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If you’re constantly looking for ways to improve your productivity, you’ve probably read hundreds of articles to tell you exactly how – probably at the expense of being more productive!

Productivity has very little to do with working harder, either. You’ve probably noticed how some people can achieves miracles in eight hours, whereas others are barely out of the starting blocks and still replying to their work emails and writing their to-do list. The key is working smarter, and it can sometimes take us a long time to wake up to that.

1. Work less

If you find you only have two to four creative hours in your working day, and you simply coast through the rest, you’re not alone. Authors, painters, scientists, musicians and the like are no different, and usually more aware that there are limits on their creative usefulness in an average day. This means that there are only 10 to 20 hours in the average week available to you for peak idea creation before you start to zone out. Identify when those hours are for you, and don’t attempt to push yourself beyond them – use the rest of your working day to blitz those emails and phone calls, and switch off the distractions to make the most of your productivity sweet spot.

There’s even evidence to suggest that if you try to push yourself beyond those 10 to 20 hours a week, you actually end up reducing your productive hours and even further behind than you would have been in the first place.

2.Work smarter

If you’re allocating less time to the clever stuff, that means finding ways to work smarter. You might be lucky enough to know or work with someone who already has this worked out. In which case, either copy what they do, or sit down and have a chat with them, bearing in mind that in the end, everyone has to find their own way.

If everyone else around you is also treading water, read a few books dedicated to the subject. However, bear in mind that although you can learn to play the piano in theory from reading a book, you actually need to put your fingers on the keys to make that work. Don’t forget to try things out and see if they work for you.

3. Work braver

This might seem a strange one – why should courage come into it? Simple. It’s easy to read what might appear to be the simplest of productivity hacks and say “that will never work for me” because it would require a leap of faith, or even a change of process. We’ve actually evolved this way; our ‘business decisions’ 10,000 years ago involved hunting animals to survive, and whilst a new tactic might mean there was enough meat for the whole tribe to feast on indefinitely, the wrong call would mean dead hunters.

Trying a new way of working now isn’t – within obvious boundaries – going to kill you, especially if it means you can focus on one thing rather than scatter gunning your energies and guaranteeing failure.

Courage and focus over fewer hours might just make you the most productive you have ever been.