Work Smarter, Not Harder

Autumn can be an exciting time, full of new beginnings and opportunities. On the other hand, balancing your cheer schedule, academics and other activities can feel overwhelming. Some days, as you struggle to get everything done, you may think, “I work really hard. I simply can’t work any harder.”

We hear you, and we think you should stop working so hard. That’s right. Stop working so hard. Here’s your new mantra: work smarter, not harder.

Working smarter is about maximizing efficiency whenever and wherever possible. Efficiency means doing your job well with minimal time and effort. Working smarter, not harder, is not about compromising performance. And it’s definitely not about mindlessly scurrying from one job to the next. Instead, working smarter is about staying on top of all areas of your life and doing it in less time.

It Starts With You
The first key to working smarter is so basic that many people forget about it altogether. To improve efficiency across all parts of your life, you’ve got to start with the right tools. Your most important tool? You! We all need to build in time to take care of our bodies and minds. As an athlete, you know what that entails – eating right, exercising and getting plenty of rest. If you’re thinking, “But, I don’t have the time!” keep in mind that taking care of yourself will give you increased energy levels, improved productivity, better focus and higher levels of performance both on and off the mat.

A Smarter Schedule
Now, it’s time to put that renewed energy and focus to work by painting an accurate picture of the demands on your time. After all, you can’t develop effective strategies for managing all of your competing responsibilities until you honestly assess them.

List all of your activities and the time it takes on average to complete each one. (Remember: it starts with you. Be sure to account for the time you need to take care of yourself.) Now, take a deep breath and ask yourself whether you may be overbooked. Although working smarter will allow you to accomplish more, we all work within 24-hour days. Even the most efficient people face limits on what they can accomplish.

If you are overbooked, determine which activities you can scale back on or remove completely. Moving forward, remember that it’s okay to say “no” to additional commitments. Sure, it feels great to please others, but consider what it will cost you (and them) when you ultimately disappoint because you’ve taken on too much.

Minimize Multitasking
Once you’ve trimmed down your commitments to those you can reasonably handle, it’s time to reexamine how you currently attempt to tackle those obligations. If you’re like most people, you engage in a lot of multitasking and think you’re pretty good at it. Think again. Neuroscience research shows that our brains are not as capable of focusing on multiple tasks as we’d like to believe. When we think we’re multitasking, we’re really just task-switching. Our brains are actually jumping back and forth between tasks, focusing on each one briefly. All of that strain on the brain wastes time, decreases efficiency, increases the risk of errors and lowers productivity by a whopping 40%! That’s because constant task-switching requires us to expend time and energy switching gears and doesn’t allow us to get “in the zone” or fully concentrate on any of our activities.

Instead of multitasking, prioritize the most important item on your to-do list and give it a laser-like focus. By concentrating on one undertaking at a time, you will complete each job faster and, more importantly, do a better job.

Tackle Recurring Tasks Together
Your next strategy: get smart about grouping similar tasks. Take a look at all of the tasks you complete on a daily or weekly basis, and identify those that you can complete in batches.

For example, if your team decorates the school for game days, avoid waiting until Thursday of each week to make banners for Friday night’s game. Instead, throw a banner-making party on one of the final weekends of summer. Bring the game schedule and, as a team, knock out everything you need to get you through the entire season.

This strategy works well for any recurring task. Take answering emails, for example. Efficiency experts suggest limiting yourself to checking and responding to emails twice per day. During those designated times, clear your plate and dive in. Then, resist the temptation to check your account again until the next scheduled time.

You can see that the solution to addressing multiple demands on your time isn’t about exerting more energy; that will just lead to exhaustion and burnout. The key to achieving your potential while carving out time for the things and people you care most about is learning to work smarter, not harder.

For more articles like this, download the latest issue of American Cheerleader.