You’ve probably heard it at least once from a well-intentioned and overly enthusiastic motivational speaker: Work Smarter Not Harder!

“Sure, sure – that’s all fine and good,” you think, “but how do I actually go about doing it?”  

Changing the way you approach your work can feel like you’re trying to learn a new language – overwhelming, to say the least. You know that it’ll help you in the long run, but the work seems so…big that the challenge becomes where to start.

Luckily for you, we’ve compiled a short list of easy-to-incorporate tips to help you get the most out of your day by working smarter not harder.

Start selling online now with Shopify

Start your free trial

Who Said Work Smarter Not Harder?

Any seventh-grade history teacher will tell you that the industrial revolution was a turning point in how the world manufactured goods. When mass production moved into the factories, people called “industrial engineers” devoted their time to streamlining each process to make it as efficient as possible. 

One particular industrial engineer named Allen F. Morgenstern coined the phrase “work smarter not harder” in the 1930s, but the concept has been around for a long time. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Ford all precede Morgenstern but are well-known for their dedication to work smarter not harder.

→ Click Here to Launch Your Online Business with Shopify

If you’re looking for entrepreneurs who are well known for their smarter ways of working, you can look no further than Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates.

work smarter like elon musk

How to Work Smarter Not Harder: 10 Tips

1. Know thyself

Not going to lie – as I sat down to write this article (the first time…) I pulled out my computer at around 8:30 pm and stared at the prompt for an embarrassingly long time without typing a single word. Finally, I just decided to call it quits for the night, and when I opened things up again first thing in the morning, it felt like my brain was on fire with all different ideas and angles.

Whether you’re a morning bird (like me) or a night owl (like my spouse), you need to work on your most thought-consuming tasks when your brain is at its peak. That may mean that your schedule deviates from what’s considered “traditional,” but if it works best for you, that’s what matters!

2. Cut the clutter

We’ve all had that coworker – the one with stacks on stacks on stacks of paperwork piled around the computer and sticky notes littering the corkboard and floor around the trash can. Having a physically cluttered workstation gunks up your ability to work quickly and effectively.

Similarly, a cluttered virtual workstation (having a thousand tabs open and a desktop covered with programs and files) can cause unnecessary stress and panic. Do your research and figure out an organizational system that will help you cut the clutter from your work life and free up some mental space.

3. Take legit breaks

Do you remember the days when you had to find a place with a telephone in order to make a call and wait a full two minutes for the internet modem to kick on? Nowadays, there is so much tech and speed right at our fingertips that “being busy” is sometimes equated with “being productive.”

One of the best ways to work smarter not harder is to take a legit break! That means you put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and don’t make exceptions. Set a timer for five or ten minutes every two hours where you put your head down for a power nap, take a short walk outside, or read a few chapters of a book, and you’ll be astounded by how well you can focus afterwards. 

Another pro tip: while fiddling on your phone may seem relaxing, the best way to use these breaks is to steer clear of technology altogether. Calling your mom or texting your friend is acceptable, but answering personal emails, browsing social media, or perusing websites are better saved for your lunch break.

work smarter not harder

4. Outsource the nitty gritty

How much time do you spend answering emails, scheduling meetings and posting social media updates? Compare this to the time you spend on core activities that add value to your business. The problem with “doing it all” is that you get less opportunity to focus on new ideas and strategies. Time is money in entrepreneurship, so it’s best to outsource repetitive tasks or those least essential to your objectives. 

Imagine you are an ecommerce entrepreneur and need to update product listings. You can either hire a virtual assistant or spend whole days tweaking product titles, changing prices, etc. Doing the latter is what you’d call working harder not smarter. Outsourcing to a VA will save you time and money on having to do mundane tasks, so you can focus on big picture stuff that will help drive your business forward.

What you can outsource:

  • Administrative tasks
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Specialist tasks (like web design and SEO)

5. Adjust your tools

Frederick Taylor, one particularly famous industrial engineer that worked for Bethlehem Steel in 1909, discovered that the workers increased productivity fourfold just by adjusting the size of their shovels relative to the material they were scooping.

Similarly, you need to use the right tools for your business. Start by investing in a high-quality mouse, keyboard, webcam (if you do video conferencing), and headphones. Wasting time fiddling with cheap tech just eats up your day, so do your research to find tech that will meet your needs. You should also carry a power strip with you wherever you go, so you don’t have to hunt for multiple outlets.

If you struggle with leaving notes and ideas scattered across various notebooks and sticky notes, consider getting a thin, lightweight digital notepad that automatically sends your notes to the cloud. It still gives you the feel of paper and pencil, but it will save you time transcribing or scanning your notes later.

