This week I had the pleasure of facilitating a mastermind group about how to work smarter instead of harder in order to be highly productive and still have time to enjoy life. It seems that many of us struggle with taking on too much responsibility, thinking we can accomplish so much more than there are hours in the day, and not taking enough time to organize, prioritize, and focus on the task at hand. The other theme that seemed to come through in our discussion about working smarter was that many of us are easily distracted by our computers and smart phones – sucked in by social media, answering phone calls or texts or e-mails when we really should be concentrating on other things, and not allowing ourselves to really take a break from technology when that is exactly what we need.

Some of the most fruitful ideas that came out of this discussion were about planning better throughout the day and throughout the week to manage work flow. For example, mapping out the tasks one must do in a day or a week and giving each the proper amount of time needed to do it and making sure there really is enough time to accomplish all that one must do. Because so many of us live closely with our phones, we don’t always schedule time in a format that we can clearly see, and we don’t tend to schedule tasks like making phone calls or responding to e-mails, expecting we can catch those along the way. But we discovered that by answering these as the come in, we lose a lot of time re-orienting ourselves to the task we were doing when we got interrupted, making us all less productive.

We also had a lively discussion on how to communicate to others when we are not available. Most of us find it hard not to answer a phone call or text after hours or on weekends because we are afraid of losing business or alienating people. But I remember a time when it wasn’t acceptable to call someone at home with work problems unless there was a true emergency. Although difficult, it seems necessary to set a schedule for yourself of when you will and will not be available to others who are not your friends and family. This allows you time to take a break and feel like you can relax and refresh so you’re ready to start again when it is time for that, making you more productive when you need to be.

Finally, we talked about how to use others in our businesses to help us accomplish our goals and to do less work in more time. This could be in the form of a virtual assistant or simply asking someone to proofread an e-mail before sending it to spot any mistakes. As hard as it is to ask for help, it allows us to build our networks and utilize the skills others have that we don’t. And it allows others to see what we are really good at doing, too!

So, if you want to work smarter instead of harder, find ways to plan out your time and prioritize tasks in ways that allow you to be most productive, try not to get distracted by technology, turn off and go home by setting work hours that work best for you and not working all the time just because you can, and build and use a team of people around you for the skills they have and the support you need.

What are your keys to working smarter?