"Work smarter, not harder" is a phrase that often gets a bad rap. After all, it often conjures up images like that of Homer Simpson using a toy bird to type for him. Putting nuclear meltdown-causing Homer Simpson to one side, most of us could find ways to work smarter.
What about working hard? Surely, it's honorable to work hard to achieve your goals, isn't it? Yes, but there is also a reality that we can only do so many things in a day. That fact doesn't change as your company grows and becomes more successful. All that changes is there are more things to do.
However, there is another, more important factor to consider, and it's about priorities. Is your priority to work hard to achieve your goals. Or is your priority to achieve your goals. If it's the latter, it makes sense to find ways to work smarter.
Let's get on with it then – are you working harder or smarter?
Have you embraced automation?
With the technologies that are available today, there are fewer and fewer repetitive tasks that automation can't do. Therefore, you should be implementing automation across your organization.
This in itself will take some pressure off you as your team will have more time to spend on value-adding tasks. However, the big wins come when you replace the manual tasks you perform with automated solutions.
Your time shouldn't be spent on manual, repetitive tasks that can be automated. You should be focused on the tasks that will drive your business forward.
Are you good at delegating?
Delegation is a crucial skill for all business leaders. By delegating more, you will increase your own productivity as you can focus more of your time on other tasks. You will also make better decisions as you are less likely to suffer from decision fatigue, and you will empower employees.
Are you truly focusing on high-impact tasks?
This point follows on neatly from the previous two. Spending your time doing things that can be automated and/or not delegating enough reduces the time you can spend on high-impact tasks. There is a simple approach you should adopt – if the task is not high-value, you shouldn’t be doing it.
General administration tasks, IT-related tasks, and similar tasks are all examples of things you shouldn't be doing. Your time is too valuable.
Do you need to improve your communication skills?
Miscommunication can cause significant productivity issues in business as it can lead to double work, unnecessary work, and delays. The solution is to improve your communication skills as well as the communication skills of your team. This includes written and verbal communication skills, but listening skills are essential too. By simply communicating better, you will work smarter.
Are your to-do lists small and focused?
Those things at the bottom of your long to-do list are never going to get done. It just won't happen, even when conditions are perfect. What harm does it do to have them on your to-do list, though?
You will be more productive, and you will feel more productive, if you have a short to-do list that you can complete every day. Somewhere between three and five high-impact and important items is about right in most situations. This will keep you focused and moving forward towards your goals.
Are you multitasking?
Multi-tasking at the level you would need to in order to be fully productive simply isn't possible. Our brains are not wired to properly multi-task, particularly when you are working on the things you should be working on, i.e., high-impact tasks. High-impact tasks require full concentration and focus, leaving no room for anything else.
Switching regularly between tasks doesn't help, either. It might feel like you are successfully spinning all the plates, juggling all the balls, or whatever other circus metaphor comes to mind. The reality, however, is that even this form of multi-tasking will slow you down and limit your performance.
Are you still not convinced? Try this exercise from Psychology Today.
Do you understand when it is time to stop?
We all get to a point later in the day or week when our performance levels start to drop. When we get to this point, it becomes harder to concentrate and process information. You might read the same sentence twice, find your mind wandering during a meeting or conversation, read the same sentence twice...
The temptation for many is to press on, particularly CEOs and other business leaders who want to push as hard as they can. This can lead to poor decisions, and it will take you longer than it should to complete tasks.
Therefore, it is important to know when you should stop, take a break, and come back to the task when you are fresher and more alert.
Do you measure results or time?
There is often an imbalance in businesses where there is a focus on time rather than achievements and results. This is harmful from a company perspective, as it can lead to a culture of people being at their desks, often after normal working hours, to present an image of working.
Who is better, though?
- The person who works long hours and delivers average results.
- The person who finishes on time and delivers fantastic results.
It is the latter, of course.
In terms of working smarter, not harder, you need to apply this principle to yourself, i.e., your focus shouldn't be on how many hours you work, but on the results you achieve.
Are your meetings productive?
Meetings can be essential, but they can also be a huge waste of time. Therefore, it can be helpful to do a reset on your approach to meetings. A good starting point is to adopt a policy of questioning the need for every meeting. Always ask yourself if you can achieve the same objectives another way.
If the meeting is necessary, create a full agenda and distribute it to everyone involved. It can even be helpful to ask for comments or contributions as part of this process, as you might be able to make progress on the issues before the meeting even starts.
You should also have a plan that includes keeping the meeting focused on the essential issues, and there should be delegated actions with assigned responsibilities, so you don't have to come back and do it all over again.
Do you manage interruptions?
Interruptions are productivity killers. According to research, an interruption can cost you as much as 23 percent when you are working on a high-impact task. Therefore, managing interruptions is crucially important.
There are things you can do, such as only checking emails at certain times of the day and turning off the notifications on your phone. It is also helpful to communicate to your team the fact that important doesn't always mean urgent.
Working Hard Productively by Working Smarter
As you can see, the points on this list are not about working smarter so you can take lots of time off for leisure activities. After all, working hard is in the DNA of most business owners and CEOs. The key is to work hard productively and within healthy limits by working smarter.
We can help with this at NSI in one crucial area – IT.
Dealing with IT issues in your business is distracting you from more important, high-impact tasks. Plus, it’s impossible to fully optimize your IT as you need to have some time to actually run the business and drive it forward. The solution is to appoint an MSP who will free up your time so you can focus on what matters. Get in touch with us at NSI to find out more.