Work Smarter

Most people work hard every day, are committed and perform well – but do not work smart.

This is because most people, regardless of education level, have never been taught how to work. Instead, they have developed work habits that are not the most efficient and effective ones.

We are not born naturally effective, although in my research there are studies that show some have a default setting enabling them to ignore the chaos and just get on with it. The rest, however, must learn the principles and practice them until they become habits.

I hear constantly from my team and clients that one of their biggest frustrations is finding themselves at the end of each day having worked hard on a lot of small crises but having not had the time to focus on any of their big-ticket items. They appear to be extremely busy and stressed but in reality, have not done much at all. If this is you, then it’s time for a change.

The impact of our lack of efficiency and effectiveness does not stop in the workplace. When I talk to people about what they would like to do if they were more in control of their time, most of the items are personal. Common responses are:

  • Come home earlier to see my kids
  • Have more time to look after my health
  • Avoid bringing my work stress home
  • Avoid waking up at night thinking about what I forgot to do

I find it interesting that none of these reasons for wanting to be more productive are profit or business result driven. As workers I believe that our general goal is to get our work done so we can spend time doing other things. If you are struggling with motivation, make the change personal not business related.

There are two steps to making a change:

  1. Own it – realise and take note of inefficiencies & ineffective practices
  2. Fix it – work on simple ways to improve performance and work life balance by challenging work habit

Efficiency – doing things right (how)
Effectiveness – doing the right things (what)


There is so much literature and media showing different methods to ‘declutter’ and organise your personal items. For someone like myself these are a nightmare to read and watch. The copious number of items these people have is just mind boggling and no organising system is going to sort out the behaviour behind this type of clutter. They need a therapist, not little boxes.

A close friend suggested I write about how to minimalize, considering my place looks like we have just been robbed! The book wouldn’t be very long – declutter (donate or dump) and then don’t accumulate more things. If you need to buy products to help you organise (boxes, storage items etc) you have too many things.

I am aware that this is a very simplistic view and I can hear all the ‘what about my kids’ artwork from 7 years ago’ and other comments coming but it is just that simple.

Moving on, lets focus on decluttering the workplace.

A cluttered desk and Inbox, a cluttered mind

My desk has a phone, computer peripherals, lined notepad, water bottle and my pencil case. No trays, no work from months ago or random stationery you use once a blue moon. Admittedly, we are a paperless office, so I rarely have client files or documents on my desk as they are scanned into the system. Because of this I have multiple screens. If you have something electronic don’t print it, learn to utilise multiple screens. Try and get through your workday with a little less of a footprint on our amazing planet. Is that report that important? I bet you printed it and binned it in the same day. I can empathise as a ‘40 something’ how adjusting to not having paper is difficult. When we started our working lives, it was all paper based – but seriously, just get with the times and move on.

Having a clean desk policy not only makes your work environment look nice it helps you remain focused on the tasks in front of you. The same policy goes for having 50 windows open or a drive overloaded with documents.

Get into the habit of setting up your physical and electronic environment to be inducive for productivity.

Electronic Filing Mayhem?

Your electronic filing system should be so logical and make sense for you and your business, that it will be easy to respect and maintain. Your filing system should relate to how you see your role and the different hats you wear in your job.

Be honest Will I need it?

Be ruthless When was the last time I used it? What is the worst thing that can happen if I throw it out?

Be smart Can I find it easily somewhere else?

When naming a soft document, give it a label so clear and simple that you don’t have to open the document to know exactly what is inside. Also, consider that you may need to use the explorer search feature in the future, so don’t label 100 documents ‘client workpapers’ use the clients name and year as well.

If you are an employee or in a position where you are not in control of the electronic filing system in your workplace and it is inefficient, be the one to instigate change. I guarantee you that there will be countless others that feel the same way, but no one is bothered to do anything about it. Make it your project!

Also, keep in mind these types of changes take an investment of time and energy. At Nurture, the transition to paperless (which was my baby a few years ago) took a good 4 months of my time standing in the filing room opening and sorted every single client paper file. My staff supported me with the archiving and scanning yes, but I touched and decided on every piece of paper. This was tough, not only was I riddled with papercuts, but I felt very unproductive. Skip forward to now, we don’t generate or create the paper in the first place and will never have to go through this process again. We have less risk of losing documents, spend less time locating documents and have less storage requirements (two spare rooms to be exact).



Stress is not linked to the amount of work we have.

Stress is linked to the way you manage your workload.

5 Minute Rule

The 5 Minute Rule (sometimes referred to as the One Touch One Decision Rule) is a workflow method I personally use on a day to day basis at work and at home. This is a method that not only is easy to implement but can have a significant impact on your productivity and stress levels almost immediately.

If you can practise this principle until it becomes second nature this will be extremely valuable.

The logic is simple:
You need to make a decision as soon as you touch an email or a document or think about an idea. It does not mean you need to do it, you just need to decide what you will do and when.

Less than 5minutes? Do it immediately.

More than 5minutes? Decide when you will do it and schedule. Estimate amount of time you will need, go into your calendar, task app or notebook and schedule the tasks for a specific date and time.

Once you have decided to do it now or schedule it now, remove the email/piece of paper and advise the person of your intention (quick response with your timeframe can stop future headaches).

Make the decision and either delete or file the document. The only items in your inbox or in-tray, should be items you have not yet applied this rule to.

When you arrive home do you check the letterbox, open the letter, read it and then put it back in the letterbox thinking ‘I’ll deal with this later’ no!


It is important to take notice of the difference between interruption and distractions.

Interruption is caused by someone else and distraction is caused by you.

Reduce interruptions:

YOU decide. Ask the person to come back later or make a time to go through things with them. Start a list (batch communication). Daily, weekly or monthly set up calendar items and add items to the meeting during that time.

Create non-interrupted time:

If you are working on a key project or doing something which will have a high impact on your business, turn off your phones, close your inbox and focus.

Reduce Distractions:

1. Capture/write it down.

We start to work on something and suddenly remember a phone call we have to do. We either make the call and completely break our focus or decide to do it later and keep the idea playing in the back of our mind.

As soon as you think about something you need to do, simply write it down. Don’t let the thought go back into your subconscious. Use a mini notebook you carry everywhere or an app in your phone. On a daily basis, review your list while in your office. Apply the 5-minute rule.

2. Clean desk policy

Outlook is a much better task manager than your desk. Your desk doesn’t tell you when to do something and how long it will take.

Apply the 5-minute rule to your incoming work and remove.


Eliminate unnecessary meetings. You need to be protective of your time and carefully select the meetings you will accept.

Assess the right amount of time required. We so often book one-hour meetings when they are not required.

Have an agenda and stick to it.

After a meeting make sure you take five minutes to plan your next steps so everyone knows what they are doing. Remember the 5minute rule.


Be honest with yourself – Write down which time wasters are the most applicable to you.

You can do this for home and for work. Identify the biggest 2 or 3. Once you are clear on this, write down what do you need to do to improve. Improvement does not need to be complex. Simple strategies often get big results. In 21 days’, time, see how you are going and if you notice changes to you stress and productivity.

If not, then go back and review the strategies and perhaps what is stopping you from improving. Make sure that you inform those around you of your intentions, colleagues, friends and family. Having support is the key to making any changes to behaviour. Good Luck!!

Need help with your business? Speak to the team at Nurture Accounting