so don't wait to get them done!

Stay Hydrated!

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Invest in a reusable water bottle and be sure to drink and refill it throughout the day. After all, we need water to literally function as human beings. Drinking water helps keep you energized and improves your overall health, all good things when it comes to working the day away.

Use Site Blockers

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You can parent yourself with site blockers for those pesky websites you can't seem to stay off of. (For me, it's Twitter.) There are multiple tools for this out there, but a great one I've found success with is SelfControl. This app will block the server for the websites you specify for an amount of time you set, and won't lift the ban until that timer is up!

Understand You Can't Really Multitask

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Multitasking is so yesterday, and also not really all that possible. Dividing attention among a bunch of different tabs and tasks will not help get any of those things done concurrently or faster. Instead, your attention is best-served on one thing at a time.


weight loss motivation man running exercise

There are so many benefits to exercise, and one of those is that it will improve our productivity. You don't need to do anything crazy; just get your blood pumping. Some research suggests that working out in the morning improves productivity the most, but as long as you workout at all, you will see the benefits in your health, your energy levels, and your mood, as well as seeing more tasks crossed off your to-do list. So, get moving!

Make a "Done List"


In addition to the to-do list, you could also experiment with making a "done" list that lays out everything you've accomplished for the day, week, or, if you're insanely motivated, month. This will help you see everything you've gotten done and give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated. Sometimes, the to-do list feels never ending. But by putting this method into practice, you see how much you truly are capable of. It's a great feeling. And for more ways to kick yourself into gear, check out these 40 Best Ways to Jumpstart Your Career.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more