Everyone has been told “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten”. But in today’s harsh economic climate, is this still true?

If you always do what you have always done, the chances are that you will not get what you have always got — you will get less. Why? It’s because your competitors are trying harder. The goalposts have moved and if you don’t do things differently, you will actually be moving backwards, relative to others.

The reward for the same effort will be smaller. So what should you do? The obvious answer is to work harder at what you do. The less obvious answer is to work smarter at what you do. Here are five ways to work smarter:

1. Set yourself one goal

Yes, you want to have several goals, and that is fine, but set one primary goal — a goal that you really must achieve. This can be a long-term goal, a medium-term goal or a short-term goal. If it is a substantial goal, break it down into smaller goals, with timelines, so you can see how you are progressing towards your primary goal. Have other goals by all means, but do not lose sight of the primary goal.

2. Get organised

Everybody knows this, but how organised are you? How many of the tasks that you do are duplicated? How often do you mislay documents (printed or electronic?) and spend too much time looking for them — or worse still, rewriting them?

Organise your filing systems, especially your electronic files. Give each of your electronic files a sensible name and the date that you saved it. Don’t call it “Jane’s file”, call it “Jane’s work plan — 12/2/2011”.

That way, you have got a fighting chance of finding it again. If you share files with other people, a sensible file name will save time.

Clear your desk and work with the papers that you need at that time. Do not surround yourself with papers and Post-It notes that will distract you from the task in hand.

3. Delegate

What tasks can you delegate to others? Do you have a virtual assistant? Concentrate on doing the things that you are good at and delegate other specialist tasks to others who can do them quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Can’t afford to do that? What about trading work? You help someone and he helps you. This doesn’t work in all situations but you will be surprised how often it can work — just try.

4. Plan your work

This is something else that people know they should be doing but how many people really plan their days, weeks and months? How many objectives do you set for yourself? Don’t go overboard and plan everything down to the finest detail (especially your leisure time) but do give yourself a chance by thinking about what you need to do. Write a plan, however brief. If you don’t know where you are going, you will never know when you get there.

5. Do one thing at a time

This follows on from the second point discussed above. It is very easy to get distracted — social media like Facebook and Twitter can eat into your valuable time if you let them (and you often do, don’t you?)

If you have a portfolio career or work on several projects simultaneously, it is very easy to get distracted. The phone may ring and someone needs to ask you a question about a project you are not working on at the time.

Answer the question and then get back to the project you were working on without meandering off and wondering why the person asked you the question.

Do the important tasks before the easy ones (and the ones you like doing). Do not put things off. So don’t always do what you have always done — do something smarter!