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Optimize & Streamline by Working Smarter, Not Harder

by Julie Miles / October 30, 2023

How many times has this been you? Staying late to finalize a presentation, not taking time to eat lunch just so you can hit a deadline, or responding to emails on the weekend to try and “get ahead?” If you lost track, then you are not alone. Many of us have fallen into the trap of believing working more is the only key that opens that mighty door to success. However, this type of thinking is often ineffective, leading to burnout, lack of innovation, and little to no returns.

So, what can leaders do to foster a culture that empowers teams to work smarter, not harder?

Assess the Big Picture, Then Communicate It

It’s easy for teams to get lost in the weeds of day-to-day tasks. Meetings, emails, presentations – these activities always feel urgent and important. To work smarter, assess the big-picture goal and purpose behind projects first. 

  • Consider where you want your department/organization to be in 1, 5, and 10 years. Share this with your team and align their objectives to the big-picture priorities.
  • Identify key results and milestones that will achieve these long-term goals.
  • Give daily work more meaning by linking individual and team efforts to strategic goals.
  • Redirect as needed if activities go a little too far away from important outcomes.

Connecting individual roles to the underlying vision provides purpose and engagement. When people see how their work leads to big goals, they will be more motivated and focused. Also, talk about how specific projects or tasks map to strategic priorities. This connection gives more clarity when faced with identical requests or nonessential activities. Never leave out the big picture when deciding what initiatives or tasks to take on the next day.

Coach Your Team Out of Perfectionism

How many professionals do you know who don’t want to produce perfect work? Nearly every conscientious professional you know wants to create perfect work, but perfectionism can hinder productivity and innovation. Employees become afraid of making a mistake, so they obsess over minute details, redo tasks, and delay output. Leaders should coach their teams that “done is better than perfect.”  Encourage a growth mindset where mistakes and continual improvements are embraced. You can even share stories about major players that succeeded through repeatedly failing fast and learning. This failing forward mentality nurtures innovation and progress.

  • Make it safe for people to fail fast, collect feedback, and improve.
  • Encourage a growth mindset focused on effort, iteration, and learning over perfection.
  • Set ambitious but rational timelines that balance quality with timely delivery.
  • Praise progress made; don’t wait for perfection to celebrate.

While striving for greatness is respected, perfectionism can be paralyzing. Teach people to notice unhelpful self-talk like “my work has to be perfect” and coach reframing these thoughts to be more enabling. Focus on learning from mistakes and not judgment. Share examples of times you took smart risks that didn’t end the way you hoped but still helped to advance your skills and experience. This helps to turn attitudes away from requiring perfection.

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Strategies for Working Smarter

There are many strategies managers can implement to help their teams work smarter:


Create plans and schedules for projects and tasks. Outline key milestones, deadlines, and responsibilities. Planning reduces uncertainty and keeps efforts aligned with goals. 

  • Ensure clear goal setting and task organization.
  • Establish priorities for efficient time management.
  • Use project planning tools or apps for tracking progress.
  • Regularly review and adjust your plan to stay on course.

Keep To-Do List Only To Essentials

Focus your team’s time on essential priorities that serve strategic goals. Start by identifying non-essential tasks that can be eliminated, delegated, or outsourced. Use the 80/20 rule – 80% of outcomes often come from 20% of activities. 

  • Prioritize tasks based on their importance and deadlines.
  • Eliminate or delegate non-essential or low-priority tasks.
  • Use a simplified list format or task management app.
  • Regularly reassess and update your to-do list.

Focus On One Task at a Time

Our brains process information best with sustained attention on one task. When you minimize distractions, you are setting the stage for deeper focus and work retention. Multitasking reduces quality by dividing attention; give each task careful focus before moving to the next.

  • Minimize distractions by silencing notifications and alerts.
  • Dedicate specific time blocks for focused work.
  • Use techniques like the Pomodoro method for time management.
  • Avoid multitasking to enhance the quality of your work.

Limit Distractions (Like Notifications) To Increase Focus

It’s easy to underestimate how disruptive notifications and alerts can be, draining focus even when you aren’t directly paying attention to them. Turn off non-essential ones during key work periods. Identify the highest productivity times and protect them for deep concentration. Take some time to experiment and find what maximizes focus for you.

  • Establish a designated workspace for concentration.
  • Turn off unnecessary notifications during work hours.
  • Schedule dedicated “focus” time for uninterrupted work.
  • Consider using website blockers and productivity apps.

Avoid Burnout Through Taking Breaks to Rejuvenate

Don’t equate busyness with effectiveness. Demanding excessive hours and “always on” availability quickly leads to burnout. This can be prevented by openly discussing workload in one-on-one sessions. Question sayings like “first one in, last one out.” When performance is judged by hours worked, it incentivizes exhaustion. We recommend focusing on outputs and objectives met. Real breaks place people in a better position to do outstanding work.

  • Incorporate regular short breaks to rejuvenate.
  • Recognize signs of burnout early and address causes.
  • Use breaks for physical activity, meditation, or other renewal.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance to prevent overworking.

Put Tasks in Categories So You Can Check off Multiple To-Do’s at One Time

Categorization brings order to to-do lists that you thought were unmanageable by bunching related tasks. For example, group together meetings, reporting, and emails. Organize lists by category and methodically work through each one to experience momentum. Checking off full categories feels satisfying and energizes you to keep going.

  • Group related tasks by categories or themes.
  • Organize your to-do list by these categories.
  • Take on similar tasks to build momentum.
  • Celebrate progress as you complete full categories.

Use Productivity and Automation Tools

  • Integrate time tracking, task management, and communication tools.
  • Automate repetitive or time-consuming processes.
  • Explore software and apps to streamline efforts.
  • Consider platforms like isolved for enhanced workflow efficiency. To learn more, take a product tour here.

Streamline HR With isolved to Work Smarter, Not Harder

More teams are being asked to do more with less. Constant demands and distractions can lead to burnout and hamper strategic impact. Fortunately, there is a better way. 

With isolved, HR gains efficiency through streamlining workflows with a single integrated HCM platform and enabling self-service for managers and employees to reduce questions, among others. The result is a team empowered to work smarter, not harder. More time is dedicated to high-value priorities like employee development, retention initiatives, and workforce planning.

Are you ready to set the stage for HR to do less administrative “work” and more strategic “thinking?” Are you ready to transform the way your HR team operates and gain back time and mental bandwidth to drive strategic growth? If you answered yes to both questions, contact us to start maximizing efficiency today!

Tags: Employee Performance Agile Workforce effective teams Company Values

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Julie Miles

Julie Miles

Julie’s passion is to act as a liaison between the Platinum team, their wonderful clients, and the community, striving to tell their stories and make connections.