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Work Smarter Not Harder: Follow These 16 Tips to Being Extremely Productive in 2019

Work Smarter Not Harder: Follow These 16 Tips to Being Extremely Productive in 2019

Back when Bill Gates was still the richest man on the planet, he was asked what type of person he would hire for difficult jobs.

"Hire a lazy person for a difficult job", he responded. This stumped the interviewer. After a second, he asked Gates why.

"Because a lazy person would find the easiest way to do it."

This, in essence, is the main concept behind working smart, not hard.

You've probably heard of the phrase 'work smarter, not harder' before, but may have just believed it to be some buzz phrase that entrepreneurs and productivity coaches use.

We asked our team of productivity experts to come up with the go-to actionable guide to working smart, not hard, providing you with a comprehensive guide to increasing productivity at work, school or in any other aspect of your life.

If you'd like to learn more study hacks and tips to skyrocket your productivity, check out our guide to the best study skills.

Table of Contents

- What is meant by 'work smarter not harder'?
- Work smarter, not harder examples
- Work smarter not harder at school
- Work smarter not harder at work
- Work smarter not harder at home
- Other work smarter not harder tips
- References

What is meant by 'work smarter not harder'?

The motto ‘work smarter not harder’ revolves around the concept of managing your tasks and time in a way that will yield a successful result in the least time- and potentially labour-consuming way.

Importantly, that does not mean that the quality or standard of what is being accomplished, suffers from this method. Indeed, the core idea behind ‘work smarter not harder’ is to be as efficient as possible.

The below video outlines a few of the simple productivity tips we will discuss later and it finishes with the following citation:

“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

In the next sections, we will look into how this might translate into action and everyday life.

Work smarter, not harder examples

So, how does ‘work smarter not harder’ look like on a day-to-day basis?

These general tips will give you some guidance as well as examples as to how to translate this concept into action.

1. Write down what is on your mind

Have you come across the overwhelming feeling of having lots of things on your mind, not knowing where to start and not being able to focus on what you are trying to achieve?

A simple step here is to write down all those ideas and thoughts.

That will help you to focus on what you are doing right now whilst making sure you can tackle the list later on without forgetting about important bits.

2. Organize your thoughts, ideas, and plans

After completing what you have been doing whilst these ideas came to mind, say the walk you were on, the coffee with a friend or that project for work, you want to go over all the ideas jotted down in step 1.

Here, the idea is to organize all these plans and actions in an effective manner. Figure out what of these things is important and should get priority, what actually needs to be done and what just needs to be kept as a thought.

You can group things together that fit together, make lists, order the items according to importance - any system that works to give you a meaningful overview.

3. Review your list

This is a good point to maybe take a short break if needed and to come back with a fresh mind. Look over all those grouped items again, review your list and amend if necessary.

Maybe you will have had new ideas in the meantime, try to integrate these.

4. Do!

Get started on the lists and work your way through.

5. Be aware of your time and use it well

The importance of time management cannot be understated if you wish to be hyper-productive.

If you only have 30-40 minutes to get something done, it may not be worth getting started on a big task. Instead, focus on the simple and quick tasks that only take a couple of minutes to complete, for example, writing that short reply to an email.

Later on, when you have more time, these little things won’t distract you from the bigger tasks.

If you are finding it difficult to get started, this may be a productive way of procrastinating for half an hour. But be sure to prioritize the important and most necessary tasks whenever possible.

The above 5 simple steps are really useful, but also quite general. In the below sections we will go into more detail of how to work smarter not harder at school, work and at home.

Work smarter not harder at school

Working smarter not harder at school, thus making use of your time effectively, could make you achieve the grades you are striving for.

Therefore, it is worth trying out different study skills and techniques that incorporate the concept of working smarter not harder.

For all four study skills mentioned below, separate articles have been written discussing in more detail how they work and how to apply them.

If you are interested in any of these study skills, check out the posts before getting started.

6. Getting Things Done (GTD)

This time management strategy that can be applied to all aspects of life and will help you to keep track of what you need to do, what you have achieved so far and how to organize these actions.

It will also allow you to incorporate new ideas and it involves not only actionable actions such as getting someone’s present sorted, but it also includes unactionable actions such as filing that payment confirmation that just came through.

