As we introduce this topic, please don’t feel offended, we’re not intimating that you or others don’t work smart, but we are interested in how to help people work smarter, get better results and do it with less stress and frustration. Because let’s face it, when most of us talk about “working smarter” we are feeling some level of frustration at work. Let me give you some examples:
So how do you fix it? What’s the best route to take to get yourself and those that work for you to work smarter?
There may be no one single best approach, but we have found these 5 strategies to all be effective in helping people work smarter. We’ve seen significant jumps in performance within 10 weeks, as evidenced by increased ability to hit deadlines on what’s critical. It’s definitely possible to have rapid results, so our suggestion is to use all 5 approaches outlined below – after all, who wants to feel frustrated at work? Let’s dive in and walk you through each of these strategies, and please note, each activity is supported and leveraged by using ManagePro.
1. Work based on 80/20 priorities
Let’s borrow from Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week, to discuss this first strategy. Tim writes about “ruthlessly” applying the Pareto principle to your work life. If you aren’t familiar with the Pareto principle, it states that 20% of what we do generates 80% of the total value we create at work. That means that unfortunately 80% of what we spend time on only produces a lack luster 20% of the total value. So one key strategy for working smart is to identify and prioritize that 20% that generates the 80% return. Let’s call that working in the “20% Smart Zone.” Unfortunately, most of us tend to let the 80% of what we do get equal billing with, if not crowd out, the high value producing 20%. So how do you reset your time to focus on the 20%? Tim’s got some helpful suggestions for resetting this area of your work life. Let me share three:
If you would like to know more about Tim’s work, click here to view a blog and video we created in reviewing his book. But before we leave this first strategy, we find you’ll be more successful if you take advantage of three more suggestions (in addition to using ManagePro to help with the priority setting and adjustments):
2. Outsource your time, leveraging other’s expertise and resources
We would like to invite you to think differently about outsourcing for a moment. Most people, when you mention outsourcing, think in terms of hiring freelancers or off shore labor or expertise. That’s all correct, but it’s time to rethink outsourcing on a personal level. You see if you will practice outsourcing several areas of how you personally work, you’ll end up working smarter. You do this by starting to look at tasks and ask yourself, “Can I afford to do that, learn that, etc… is it worth it, or should I contract with someone else to either handle that for me or teach me?”
This is one of those areas where working smart impacts both our work life and personal life. Why did I write that? It’s because as we drift further into working hard and not smart, we run out of time, which means we spend more time at work and have less for our personal life. Think of it this way, once you have your basic income needs met, time is worth more than dollars. (E.g. think of this long term, would you rather have enough time to pursue your interests and what’s valuable to you, or would you rather have more money, but be working all the time so you don’t have time to pursue your interests?). Appropriate outsourcing of ourselves becomes invaluable for helping us focus on the high value 20% and have more time outside of work. Let me give you three examples, but I’m sure you can think of more:
3. Collapse the Gap between ideas and verbal requests… and results
Track most any meeting at work and you’ll notice a lot of ideas get generated, requests get made… and very little follow-up. In fact, one of the characteristics of organizations that are working hard, but not smart, is that they spend a lot of time in meetings, discussion and idea generation, but are slow to get things done. Only a small percentage of what they talk about gets completed.
One way to differentiate between working smart and simply working hard is to the ability to turn ideas into reality where they create value. For most of us in management and our teams, to work smart is to collapse or bridge the gap that exists between what’s talked about and what gets done. What’s the key to translating ideas into actions that generate results?
In fact when the gap is large between ideas and results, or between the spoken word and actions, not only are we not working in that 20% smart zone, but we are incurring collateral damage because the work culture starts to be described as frustrating, boring and/or uninspiring. You see when we allow a big gap to exist (we may tell ourselves we don’t have time to fix it), people don’t follow through, people don’t follow-up and engagement declines. You start perpetuating a theme or story of trying but not succeeding, with lots of thrashing and whip-sawing in the mix. There are a number of things you can do to collapse this gap, let me share two steps to consider:
4. Do the 4th “iStep”
We’re all familiar with the three step sequence of “ready, aim, fire.” In fact you can break many processes at work down to an over-arching 3 step sequence. But if you want to work smarter, we would like you to consider the necessity of adding and emphasizing a 4th step.
That 4th step, which I call the “iStep,” is about leveraging information so that it saves time – to put it simply. What’s the smallest step you can take to capture information as you go through the day, such that key information is available to others, not just stuck between your ears? That’s what I call the “iStep.” Now you don’t sense that it saves time up front, in fact it takes additional time to add the 4th step to any task sequence, but it makes up for supporting smart work going forward. Even though we are living in what is described as the “Information Age,” personal habits for managing information vary dramatically. It’s almost like we need a new term for this form of information management. Often when we bring up this 4th step people are immediately repelled. Some say it sounds like “Big Brother,” other associate it with tasks like formal documentation, reports, write-ups or even more email. None of these capture the short information process that’s in the 4th step.
We find that working smart, when you are in any type of collaborative environment, is supported by practicing writing up a simple summarization of results, any issues outstanding, and next steps. You’ll find that working smart is simply taking the time to keep the people with whom you coordinate and collaborate in the loop through written updates versus more meeting conversation or lengthy reports. Chasing down stuff that should have been communicated, updated, documented, integrated, included, or attached, leads to making work harder than it should be. Not doing the “iStep” seems like less work up front, but ultimately means more stress, less working smart and ultimately aggravation. So prioritize time to create short summary updates so that no one else working with you has to search, call or struggle to stay current on what’s critical. When you use ManagePro, you’ll find the progress updates are critical for supporting this strategy in working smarter.
5. Check Your Attitude
This is listed as #5, but it could easily be the most important aspect of working smart. I’m sure you have witnessed this in others, but one’s attitude can be the biggest detriment to working smart. There are lots of quotes to prompt yourself with to maintain an attitude that will help you work smart. “Be your best” and “Seize the Day” are just two of many examples. They all represent a level of attentiveness to the world around us and the intent to “bring it”, to be engaged ¬and improve at whatever we set out to do. Both the being engaged and the intent to add a level of vibrancy and energy that’s easy to recognize, especially when the person adds personal warmth to the mix.
While we are on the topic of attitude and its effect on your ability to work smart, let’s review three attitudes to avoid like the plague. I’m sure as I describe them, you’ll recognize them in others you have worked with. When they become persistent they regularly lead to mistakes, to lower performance and hurt the enthusiasm of co-workers. Here’s what to avoid:
Here’s a quick tip to avoid this pot-hole: Always remember that no achievement occurs in a vacuum (e.g. most of the time lots of people contribute in one way or another to your successes). Given that, make a point of adding recognition and feedback updates to your direct reports record in ManagePro. It’s a great way to motivate others and make sure you don’t miss a change to recognize their contribution to your success. You’ll have more fun with the process.
Throughout all 5 strategies, you’ll find ManagePro to be the platform to help you make it all happen, from applying the 80/20 rule to documenting your recognition of others. So let’s conclude by creating a checklist based upon what’s covered on this page.
We hope you have great success using all five strategies to your benefit. And don’t leave without first signing up below to demo ManagePro, it’s the ultimate work smarter software. Here’s to your success at working smarter!