Work smarter not harder

Working ridiculously hard can be an easy habit to slip into. Switching off at the end of a day or taking some time out at the weekend or during scheduled break times can sometimes prove difficult, particularly when being part of your own start up company. The idea of working hard for what we want in life seems to be drummed into us from a very young age. However, as one gets older and progresses careerwise, the phrase work smarter not harder can start to emerge. Of course, the notion of “working smart” is different for every person depending on their own individual goals and definition of success, however there are a few key steps we think you should follow to ensure that you’re maximising the value of your work time whilst ensuring that you’re needlessly burning yourself out.

Take Breaks

On average, your brain is able to remain completely focused for only 90 minutes at a time before needing a rest of at least 15 minutes to adequately replenish its neurological proficiency. By taking breaks every 90 minutes, you allow your mind and body to renew itself, a phenomenon based on the idea of ultradian rhythms. In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more and more blunt the more trees he cuts down. If he were to take the time to stop working, sharpen his saw and then go back to cutting trees, he would find it a lot easier and thus save time and effort in the long run. The analogy is basically saying that sharpening the saw represents preserving your greatest assets, which in our world means keeping your brain sharp through a balanced programme of self preservation, work and adequate replenishment.

Practice Time Management

Smart workers are always aware that time is one of the most precious resources they have. A hard worker may spend hours and hours on a particular task perfecting it down to the very last detail whilst ignoring several other important tasks and finishing the day with only one thing completed. A smart worker on the other hand will plan and use their time effectively, making sure that all necessary tasks are completed. Here’s a few things you can do to manage your time effectively and ensure that you work smarter:

  • Learn the best way to deal with procrastination
  • Don’t let urgent tasks get in the way of important tasks - 20% of important tasks lead to 80% of progress
  • Try to keep multi tasking to a minimum (or eliminate it completely)
  • Remove any unnecessary distractions from your life
  • Manage your energy levels as well as your time
  • Focus on solutions not problems
  • Have a to do list and stick to it
  • Organise your environment for maximum efficiency
  • Always remember to sharpen that saw!

Know what you want (have a vision)

Having a very clear picture about what you want can often be the only detail differentiating you from being mildly successful and supremely successful. Knowing exactly what you want can help you build a more succinct and streamlined strategy which will aid you in making better choices as your career progresses. Whilst hard workers will often invest supreme amount of energy into something and hope that their hard work will pay off one day, smart workers will do the same but know it will pay off because they have envisioned the outcome beforehand, have made the right choices and will not stop until their vision is achieved. In essence, whilst it is important to work hard, it is more important know what it is you’re working hard for.

Have a Positive Mindset

Have you ever heard the phrase “plan for the worst but hope for the best?” Having a positive outlook is essential to being a smart worker for the simple reason that all behaviours associated with negative thinking (complaining, bitching and feeling sorry for yourself) do nothing except hinder your cognitive powers and prevent you challenging your energy into more productive things. If you think about it logically, there is nothing positive or efficient that can come out of negative thinking. This goes for you, the people around you, society and even the world at large. Want to be a smart worker? Deal with your cognitive distortions by listing all the opportunities you have, no matter how difficult your current situation may be, and remember there's always steps to take and progress to be made. Your mind is like a parachute, it only works if its open.

Use the Halo Effect

In Psychology, the halo effect is a phenomenon whereby we end up ascribing more positive personality traits to people who excel at something even if those traits do not exist. For example, in the dating world you might see some people who are particularly beautiful or good looking being attributed better qualities such as high level intelligence or better character than others (I know, unfair right). Luckily you don’t have to be beautiful to take advantage of the halo effect (phew!). All you need to do is excel at something whilst taking care of your personal appearance. Excelling at something increases your self confidence; you value yourself more, have a more positive and robust self image and therefore perform better all round at whatever it is you end up turning your hand to.

In addition to these steps, making a few personal investments within yourself is always advisable. Whilst undoubtedly requiring a strong work ethic, making the decision to follow through with these investments and view them in the right way definitely falls under the umbrella of “working smart.” Some of these include:

  • Acquire as much formal and informal knowledge regarding your chosen field as you can whether that be through education or off your own back.
  • Strive to achieve optimal levels of education in your chosen field; push the boundaries and go beyond your limits in terms of what you think you can achieve in the classroom.
  • Don’t see formal education as just receiving a certificate; use it as an opportunity to network and build relationships with likeminded people
  • Learn how to think for yourself; question everything!
  • Keep up to date with technology and current affairs
  • Keep your creative mind sharp by engaging with art, music, reading and writing
  • Be constantly reading different things, sometimes more than once, and try to develop a different connection with everything you read

Of course, no successful entrepreneur will tell you that following these steps and working smart is an adequate substitute for applying maximum effort to your craft each and everyday. Reaching the top of your respective field is all about striking that vital balance between plugging away during all hours of the day (often when your competition is asleep) and making sure that you're actually working efficiently and productively. Whilst working smart affords us more time, that time is useless unless we put it to optimal use.

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