The debate about whether we should work harder or work smarter is a long-standing one. We all want to get as much work done as we can in the shortest possible time. We all want to take the weekend out, spend more time with loved ones, travel to new places, or go skiing. But then, we’ve got goals and deadlines to meet. We’ve got a whole lot of files on our desk to work on, and we are being careful not to screw up anything.
Working crazy-long-hours can be frustrating. And giving up so soon isn’t the best option. So how then can one get the job done and save energy and time for some after-work fun? Easy as can be, learn to work smarter!
Man as a creative genius is gifted with the wizardry ability to always devise better and smarter ways of doing stuff. Over the past few decades, we have witnessed significant advances in technology that have progressively metamorphosed the way we live. Consistently, we have had more cause to create something new to make life more congenial and gratifying.
From smart devices to smart working, and now smart machines, the world is fast evolving into a smart village. The age of flexing muscles, toiling hard and “back-breaking” to get work done is fast going obsolete.
No doubt, working hard pays. Hard work, they say “works harder than luck”. If you want to get better results in your work or business, it’s best to get off your tail and labor for it. Nothing comes easy. You cannot achieve your goals by mere dreaming and brainstorming ceaselessly about it. Not to skip the fact that working hard teaches us discipline, dedication, and determination.
But essentially, there is no inherent glory in working so hard if, in the end, your results are not in tandem with the efforts you put in. There is little or no reward for being the first one in the office and the last one out if you’re only wasting your time in between. The fact is, the world is going smart, and the rest of us can do no more than wheel along with the trend.
Working harder or working smarter? The difference
In the most simplistic terms, hard work means working laboriously to achieve a set goal. Smart work, on the other hand, is a business-savvy approach to workplace flexibility.
It is an integrated and strategic approach to flexible working by utilizing new concepts and technological innovations in workplace design with aspirations for more choice and a more manageable work-life interface.
Working hard and working smart differs basically in the approach used to perform a particular task. However, a combination of both has guaranteed me the best possible results.
For a clearer understanding, Let’s take this simple illustration. Three guys were asked to fill a 10,000-litre reservoir with water from a nearby source.
The first guy starts working as early as 6:am. He fills the reservoir bit by bit using a bucket and a scoop. The second guy reports to work by 10:am, he connects the reservoir to the water body with a thin pipe hose and drives the water using a hand-operated pump.
The third guy reports to work quite late, but makes use of an electrically powered pump with a larger tube hose. Who amongst the three do you think is going to fill the reservoir faster and with less stress? Mr. Third guy right?
It’s only natural that anyone with an average intelligence quotient will go for the option that gets the reservoir filled in the shortest possible time with comparatively less effort applied. And that’s exactly what the third guy did. Though it took him some time to mobilize the “smart tools” he needed to execute the job. But lastly, he was first to finish with more energy and capacity left to relax and also carry out other tasks.
It’s unwise to expend effort and time unnecessarily on a job that can be done better and faster and easier using a different method.
If you want to be successful in your business, you need to work extra hours, wake up early, cut down leisure time and so on. But working smart requires more than just spending long hours on a task. Working smart connotes work efficiency. Work efficiency is just a fancy way of saying that you can get better output with less input.
Instead of working all day, failing to take breaks and expending so much effort on a job, you can think of a better and smarter way to get the job done.
Smart working tactics are designed to help you accomplish goals and complete tasks with less time and effort than you would have spent using a nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
Here, I have outlined 5 best strategies that will help you work smarter and save some time and effort.
Take Time To Think It Through
You have set goals and targets you want to achieve within a time frame. But it’s also essential to re-think your goals, strategies, and challenges from time to time. Sometimes, walking away from the main thing for a few hours (or days) might just be a lot more productive than ceaselessly going back and forth with no headway.
By taking some time to think it through, you may come up with new ideas, breakthroughs, or perspectives that can save you days, weeks, or even months of hard work.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how hard you work when you’re working on the wrong stuff. That’s why, each time you seem to have hit a brick wall, it’s better to take a break, step back, reflect and re-strategize to improve your efficiency and overall productivity.
