You will work less and accomplish far more.
I was in my junior year of college, taking 17 credit hours, and playing a division one sport when I realized something needed to change. Many nights were spent sitting alone in my little apartment for hours struggling to get through my course work.
One evening it was twenty differential equation problems. Another, it was hours of C++ programming. While the homework varied, one thing remained constant — I was incredibly unproductive.
I redid questions five times because I just couldn’t get them right. I was distracted by my phone, that brownie tempting me from the kitchen, or those three random emails I just had to respond to right away. After hours of frustration, I was too exhausted to think.
I had put in countless hours of work, but had little to show for it. Flash forward a couple years, and I’m out in the real world, working full-time for myself. I have finally mastered the art of being productive, because I value the quality of time I put in rather than the quantity.
My 30 hour work weeks are far more impressive than my 60 hour ones ever were. And yours will be too, so long as you follow the key steps I am about to share with you. These are the tried and true strategies that I use to optimize my time and grow my brand and business.
1. Make a to do list and actually stick to it.
This shouldn’t be your average list. You need to write down every single thing you want to get done for the day, first thing in the morning. Better yet, make the list the night before. Then, actually do everything on that list.
I even put my daily run and shower on my list. Why? Because those are two things I know I’m going to get done, and crossing them off first thing in the morning always boosts my motivation immensely.
Here’s a pro tip: start with the most challenging items on the list, and work your way through to the easier ones. Once you know that you’ve gotten through the hardest tasks, the rest of the list will seem like a breeze.
2. Ask for help when you need it.
Time and time again, I have gotten stuck on an issue with work, and asking for help is what has gotten me out of it. Just yesterday, I was having problems with my email list not sending out. I spent hours combing through every possible issue.
I didn’t fix the situation until after I acknowledged that I needed to contact my email service provider. The support team promptly resolved the issue for me.
A full two hours was wasted because I failed to seek help when I needed it.So learn from my mistakes. Remind yourself that it’s always ok to ask for help. It doesn’t make you a bad employee. In fact, it makes you a smart one who knows how to be efficient with their time.
3. Skip problems when you get stuck.
Now, this one is not quite as simple as it sounds. When you get stuck on a work or school problem. It can be enticing to skip. I do not recommend instantly skipping something that looks hard or difficult without first attempting it.
What I really mean here is that you should first attempt to find a solution to your problem. If you put in effort and try a couple different approaches, and you still end up stuck, it might be better to skip it.
In my experience, whenever I got stumped on a truly difficult homework problem in college, or when I get hit with a major work issue that I can't find a quick solution to, it often did more harm than good to try and brute force my way through the problem.
The most efficient approach I could find was to skip it and come back to it once I was calmed down, less frustrated, and could re-approach the issue with a clear mind. Typically, this does the trick and saves me time and frustration in the long run.
If that approach fails, then my last resort is to seek out outside help. Sometimes, a new perspective can help you work through a problem. I rely on a few people close to me who have experience in the same industry I'm in to provide meaningful advice, because I know they have my best interests at heart.
The main takeaway here is that if you truly are stuck on an issue, skip it and come back to it, as it could save you time and energy.
4. Take frequent breaks.
This one might seem counterproductive. Trust me, it’s not.
I realized this trick actually works during my senior year of college. Up until then, I’d frequently work for five hours straight on coding assignments. I remember spending hours trying to get my program to read in a simple file.
Eventually, I gave up and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up, and within five minutes, I already had the code working that had given me so much trouble the night before. Nowadays, I use this trick to break up my work into segments.
I wake up, write for 30 minutes, then take a short 5 minute break. I post on my blog, share my post on various social media channels, then take a 5 minute break.
I’ve tried going without the breaks, and it only burns me out faster and slows me down. So, if you find that you’re losing focus or starting to struggle with your work, try taking short breaks. You might be surprised by how much more efficient you become.
Although there are key ways to optimize the work you’re already doing, the fact remains that you still have to do the work. No one else is going to do it for you. But if you can nail that part down, you’re already half way there. Optimizing your productivity and efficiency will feel like a breeze in comparison.
So buckle down, put in the work, implement the strategies I’ve shared, and inch your way towards those dreamy four hour work days. They are much closer than you think.