How to work smarter, not harder

Feeling constantly overwhelmed by your to-do list? Carson Tate offers six ways to work smarter and take back control

How to work smarter, not harder

Business Strategy


I blink and the day is over. 

I’m constantly behind, trying to catch up and keep up. 

I purchased a new pair of pants, and by the time I get around to having them hemmed, they will probably be out of style. 

Does this sound familiar? 

In today’s overstretched, overscheduled world, we feel like we’re constantly reacting and not really in control of our days. So how can you take back control and put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life? Work smarter, not harder. Here’s how. 

Batch or group similar tasks 
Batching or grouping similar tasks increases your efficiency without any extra effort on your part. For example, make all of your phone calls at one time, process your email at one time or review project proposals from vendors all at the same time. Switching between disparate tasks is highly inefficient. Work on the same type of project or task and complete more work in less time. 

Work in vacation mode  
Have you ever noticed what happens before a vacation? Your inbox is magically cleaned out, projects are wrapped up, and your desk is cleared off. I call this ‘the vacation phenomenon.’ The vacation is a hard deadline. On Saturday afternoon, you’re going to be on a sandy beach, holding a drink with an umbrella in it (at least this is my idea of a vacation!). As a result, your work must be completed before you leave the office.  

Consider working in vacation mode, even if you’re not going on a vacation, by creating hard stops to your workday. For example, schedule a fun activity after work that has a hard start time – a movie, a play or a sporting event. The looming deadline will force you to be more efficient and focused throughout your workday. 

Create a ‘stop doing list’  
As your responsibilities continue to expand at work, you keep adding projects to your to-do list. However, you never take anything off of the list. Take a hard, critical look at your projects and ask yourself if each project is still relevant, directly tied to the organization’s strategic goals and has a significant return on time investment. There are probably a few projects lurking on your list that need to be moved to the ‘stop doing list.’ No one is going to miss them. 

Decide what is good enough  
Do you know what ‘good enough’ is for each of the projects on your list? This is good enough for the organization and good enough for you. Overthinking, over-editing and over-tweaking wastes valuable time and is not necessary. Do good work and then stop. 

Stop fighting nature  
Our brains are hardwired to function in very specific ways. No matter how much you try or wish for your brain to function differently, it will not. There is a finite limit to how much information can be held in the mind and manipulated at one time.  

Don’t ask your brain to remember the 15 items you need at the grocery store, your schedule for next week and your ideas for your new project at work. It’s not wired to function this way. Use a task list. It’s ultimately more efficient, and it enables your brain to do what it does best – think about things not of things. 

Make technology work for you, not against you  
Today’s technology is powerful – very powerful. However, we often abdicate our power to technology. We let it guide and direct us. It pings, dings or rings, and we jump. Turn off the sounds on all of your technology tools so you can focus and complete work.  

In addition, leverage all of the technology tools available to you in your email program by writing rules, color-coding incoming emails and auto-filing messages. Take back control and make your technology do all of the heavy lifting. 

What are you going to do today to put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life? 

Carson Tate serves as a consultant and coach to executives at Fortune 500 companies, including AbbVie, Deloitte, EY, FedEx and Wells Fargo. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, her views have been included several publications, including Bloomberg BusinessweekFast CompanyForbes, the Harvard Business Review blog, The New York TimesWorking Mother and more. For more information, visit

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!