WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER: APPLICABLE TO ANY BUSINESS
We’ve all heard that it’s important to “work smart,” and not just to work hard. But what does this really mean?
It seems to imply that there are things you can do that will not only help you to achieve great success in your professional life, but that will also allow you to escape the hard work altogether.
Of course, this is a mistaken view and one that you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall prey to.
It’s a good idea to assume that all of your key competitors are working just as hard as you are. If not harder.
However, finding clever techniques that allow you to get more done, better and in less time may give you an edge and be a sustainable way of developing your brand.
An unsustainable approach – and one that many ambitious entrepreneurs experiment with – are working themselves entirely into the ground. Passing up on valuable time for rest, recovery, and social interaction.
The specifics of how you can “work smarter” will depend on your business structure and the field you’re in. It may also depend on your own life circumstances and other additional factors.
Here, though, are a few general principles that are likely to help. These tips can probably be applied quite broadly, and successfully.
1. Arrange for contingencies, so that you can be more self-reliant
The one thing that you can be certain of in business – regardless of the specific details of your career, or your own business model – is that uncertainty is ever-present.
Unforeseen events are always prone to jump out of the shadows at you.
Working smart isn’t just about being extra productive right here, right now.
It’s also about doing what you can to starve off unforeseen events and mitigate whatever damage might be done by them.
One of the best things that you can do to work smarter is to arrange for contingencies. You should do whatever you can to ensure that your business has the capacity to be self-reliant in the face of adversity.
Establishing this kind of self-reliance may mean installing industrial water tanks, or it may mean keeping a list of freelancers and backup suppliers on speed dial.
So, if and when there’s a break in your chain, you can hustle to make quick plans to ensure that things continue to run smoothly.
Of course, another essential part of contingency planning is keeping a financial buffer in place. This will help to absorb unforeseen expenses, rather than being absolutely sunk by them.
If your budget doesn’t allow for any such “rainy day” savings, there is every possibility that your business might be taken out by a moderate catastrophe at some stage.
At the very least, such an event would be significantly more likely to derail your plans. It might also render you largely unproductive, for an extended period of time.
2. Follow the 80/20 rule – Avoid doing anything that doesn’t yield a significant benefit for the investment of time involved
The 80/20 rule is the principle that says that around 80% of your results will come from around 20% of your actions. This rule applies to any given endeavour.
At first, this rule sounded arbitrary. Currently, it’s a widely respected heuristic in business circles and seems accurate enough that it’s worth taking seriously.
One thing you can count on is that there are never going to be enough hours in the day to do everything that you could conceivably do to your business.
That’s because there is an infinite number of different approaches you might hypothetically try, and different initiatives you might hypothetically invest in, that might confer some kind of benefit or another.
Following the 80/20 rule and focusing only – or, almost only – on those core 20% activities, allows you to free up an extraordinary amount of time, money, and energy, that might have been frittered away on largely unproductive activities.
Yes, this does mean that you will deliberately leave certain opportunities on the table.
But, the key is that you are likely going to be much more effective in the areas where you do earnestly apply your focus.
You can also expect that the payoff will likely be more than enough to justify the slightly myopic perspective.
All of these are essentially to say that if you’re a “Jack of all trades” you’re “the master of none.”
Better to be the master of one, or two, if you want to work smart and achieve as much as you possibly can with your business.
3. Outsource, using virtual assistants and freelancers
Following on from the theme of the previous point – you have a finite amount of time available to you, and you also have a finite amount of mental and physical energy.
As Warren Buffett has reportedly said; “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
A good “work smarter” solution to this basic problem, is to outsource as many tasks as you can. You can use virtual assistants and freelancers who are able to operate via the web, on a per-project basis.
To a large extent, the modern digital “work smart” movement has been pioneered by Tim Ferriss – specifically through his book “The 4-Hour Work Week.”
In that book – now written a good few years ago – Ferriss mentioned some remarkable benefits. He found the services of a web-based virtual assistant to handle tasks for him. Tasks like preparing presentations, booking appointments and handling basic admin duties.
These days, there are more of these types of services available than there were when the book was written. More by far.
Additionally, you can find an extraordinary number of freelancers, specializing in an extraordinary number of different fields. Check services such as Fiverr, and have them working for you within days if not hours.
4. Plan out each day on a calendar – and use a calendar as your “to-do list”
One smart working tip that gets recommended quite often by “productivity-hackers” is to pass up on the traditional daily to-do list. Instead, they add to-dos straight to their calendars.
You could use a service like Google calendar, or an analogue daily planner. Then, schedule how you’re going to spend your time, hour by hour.
There are several benefits to doing things this way as opposed to using a to-do list.
For one thing, it helps you to avoid the all-too-common mistake of putting more on your plate than you can handle.
Perhaps, it helps you to focus on one thing at a time than jumping back and forth between tasks.
When you’re planning your day out on a calendar, it’s unlikely that you’re going to try squeezing four different sessions into a single hour. You’re not likely to constantly skip back and forth between different tasks.
5. Don’t multitask
As an entrepreneur, one of the most important things to do to work smarter is to be aware of your core strengths and to leverage those to the greatest extent possible.
You want to spend as much time as you possibly can. You want to work as deeply as you possibly can. Possibly on those domains of your professional life where you – personally – are likely to make the greatest impact.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that other tasks won’t still need to get done. And yet, hiring full-time employees to handle those other tasks may not be tenable for a variety of reasons. This may range from office space to financial resources.
It’s well known that multitasking is nowhere near as efficient or effective as people think it is. The chronic multitaskers actually perform worse than their highly-focused counterparts.
When you stay focused, you will tend to book significant chunks of time for your core tasks. This will help you to remain maximally productive and effective.
6. Use a system like David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method for tracking your projects
The name “David Allen” is legendary in organizational and productivity circles, thanks to his innovative “Getting Things Done” system for project and task management.
To oversimplify the system – it involves recording all of your “incoming” obligations and ideas in one place. Then, assign them all to different project categories.
You can take the time to identify the “next action” for each project out of those listed.
This system – or one that is similar to it – helps you to keep your thoughts organized.
It puts you in a position where you are always “ready to go,” as opposed to having to spend precious time each day sitting down and racking your brains trying to get a sense of how best to pursue your professional aims, and which action to focus on first.
In conclusion, hard work will always be essential for long-term success. Especially in a professional context – and, for that matter, in life, in general.
If this wasn’t the case, everyone would just read a couple of informative listicles, and become overnight millionaires and industry leaders.
The key point is that “working smarter” allows your hard work to have a greater impact. It also gives you a bit more room to breathe, without burning out entirely.
What smart work hack have you tried recently? 😉