hard workOne major challenge that many small businesses and solopreneurs face (especially when they work from home!) is disorganization. They may have put in a full day ‘working’, but at the end of it, they’ve got 6 projects at various stages of completion, but nothing finished. So, if this is something that you struggle with, here are a few tips to help you work smarter, not harder:

(1) List it
One complaint (or rather, excuse) that I hear all too frequently is that ‘I work X hours a day (insert some number less than 24 but higher than an average 8 hour work day) and I just can’t complete this project on time’. But the real issue isn’t a lack of time, it’s the time they spent on the wrong tasks.

So, if this sounds like you, before you start your work week, make a list of absolutely everything that you need to do, from the smallest task to the biggest project to each meeting or appointment. When your mind is racing with everything that needs to get done, it can feel overwhelming and ultimately, may cause you to shut down altogether. Just the simple act of writing out all of your to-dos will free your mind to focus on your work and help ensure that no task or project slips through the cracks. Plus, there’s nothing better than crossing a task off of the list once it’s completed!

(2) Prioritize it
Once you have your to-do list written up, prioritize it! This is a major key to working smarter and where most people fall short. They’ll start working on a fun, new project that has a deadline in 3 weeks instead of completing the not-so-fun project due tomorrow.

So, take your to-do list and prioritize it according to the most pressing and time-urgent tasks first. Continue ordering your list with the tasks that generate revenue, garner new clients/customers and solve problems. All other non-urgent and non-revenue generating tasks should be moved to the end of the list (or ideally, delegated/outsourced to someone else, if possible!).

And as a bonus tip, if there’s a particular project or task that you’ve been dreading or procrastinating on that you can’t delegate, move it to the top of the list! Getting it out of the way first will take a load off of your mind, reduce your stress levels and make you more energized when tackling your next to-do task!

(3) Schedule it
After you have your list prioritized, schedule your time out accordingly. Plan out your schedule at the start of each week and be strategic about it. If you have to write a blog post and know that you are more creative at night, don’t schedule it as your first task of the day- you are setting yourself up for failure if you do so.

Set concrete time blocks for each task and if you have trouble sticking to a schedule, use a timer or alarm clock to help you. I personally use Microsoft Outlook for calendar reminders and list tracking. And make sure to schedule time for breaks, checking emails/social media, workouts, etc. These kinds of distractions are a major factor for those that feel like they don’t have enough time to complete their work, so blocking out specific periods of time will help eliminate the desire to constantly check social media accounts, etc. when you should be working on something more urgent.

What other tips do you have for working smarter, not harder? Please share them below.

*Disclosure- Carol Roth has a client relationship with Microsoft.

Thanks to Eric Levy of YourNeighborhood, Charlie Gasmire of Vendevor, and Nellie Akalp of CorpNet.com for the inspiration behind some of these ideas.