Work Smart, Work Hard

Hard work is critical to the success of any effort. What we forget is that while hard work is important, it is not as important as working smart.

Working smart means being efficient and effective.

Efficiency is another name for productivity – can you complete in 30 minutes what others take an hour?

Effectiveness is the degree to which you reach your intended goal – suppose your goal for exercise is to walk three kilometers every day, and you achieve it, rain or shine – you are effective.

We may find it overwhelming to achieve both efficiency and effectiveness. What then is the solution? Working smart, not just hard.

Here is my distilled version of what the experts say about working smart.

  1. Stop measuring the time, start measuring the outcomes. Have you wondered why bureaucracy is so slow? A bureaucracy, by default, gives precedence to time over results. Did you show up at the office at 8 AM? Did you leave exactly at 5 PM? The misplaced sense of importance throws accountability out of the window. reports that a new, swanky airport has been ready at Berlin for several years. Simulations have been carried out, signboards installed, everything is ready. Not a single flight has landed or taken off. Please read the fascinating story on BBC’s site.
  2. Focus on what is important. Do you have a “to-do” list? Good. How many items does it have? Anything more than five and you are looking for trouble. Go through the list, ruthlessly strike off all that is unimportant, not urgent, anything that you can delegate, request someone to help – but make sure you have preferably three and no more than five tasks. If you have doubts, re-visit the grid about urgent and important tasks.
  3. Develop an internal Goals, Purpose, and Scope system. Innovation expert Clayton Christensen recalls his days as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. At six feet eight inches, he was a natural pick for the basketball team. The team reached the finals, scheduled over a weekend. Here was the dilemma. Clayton Christensen had vowed not to play on weekends. His coach and friends implored him. Being in the finals was the chance of a lifetime – why not forget the vow just once? Christensen pondered through the night and expressed his regret to the coach and his friends. What if he had broken the vow just once? Forty-odd years later, he argues that there would be other occasions – why not tell a lie, just once? Why not cross the line in ethics, just this once? Why not cheat on the spouse – just this once? Most of us lack this internal GPS to guide us. We are easily tempted to make compromises. It is therefore imperative we develop an internal mechanism to guide us through the turbulence and difficult decisions of life.
  4. Develop a positive attitude. In my previous post, I wrote how your attitude determines your altitude. Don’t hesitate to seek help when you are unwell, or feeling a little down. By the same yardstick, don’t hesitate to offer help to a colleague whenever necessary.
  5. Avoid multitasking like the plague. Nature has not designed our brains for multi-tasking. In the name of multi-tasking, we switch from one task to another, our brain is confused, and productivity suffers. We must develop the discipline to focus on one thing at a time.
  6. Procrastinate in reverse. One school of thought, quoting Northcote Parkinson, says “If you wait till the last minute, it takes only a minute to do.” Remember, Parkinson also said, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Take both pieces of advice and see what you get. Finish the task as quickly as you can, and do something else if you have time left.
  7. Be aware of the paradox of choice. I am sure you have seen Steve Jobs launching the iPod, the iPhone, or the MacAir. Did you watch his dress? Always the same (or similar). Could he not afford more dresses? Could he not wear a suit? Sure, he could. Imagine you have to spend half-an-hour deciding what to wear before an important meeting or presentation. Imagine you have fifty different dresses to choose. Would the decision be easy or difficult? Instead of spending time on things that don’t matter, we must devote precious time on the things that do matter. (Please don’t get me wrong. I am not against wearing an elegant dress. Don’t let your dress become the focus of attention unless it is a fashion show).
  8. Automate as many tasks as you can. There are many productivity tools. Make use of them. Technology can be a boon if you use it properly.
  9. Be aware of the perils of email. Set apart a specific time to attend to e-mail. Don’t stop what you are doing because a mail just came in.
  10. Destress. Develop a routine. Adhere to it. Exercise. Practice yoga. Meditate. You have heard of the 10,000 steps per day rule. Do you know that high achievers like Tim Cook or Larry Page complete their 10,000 steps by 5 AM?

Rich or poor, young or old, we have one resource in common – time. We all have 86,400 seconds per day. We get it every day at midnight, and by midnight the next day, it is zero. We cannot carry it forward. We cannot store it. We must use it wisely.

Start working smart. See the magic happen.

I started this blog with the goal of completing in one hour.

I have finished in 55 minutes. There is room for improvement.

Have I been effective? That is for you to tell.

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