When I was younger, I was the type of person who heard common sayings and didn’t always get exactly what they meant. Like ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ or ‘playing the devil’s advocate’ or ‘head over heels in love’. I used to wonder, isn’t your head already over your heels? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say ‘arse over tit in love’?
It was the same with ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’. A few years ago I kind-of knew what it meant, but being an employee, wondering how to jump into the rough but plentiful seas of entrepreneurship, I didn’t know how to apply it.
How do you work smarter, and not harder?
I came to see working smarter is all about efficiency. Specifically, getting more done while doing the same or less amount of work yourself.
I was always that person who lived by the mantra ‘if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself’. I always thought this was the best way of working. I found it time consuming explaining to someone else the best way to do something, then having them learning and making their own mistakes along the way until they fully understood the concept and the method. I hadn’t stopped to think that I do exactly the same thing when others are teaching me.
But I thought ‘bollocks, it’s much quicker and easier if I just do it myself’, and that way the perfectionist in me was also appeased.
As I went on in my employed life, I always thought the correlation between output and hardwork was simple; to get more output, you have to work harder. It’s what we’re taught in school and by society, the higher you climb on the employment ladder, the harder you work and the more money you earn.
The problem with this though is that there’s a clear ceiling. One person can only do so much, and we all have our limits. If you’re selling your time for money (as most of the world do), you’ll only make as much money as the time you have to sell and how effectively you can use that time compared to other people offering the same service.
We all generally want more. More success, more money, more free time. But to get there, if you’re thinking like a traditional employee, you won’t be working smarter, you’ll be working harder.
But what does it mean, then, to work smarter? How do you get more output with less input?
Over the course of many professionally painstaking years, in employment, self-employment, business and investment, some key themes have revealed themselves. And bear in mind, these can be applied whether you’re an employee, entrepreneur, investor, or for personal success.
We all have it in us to work smarter, not harder.
One thing all successful, long standing businesses have in common are streamlined processes. Apple has them, Ford has them, Google has them.
That is, when a result needs to be obtained, there is a specific set of steps to be implemented to reach the result in the shortest and most effective way. Each streamlined process is explicitly stated so there’s little to no confusion on the steps to be taken.
These processes are defined and perfected through forward thinking and trial & error. Any employee, entrepreneur or business going through a process for the first few times will have to figure out the best and quickest way to reach the desired result, taking into account the most probable factors which may come into play along the way.
For example, if you own an amazon business selling watches and an order comes in, you need to have the process in place to find the item in your inventory, box it up, print the address, take it to where it needs to be shipped and then ship it. It’s a simple process, but having every step already in place, streamlined, will make the process that much quicker, leading to faster delivery times, less incorrect stock going out and nice reviews on your amazon for how quick your delivery was.
Streamlining is even useful for processes which aren’t fully straightforward, like sales (because it’s a human/emotion focused endeavour). Many sales departments have scripts and objection-responses in place which pre-empt how a lead will most likely react to a sales pitch. These processes take into account various factors like a potential customers’ age, location and profession demographics, how they may react to certain pitch openers and what objections they’ll likely throw up. Processes in place with methods to deal with a number of eventualities gives clarity and direction on how to best get the desired result.
Streamlining works for pretty much anything, even writing, as I’m doing right now.
This particular piece is all about how to work smarter and not harder. The streamlined writing process I have implemented goes as follows:
- Short Intro
- Explanation of title in short quote form to maintain attention
- Short history/personal story (because the human is a storytelling animal)
- Numbered ways of how to implement the focus of the article for easy content digestion
- Provide information on how to achieve those methods which gives the article its value
- (hope you’ve properly implemented the process… even if not though, writing is a creative endeavour and it’s fun to create and share either way J)
Ah, the power of streamlining.
Delegation is a huge part of working smarter. There are things you’re good at and things you’re not good at; things you can get done super quickly and things which take you more time; things you love doing and those you hate doing; things that need to get done which are worth your time and other things which need to get done which aren’t always worth your time.
The skill of delegation is to identify what you’re good at, what actions you personally need to take to drive the quickest and most efficient progression, which tasks you could do yourself but wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of your time, and what you cannot do yourself.
