Work Smarter, Not Harder–Here’s How
Tips From The Get-It-Done Guy, Stever Robbins
Despite technology’s promise that someday we’ll work less, we’re working more and taking fewer holidays than ever before. Unless you’re reading this in France. Then, according to The Economist magazine, you win, because you work less than 40 hours a week and take lots of vacations. The rest of us work hard but, well, stupidly. That’s because we work hard at dumb stuff, instead of working smart at the right stuff.
To get the same results quicker, change how you work. Work faster, be more focused, and organize so you can make progress on multiple things at once. (But not by multitasking! Multitasking slows you down.) Happiness happens when productivity enables a higher-quality life, not frantic overachievement.
Work faster. Our first key to working smart is working fast. You’ll have to get into The Zone, bringing your full focus to one task. Then you build momentum until you’re totally cranking.
The Zone hates distractions: email, telephone, visitors, and your self-generated distractions. I know a CEO who blocks out four hours a day for focus time. With a closed door, email turned off, and his phone forwarded to voicemail, he actually gets stuff done. He rarely works all four hours, but blocking out the time guarantees one or two solid hours. Without distractions, he can do big-picture thinking instead of being sucked into details.
Increase focus. If you’re like me, you hardly ever procrastinate–except for the really important stuff. The rubber bands get dutifully sorted by size, but that client proposal? Not so much. Another way to work smarter is to know that being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. When we’re busy, we feel productive, but being productive happens only if we’re producing the results that move our projects forward.
Email is a great way to waste time while feeling productive. If you spend an hour a day on email, that’s 12.5 percent of your time. Unless that 12.5 percent of your time is producing at least 12.5 percent of your results, it’s a low-value-added activity.
The same applies everywhere. The 80/20 rule says 80 percent of your output comes from just 20 percent of your efforts. So what? Well, do the math. If you double the time you spend on real-output-producing activities and stop doing the others, you’ll double your output and spend 60 percent less time! If you started with a ten-hour workday, you’ll get twice as much done in just four hours.
Say no. My favorite 80/20 principle is saying no. Most of us take on more than we can handle. Then our companies lay off 30 percent of the workforce and expect the same output from the survivors. Our overwork gets compounded by dumb high-level decision making.
If you’re working at capacity and someone asks you to take on a new project, say no. If someone proposes a project that will fall in the 80-percent-work-for-20-percent-results category, just say no. Face facts, my friend: There’s a limit to how much you can do. You can manage that limit and do things well, or you can ignore the limit and do a lousy job on everything. The choice is yours.
Work in parallel, but don’t multitask. Multitasking is doing many things at once. Bad idea. But arranging work so many things are happening at once? Good idea. If you and a colleague are writing a report and a marketing plan, you could first write the plan and then the report. But look closely! Your colleague must review the report. So draft the report and send it to your colleague. While she’s reviewing, start on the marketing plan. Both move forward at the same time.
We all work this way to some degree, but a little thought can help you find golden opportunities for parallelism. Delegation, for example. When you delegate something, it keeps moving while you’re working on something else.
Another chance for parallelism is when something is being produced or shipped. The product is en route to your customer? That means more time for you to do other things. But if you putter around with low-priority tasks until you ship last minute, you lose the chance to work in parallel.
Think. Working faster, identifying your 80/20 opportunities, and finding the chance to work in parallel all take thought. So your highest-leverage activity is taking regular time to reexamine how you work. Try spending half of a day every two weeks to build a life and business that are productive. By productive, I mean happiness-producing for you, your family, and your friends. You’ll be happier, you’ll get more done, and you’ll have a life. And that’s what I call working smart.
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