To go along with that, always have a separate physical backup for your files – just as a precautionary measure. Cloud drives fail and sometimes the internet doesn’t work, so having a physical backup can save you time and give you peace of mind. Yet another way to work smarter not harder.

smarter ways of working

6. Consider batching

I’ll be honest: When I launched my first online business, a Shopify fashion store, I was a slave to multi-tasking. My to-do lists consisted of various little tasks that had me switching between daily business activities. So, for example, I would write a product description, then grab my phone to update the store’s Instagram, and then go to the Orders page to manage new orders. But there was no cohesion, as I was constantly shifting my attention from one task to the next. Fortunately, things become streamlined after I discovered one simple trick: by batching my tasks, I can get more done – quickly and efficiently.

If you aren’t familiar with batching, it’s the act of grouping similar tasks together. For example, let’s say you’re writing Instagram captions to use in your posts. Instead of writing one caption, integrating it into a post, and publishing it, you would write captions for 10-20 posts in one go and then schedule them to be published at specific times. Batching helps you focus on the same task so that you can do it efficiently without distractions. And this is how it lets you work smarter not harder.

You can use batching for your work, meetings, and even household chores like cooking and dishwashing.

7. Use apps

Some of the biggest names in the entrepreneurial world have made their fortune by looking out for small, upcoming ideas that would make their lives easier. Bill Gates, for example, bought DOS (what would become the operating system for Microsoft) for a measly $50,000, so he didn’t have to write one himself. 

You might not have 50k to throw down, but you can keep an eye out for new and updated apps that will make your life easier. Some apps that are particularly helpful to the entrepreneur include Evernote (a notetaking app), Insightly (a delegation and task app), Grammarly (a proofreading app), Basecamp (a time-management app), scanner apps for your phones, Pocket (a bookmarking app), and Dropbox (a secure file-sharing app). 

Many of these apps have a pared-down trial version, but even the subscription fees are nothing compared to the amount of time and energy these apps can save you. To keep on top of the new apps and updates, set a reminder on your phone to search “best apps for the entrepreneur” on your favorite search engine. Big name companies update their app recommendations all the time, which will save you the time in researching on your own.

work smarter

8. Say no more often

If you’re anything like me (a people pleaser), then you’re probably forcing yourself to do things that you simply don’t have time for. If you want to work harder not smarter, stop! Because if you are constantly saying yes to others, you will likely try to fulfill their requests, overwhelm your schedule, and burn out. Learn to say no, and save yourself a large chunk of time that you can gear towards something really important to you and your business. 

How can you say no without offending the other person? Before you hit that send button on your email, come up with a response that’s firm yet emphatic. For example, you can say something like, “Great to hear from you. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough space on my schedule to accommodate your request.” Also, feel free to throw in a suggestion or two about how they can get the task done effectively without your help (this will make you look like an effective problem solver). 

Pro tip: If you are still keen to help people out, post a status update announcing that they are welcome to approach you at a specific time slot once or twice a month. This way, you can achieve the status of a helpful person in both your professional and personal network. At the same time, you get to avoid any unnecessary distractions that drain your energy and interfere with your schedule.

9. Pause and reflect

This might sound counterproductive, but pausing is one of my favorite ways to work smart. I find that when I take a step back from the daily grind, I’m able to reflect on my progress. This gives me a chance to determine where I can improve and what I should keep on doing to advance professionally. You can leverage this strategy if you’ve been working hard but haven’t made any real progress toward your goals.

Ways to pause:

  • Go on a vacation
  • Pick up a new hobby
  • Write a journal

10. Don’t sweat over little things

My last tip is to sucker punch life’s little annoyances. When something small threatens to hamper your productivity, think about the fact that everyone faces inconveniences. So, rather than fretting and sighing, try to grin and bear the nuisance. Someone cut you off in the supermarket queue? Smile and act like it’s a no biggie. Waiting a few extra minutes should not make a big difference in your life. Let go of the small stuff, and focus on what’s truly important, such as your business, health, and financial wellbeing.

What if you’re unable to shrug off frustration or negativity? Take a moment to step away and clear your thoughts. Chances are you won’t be contemplating over it 15 to 20 minutes later. If you’re home, try engaging in a relaxing activity that prevents you from reflecting on things that cause you stress.

relax to work smarter


When it comes to work, it may seem tempting to hustle or burn the midnight oil, but there are far better ways of getting things done. As you begin to work smarter not harder, you will experience a significant boost in your daily productivity. Use these ten strategies to help you in business, life, and side gigs. The moment you adopt smarter ways of working is the moment you decide to become more efficient.

What strategies do you use to work smarter? Let us know in the comments below. 

Start selling online now with Shopify

Start your free trial

Want to Learn More?