In fact, the GTD method is a more detailed and sophisticated version of the general steps mentioned above. It includes capturing what needs to be done, clarifying and processing these captured ideas, reviewing them, reflecting about them and then engaging.

This video will provide you with examples to get you started on the GTD method.

7. Pomodoro Technique

This technique is another time management strategy developed by Francesco Cirillo who made ‘work smarter, not harder’ his motto. The technique was named after the Pomodoro timer that Cirillo used to measure the 25-minute blocks, or Pomodoros, that constitute a cycle of four Pomodoros.

Between each of these four, you will take a short break and then a longer one after a cycle has been completed.

Whilst you are working on a task, this is where all your focus should lie. Do not distract yourself, check your emails or chat to a friend at the same time. If new ideas come to your mind, add them to your list of tasks to be accomplished. Francesco Cirillo summarized this technique in six simple steps.

1. Choose a task you’d like to get done

2. Set the Pomodoro (or any other timer) for 25 min

3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings

4. When the Pomodoro rings put a checkmark on a paper

5. Take a short break

6. Every four Pomodoros take a longer break

Following this rhythm will give you an understanding of how long it takes you to complete certain tasks or projects which might make your time-scheduling even more effective.

8. SQ5R

The SQ5R is an active reading strategy that will ensure you understand the material covered, making it easier to retain the information and to reproduce it in later exams.

SQ5R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Record, Recite, and Review.

Here is a summary of what each of these means.


Before you start reading your text, say a textbook chapter, you want to survey the text. This means skimming through the chapter, reading the introduction and conclusion first, if available, looking out for definitions and parts of the text highlighted in bold.

Also, pay attention to drawings and graphs illustrating the text. This will give you an idea of what ideas and themes will be important.


After identifying the main topic of the text, and before actually reading it, ask yourself questions about the topic.

Essentially, you will ask yourself what you want to find out about the items identified in the survey. As you have not read the text yet, your understanding might be too limited to ask specific questions. Instead, focus on broader themes and questions to guide your reading.


In the next step, you will get to actually read the text. Don’t be afraid to break it down into more digestible sections if needed. Depending on where you are studying you might also want to read the text out loud.


After reading and learning about the themes, think back to the questions you asked yourself at the beginning. Respond to them and apply what you have just read.


In the next step, you will get your pen and paper out and underline, scribble, take notes - whatever works for you. You'll use the text as a tool to record your understanding of the topic.


Without looking at your notes or the text, go over what you have learned and try to reproduce the content - explain to someone else or to yourself what the text covered.

When you do this for the first time, you might not remember all the crucial information. You will go over the text until you feel comfortable with the material learned.


After completing these steps, go over the text again and skim through it. Ideally, try to find someone to explain the material to.

At this point, you might want to go over your notes as well to fill in any missing information or to edit them in a way that will make them more accessible for later revision etc.

9. Cornell note-taking system

The Cornell note-taking system works by dividing your sheet of paper into four sections.

On the top, left and bottom you will have small sections will the middle right being the largest out of the four sections. Each of these sections will serve a different purpose.

In the right section, you will take the notes while listening to a lecture for example. Try not to write down every single word but instead, focus on the main points and draw connections between what is being said. Feel free to leave space between notes to fill in as you go along.

On the top of the page, you can write whatever will help you to make sense of the notes you are taking, for example, the class they are fore, the date, the main topic or theme or even your name.

After listening to the lecture and taking those ‘rough’ notes, you will summarize the main themes and write them into the left part of the paper.

After you have done that, you will summarize those points even further, filtering out the most essential information. This conclusion will be put in the bottom box.

Cornell notes are effective because they enhance learning and prevent some of the forgetting that occurs in most cases after taking notes or learning something.

Firstly, taking notes does not guarantee that something has been learned. This is especially the case if notes are copied from slides or consist of exactly the words the lecturer used for example.

Using the Cornell system makes you understand the content of the lecture as you will need to think about what is being said before writing down the key points and how they are connected.

By summarizing and condensing these notes, you will encode the information in a way that is far more effective than simply copying existing text.

When reading through the last two tips you may have been thinking that they seem like quite a bit of work.

Indeed, getting used to these two study skills will require time and effort. However, when it comes to the exam or essay writing further down the line, you will be extremely well prepared and you will not need to start relearning everything from scratch.