Use Parkinson’s Law Of Productivity
Parkinson’s Law simply says that “work extends to fill the time available to accomplish it”. This means that if you give yourself a day to execute a two-hour job, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in difficulty and become more challenging.
We will take the entire day to accomplish this relatively minor task. The extra time might not even be filled with more work to improve the quality of the output. Often, the extra time is just filled with more stress, tension and worrying about how to get the job done. Most times, we waste the rest of the time procrastinating rather than doing something useful.
I recall when I used to write exclusively for a personal blog. I took a whole day contemplating what topic I was going to write about. I’d argue hard with anyone that it is impossible to write a good SEO post in less than three days. But then, I started writing professionally as a freelancer, and even with the pressure, I am still able to deliver better quality articles in just a few hours. Same scribe, different levels of output. So what really changed? I bet you, nothing but a mere deadline.
Assigning the right amount of time to a task is pivotal to how efficiently such a task will be executed. If we want to work smarter, we must learn to manage our deadlines effectively. What this means is, we must always find ways to accomplish the tasks within the time limit that we set for ourselves.
Working under the right kind of strain brings out the best in us. We can do amazing things that would normally take us forever to accomplish within a fixed time frame.
Begin With The Harder Tasks
A couple of years back, I worked as a salesman for a distribution company. Every day, I’d set out early with my van fully stocked with goods and headed straight for the company’s biggest buyers. On most days, I was able to meet my daily target within two hours of work! The rest of the day, I used to augment my sales, chat with smaller customers and plan out the next day.
With this strategy, I had no problem achieving my weekly target. While some of my colleagues were on the tenterhooks, I was playing around. Since then, I have applied this same principle across every task and it works perfectly for me.
Begin your day with the most challenging and strenuous tasks and get them out of the way. This task is typically the most important task for the day as well. It’s often the task that adds the most value to your business or company — and if you achieve it, it has the greatest potential on the upside. If you don’t, there might be consequences.
Getting to grips with this task first thing in the morning makes the rest of the day feel like a breeze. On top of that, you no longer have to worry or procrastinate about the job because you have already done it.
Set Daily Goals & Intentions
One of several reasons why so many people are unfocused and struggle to be productive is because they don’t know where to start. Yeah, they know they want to earn more money, get in good shape and grow a business, but that’s sometime in the future. When exactly? “Soon”, they’ll tell you. So what’s right now about? What’s going on today? Despite your long-term goals, when you don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do today, procrastination will kick in.
If you aren’t sure of what you ought to do today, your mind will begin to make other plans. Easier plans, less important plans, plans that aren’t durable but may feel pleasant and rewarding in the short term.
Therefore, always set 1–5 targets per day and write them down so you don’t forget. Be clear and specific about your set goals and make sure they are realistic too. This would help you save time and work smarter.
Take One Task At A Time
Fresh out of college, I had applied for a job as a middle school teacher, and I carelessly included “Multitasking” as a soft skill on my CV without having a clue of its dangerous side. Well, I was puzzled when my interviewer became hellbent to know how exactly I can handle multiple tasks at a time. As at that time, I wasn’t that experienced to understand how counterproductive multitasking can be.
Even though we think we are getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficientDaniel Levitin
Here lies the danger of multitasking. By trying to carry out more than one task at a time, our effectiveness can be compromised.
Research has found that, once we get distracted or switch from one task to another, some of our attention remains stuck in the original activity. “It takes an average of twenty-five minutes to regain full focus on getting back to the main task” — says Sophie Leroy, an assistant professor in the UW Bothel School of Business.
This phenomenon is called ‘attention residue’ which implies that some of your attention is ‘left behind’ at the previous task. Individuals burdened with attention residue function with a reduced cognitive capacity. Unlike computers, the human brain can’t simply shift from task to task and still maintain its full capability.
Multitasking isn’t the best way to stay productive. It’s better to do one thing well than to do many things badly. Work smart by focusing on one task at a time, and when you are done, move to the next.