Why working smarter is more important than working longer

Discipline and cutting time spent on social media can help avoid distractions and achieving goals

A person works from home on a laptop computer in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Illinois reported 1,337 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as the state's positivity rate dropped below 4% for the first time in weeks. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
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Almost every morning, one or two of my social media contacts, post about working harder and longer to achieve their goals. We often take our work home, and we even work on holidays. In fact, some of my friends proudly consider themselves “workaholics”.

A case in point. When a freelance graphic designer friend came up with her own routine of working 4 days per week with an extended weekend, her friends labelled her as lazy and unproductive. But she didn’t work less. She evaluated how her days were spent, and realised there were lots of lost hours, and by staying focused she was able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time.

While it is understandable that cramming work schedule into a 4-day week is not feasible for everyone, I do know that working smarter is more important than working longer especially for your mental wellbeing.

When I ventured into entrepreneurship years back, I too was on a work longer mode. I thought that the only way I would succeed and achieve my goals was to work more, sleep less and leave barely any room for recreational activities and socialising. I felt guilty when I had a free morning, and always found a way to keep myself busy. I didn’t give myself time to reflect. My brain was always thinking about work or I was discussing work.

After falling sick, working during my holidays, and feeling burnt out because of the long working hours I invested into my business, I was unhappy, and I knew I had to find a way to work smarter and still achieve my goals. Today, I put less hours than I used to, take more time out for recreation, and feel like I have achieved a work-life balance while realising my professional goals.

This is how I did it:

One of the things that many entrepreneurs struggle with is remembering everything they need to do for work. That is why they may end up spending more time at the office. I used to remember things toward the end of my working day, which made me stay back, and lose out on down time. Jotting down my weekly and daily goals helped me stay focused. It ensured I did not spend unnecessary extra working hours. I personally like to jot my tasks down in a notebook, but there are several digital planners with alerts that can help.

I also knew that I had to get my head in the game and a dedicated space and time were going to mentally prepare me with that. I named my office my achievement zone, and I knew that when I stepped into that room, I had a set number of hours to get things done, with no excuses for unnecessary distractions that could deter me or interrupt my mental flow. Track where you waste your time the most. Is it by browsing different pages on the Internet? Is it by socialising?

Distractions are expensive and not easy to overcome. It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being distracted, according to a University of California Irvine study. Mobile phones and social media channels contribute largely to that. When I turned off my mobile notifications at work, I was able to get more work done.

Last but not least, work smarter by not doing all the work. Administrative tasks were what ate most of my time and left me no room to think creatively. If you can’t afford a full-time assistant, hire part-time ones virtually for competitive prices with flexible work options. Investing money on admin help, gave me room to think and I ended up earning more money.

Just like many of my generation, I love working. I love giving back and creating a better world. But what we need to keep in mind is that we shouldn’t pursue that while compromising our health and mental wellbeing. There are ways to work smartly and getting things done without letting work eat up our time.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi