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Did you know that in the US an employee individual typically works overtime in a year equating to not being paid until 14 February ? That’s 233 hours of ‘free’ work we give our employers because overtime is unpaid.

For me, working from home for a portion of the week has given me back a balance that I didn’t have when I was in the office everyday.

I have a home office in the garden, so it’s still a working environment away from the kids and the washing machine, but without the grind of the commute and having the option to wear jeans I’m a lot happier.

I’m more productive. I get at least as much done as I would do in the office and normally more.

But working smarter and not harder isn’t just about having some time to work from home.

The whole ‘working smarter, not harder’ thing is a buzzword, but what does it actually mean?

I’m a project manager, and we are generally quite a well organized bunch. I didn’t think I’d learn a lot at an event I attended a while back, with that exact name: ‘working smarter, not harder’.

However, I did take away some interesting figures. Here are some other stats:

  • 78% of women say they work for companies with flexible working policies, but better technology would make it easier to balance work and life.
  • 55% said their work/life balance was just in control, but they wanted more ‘life’.
  • 45% said their work/life balances were out of kilter, and actually way past the point of being in balance.

These figures came from a survey of the women in the room, which we completed before we arrived.

So where can you start when you want to work smarter?

Here are 5 ways that you can flex how you work to be more productive and fit your lifestyle more effectively.

1. Know your strengths

Don’t be an all-rounder. It’s a waste of valuable time to do things when someone else can do them for you, better than you.

Don’t be threatened by surrounding yourself with good people and having a great team. They are there to support you and make you all look good.

2. Set clear boundaries about the hours you work

It’s fine to work at the evenings and weekends if it gives you time in the week to do what you want. Be flexible, but take the time back. This also sets a good example to the team.

I am trying really hard to do this, but believe me, I am a work in progress.

3. Set clear boundaries about how people contact you

If people can reach you by Teams message or Slack, SMS, mobile phone, desk phone, home phone, email and so on it makes life much more stressful.

Tell people how you can be contacted and stick to it. You could  have a “drop everything” list of people who have all your contact details. These people would be your child’s school, your partner, your director: the important people in your life whom you would make an exception for because you know they wouldn’t call you up unless it was critical.

Everyone else can get in touch on your convenience.

This was a huge game changer for me: since the event I’ve been using a “drop everything” list for contacts and I feel like now I’ve got rules for who gets in touch when (even though they don’t know about those rules), it creates better balance for me. My choices feel validated when I don’t answer the phone!

4. Hide away and catch up

I’m doing this right now! I have booked into a hotel for the weekend to write my next book and I’m just doing a few bits of blogging to give my mind a break.

The equivalent for us as employees is to book time in your diary to work at home or at a different office. You’ll still be available by phone but you’ll be more productive as people won’t be constantly passing by your desk and interrupting.

However, you might still need to put your out of office on if you seriously don’t want to be disturbed. These days, even if you are at home you can still be pinged every few minutes by Microsoft Teams chat messages or Slack, or invited to Google calls… keep to your boundaries!

This isn’t a strategy you can use every day but helps me massively to know that I have quarterly catch up days already planned in my diary.

5. Learn to use your technology

And ensure you drive it, not the other way round. Because not knowing how tools work is such a time waster and it increases my stress levels hugely.

Learn all the keyboard shortcuts, tap into generative AI and other automation tools so that you can be efficient with the tool set you have.

With those 5 tips you won’t radically change your working practices but you can bring a bit more balance and control into how you approach your work time. And that’s smarter, without being hard.

This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management

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