How to Work Smarter Not Harder

Do you want to learn how to work smarter rather than harder? It’s a common misconception that the successful people of the world are more talented than you and me. I can assure you that’s not necessarily the case.

This is often an excuse we tell ourselves to lower our personal expectation of success and protect our egos from disappointment and failure.

The logical follow on to that way of thinking is to tell ourselves the only way we can be more successful is to work harder.

We’ve got 2 problems with this idea.

Firstly, most of us are working hard and flat out and increased hours doesn’t equal greater performance (think quality not quantity).

Secondly, there are a limited number of hours in each day so that means sacrificing more leisure and family time.

I don’t know about you but in my opinion that’s the road to unhappiness and not the route to success!

Elimination Planning  

Successful people are masters of eliminating the unnecessary. They focus on the important tasks.

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery is credited with saying ‘Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away’.

The secret to success would therefore seem to be in what we DON’T spend our time doing.

This idea was built on by Kevin Williams in an article written for Intelligent Change.

He says we should be asking ‘What is causing me to be unproductive?’ rather than ‘How can I increase productivity?’

To eliminate the obstacles to your productivity and ultimate success you need a plan to eliminate them, following a 5 step plan;

  1. What are you trying to improve?
  2. What’s your current process for what you’re trying to improve?
  3. Where are the biggest bottlenecks in your process?
  4. What could you do to eliminate of improve those bottlenecks?
  5. Choose 1 bottleneck to focus on each week and aim to reclaim 1 hour back per week

That adds up to 52 recovered hours per year for you to devote to more productive activities!

To become more productive we need to have a baseline measurement of where we’re currently at to compare against.

3 specific examples could be;

  1. I spent 10 hours this week checking emails
  2. In 10 hours, I turned out 1 article
  3. I spent 5 hours in meetings.

Let’s take example 1 and build on it with the 5 step plan.

  1. What are you trying to improve? I’m trying to spend less than 10 hours per week checking emails
  2. What’s your current process for what you’re trying to improve? Emails are currently checked randomly each time a screen notification is received
  3. Where are the biggest bottlenecks in your process? A belief that emails need to be checked and responded to immediately
  4. What could you do to eliminate of improve those bottlenecks? Batch emails so they’re only checked at 3 set times of the day (confirm with your boss this is acceptable)
  5. Choose 1 bottleneck to focus on each week and aim to reclaim 1 hour back per week. Put the plan into action then rinse and repeat with the next issue the following week.

Energy Blocks

The 24 hours that we’re given each day can be broken down into 96 energy blocks of 15 minutes each according to getpocket.com.

We’re not robots so all of those blocks can’t be productive. We need time to sleep and also time with friends, family and for general ‘living’. As soon as you lose balance between these blocks you set yourself up for trouble, maybe not immediately but there’s always a payback.

We can split our 24 hour day into 96 Energy Blocks of 15 mins each but we need an even balance between Sleep / Work / Family & Friends time
We can split our day into 96 Energy Blocks of 15 minutes each

Based on a healthy balanced split as we have in the chart, there are 32 Energy Blocks (8 hours) available for productive time so you have to be focussed.

Time and Energy spread over 10 tasks will not achieve the progress you want
Time and Energy spread over 10 tasks will not achieve the progress you want

Spending our 32 blocks across 10 tasks may look like this but isn’t how successful people would approach the work.

They realise the critical importance of ‘FOCUS’

To follow a more focussed approach, start by writing down all of your tasks.

Then rank them by choosing 1 task as most important and 2 others as secondary.

All others can stay on the list but are classed as additional tasks only to be tackled when the first 3 are complete.

It’s tough but you must be ruthless. Both energy and time are scarce resources.

Focussed Energy on 3 Tasks is the Key to Success
Focussed Energy on 3 Tasks is the Key to Success

The result is that actions you believed to be most important to move your life forward have been advanced. It follows that your life will then advance in the right direction and at a better pace.

Experiment with Parkinson’s Law

In 1955 Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, made the statement that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

If you’re given a week to complete a task, guess how long it will take? A week (at least)!

He had first hand experience of the bureaucracy of the British Civil Service!

There is a cultural element in the limiting belief that working harder is somehow better than working smarter and faster.

People are also prone to overcomplicate things or to build in a comfort buffer to avoid failure to hit a deadline.

To apply Parkinson’s Law to your task list, decide on the time to allocate to complete each one.

Then half that time and that’s your deadline!

Let’s say you estimate something will take 4 hours to complete.

Give yourself a strict deadline of 2 hours and go for it!

I find it best to work in bursts of 25 minute sessions, stopping for 5 mins to walk away from my desk, stretch or maybe get a drink. Then go again for another 25 mins and so on……

Even if you complete the task in 3 hours in our example you’ve gained an extra hour……precious time!

Remember FOCUS = SUCCESS  

Here’s to your success……..!

For more tips on managing your time and increasing your productivity, check out my post entitled ‘How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed’


2 thoughts on “How to Work Smarter Not Harder”

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