Therefore, these techniques are a great example for ‘working smarter not harder’ as they require time when you have it during the semester, but will make your life much easier during the busy exam periods.

Work smarter not harder at work

When it comes to working smarter not harder at work, you will find that many of the above concepts apply.

10. Time management

The time management techniques outlined above, in particular, the GTD and the Pomodoro technique should be beneficial at work. The concepts that underlie these techniques translate to all areas of life.

11. Make use of resources

Try to find out what your resources are when given a project or working on a task.

Who can you ask for help if you are struggling, who might be available for a second opinion and what previous projects are out there to guide your understanding of what is expected of you?

Being aware of the resources around you, and using the appropriate ones, will help you to excel at your work.

12. Meaningful group work

If group work is required, split up the tasks in a meaningful way, again, making use of the resources available to you within the group.

Before you brainstorm or work as a team, try to each think of ideas on your own and then collect what you have come up with. Tasks that can be done individually in a less time-consuming manner should be done that way.

Work smarter not harder at home

If you are studying or working from home, any of the above techniques could be applied. You may additionally want to think about the following…

13. Plan in advance

Whenever possible try to combine tasks.

For example, if you need to drop off a book at the library and need to do a food shop on the same day, why not bring your purse and shopping bags with you, return the book and then do the food shop on the way back home.

Sounds very obvious. However, it will require you to plan your day in advance.

14. Time for yourself

Make sure to schedule in time for seeing friends, doing sports, reading a book - whatever it is you would like to do in your free time, especially when at home.

Other work smarter not harder tips

15. Reward

When working smarter not harder, you should find yourself being more efficient. Reward yourself for the time gained. Don’t think that being efficient simply means filling up the day with even more work to get through.

16. Reflect

Reflect on your progress, identify areas for improvement and acknowledge what is going well. This will make the experience of working smarter not harder more rewarding and will help you to improve your method for the future.

Someone who has embraced the maxim 'work smarter not harder' knows that working with efficiency is key.

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If you have any tips that help you work smarter not harder, let us know in the comments below. If you found this article useful, please share it with your friends so that they too can work smarter and not harder, and benefit from these amazing productivity tips.

Related articles


Bloom, K. C., & Shuell, T. J. (1981). Effects of Massed and Distributed Practice on the Learning and Retention of Second-Language Vocabulary. The Journal of Educational Research, 74(4), 245-248.
Butler, A. C., & III, H. L. R. (2007). Testing improves long-term retention in a simulated classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 514-527.
Getting Things Done®. (n.d.). Retrieved 25 February 2019, from
QuickTalks. (n.d.). How to Get Things Done, Stress-Free (GTD) | David Allen. Retrieved from
Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968.
Krätzig, G. P., & Arbuthnott, K. D. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 238-246.
Larsen, D. P., Butler, A. C., & Iii, H. L. R. (2013). Comparative effects of test-enhanced learning and self-explanation on long-term retention. Medical Education, 47(7), 674-682.
Newton, P. M. (2015). The Learning Styles Myth is Thriving in Higher Education. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20-27.
SQ5R Study Method | Harvey Knowledge Center (HKC) | Radford University. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 February 2019, from
Successful By Design. (n.d.). Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen - Animated Book Summary And Review. Retrieved from
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  • Hi Keavy,

    Good question!

    Here are some of my top tips:

    1) Don’t keep your emails open and turn off browser notifications – receiving emails, especially when you get many every day can be very distracting and throw you off your work.

    Instead, schedule times where you’ll get through all your emails.

    2) Don’t be afraid to have an hour of intense working, with no distractions, and then to have a 5-minute break.

    Humans can usually only concentrate for about 40 minutes before getting distracted, so ensuring you have breaks keeps your mind focused and is only beneficial for your physical health as it mitigates the risks of office-based injuries (e.g. headaches, bad back etc.).

    3) Split daily tasks into three categories: ‘Under 5 minutes’, ‘High Priority’ and ‘Low Priority’.

    Do the ‘Under 5 minutes’ tasks first, then ‘High Priority’, then ‘Low Priority’. Doing smaller tasks first means you’re less likely to let them slip through the cracks, and also ticking off more tasks generally gives you a greater feeling of satisfaction.

    I hope this helps!

    Robert (Mod) on

  • Have you got any specific tips for increasing productivity in the office?

    Keavy on

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