Skilful delegation affords you the most valuable commodity in the world. Not gold, silver nor cold hard currency.
Time is probably the most valuable thing each of us have, and we each decide how to spend ours. By delegating you free up your time to focus on what’s going to help you progress the most while still getting everything else done. Elon Musk, for example, delegates work to staff who went to Ivy League schools. He could do some of it himself, but given that he can hire other people to do it, coupled with the sheer volume to be done, allows him the time to focus on driving Tesla forward, and not focus his time on busy, everyday work.
Doing everything yourself (like I used to) will mean you’re working more AND have less time to focus on true progression and productivity. That’s not working smarter, it’s working harder.
Delegation obviously has cost involved. It’s important to pay for other peoples time fairly, whether it be in money, services, connections or whatever else. If you were doing someone else’s work, you would, of course, expect to be paid fairly and/or get enough value in return for the work you’re doing.
In the beginning of an enterprise, whether it be your own company, a self-employed business or your own personal endeavour, you may not have much resource to adequately delegate and you’ll have to start off doing many of the tasks yourself. This is natural, we all have to work hard, but when working hard it’s imperative to work smart. The important thing is to keep in mind which tasks are going to drive you forward toward success and which need to be done but are more day-to-day and need to be done as a consequence of growth (admin or website maintenance for example). When you get going, delegate one everyday task first, then as you grow, delegate another, then another, then the process will repeat itself.
Outsourcing is a great way to do this. You can hire a professional from a lower GDP country online (try upwork.com) at relatively low cost to yourself, but at a comparatively high earning for the outsourcer (and I don’t say that only because I used to have an outsourcing company).
As a caveat on this point, there won’t always be delegation involved in working smarter. This article I’m writing right now, for example, is written completely by myself. I’ve culled the points through research and my own experience without delegating any of the writing. However, I do delegate my spell-checking to MS Word, my research to Google, my web hosting to hostgator and my publishing to Medium.com.
Technology has changed the face of the Earth. So many businesses in the modern age cannot function without computers, the internet or smartphones. The more technology advances, the quicker it gets and the faster things happen.
Early signs of automation included calculators, instantly dialling phones and MS Office (I’m still amazed at how many complex simultaneous equations Excel can perform in one click). Now we have programs which capture data at an alarming rate, instantly analysing, sorting, storing and discerning trends on it. We have trains which require no drivers and cars which park themselves, we have customer service AI bots which talk to real humans online.
Automation can be a scary thing (some of it scares the shit out of me), but it’s also a natural progression of the information age.
Society advances through technological innovation by reducing the number of processes we can do without having to think about them.
The good thing about it, though, is that it has so much potential to accelerate whatever you’re doing into the stratosphere.
The sending of emails can be completely automated, so if you have customers to message or leads to sell to, you can set up the program once and it’ll automatically send out whatever you programme it for, for however long you need it to. ‘Grammarly’ automates good word choice, spell checking and grammar in your writing, live, whilst you write.
Automation is a huge advantage for working smarter. If you have customer or lead data coming in from your website you can automate those details to be entered into specific database fields for ease of access, trend analysis and market research, which will ultimately allow you to focus on what works best, streamlining and delegating.
Automation is obviously quite technical, so if you’re not technically minded it’s worth seeking a professional opinion (the world is full of programmers these days, you can even outsource one), or use one of the myriad of automation services available online at the click of a button.
All you need to do is look at your workflow and think about what has the potential and what is simple enough to be automated. And if you can’t automate it and it doesn’t push you towards growth, delegate it.
As I’m writing this, I’ve come to a realisation, as can often happen when writing. Working Smarter, Not Harder is as much about time as it is efficiency. It’s about freeing up your own time while still achieving the same amount of output by using the methods above, then using that time you’ve freed up to focus on growth, in whatever you may be doing.
The starting point is to sit down and think about it. What is your goal, what process do you use to get there? Then once you have that, and if you haven’t already, start doing it.
Then sit down again and ask yourself, what processes can be streamlined, what can I delegate and what can I automate, so I can focus on growth?
Then, my friend, you will be working smarter, and not harder.