Hard work produces near magical results, but we all have an absolute ceiling on how hard we work.
People usually start thinking about working smarter once they're near that limit and getting burned out. Once the realization sets in that you can't work any harder, you've got to get smarter.
To work smart, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you're already doing.
You've got a supply of 24 hours each day, and you're already spending all of that supply. Where is it going? Most people don't know.
Here's six diagnostic questions for you: three will help you assess what you're doing, and three will help you find better uses of your time. This process doesn't take long and pays large dividends: running through these steps can lower your stress and benefit your mental health and productivity.
1. What am I doing? List everything you do in a regular week.
2. Why am I doing it? Harder question. Tasks tend to creep into your life, and the answer to why might simply be "inertia" or "because someone told me to do it." But dig deeper. Is there a purpose you're trying to accomplish? It's critically important that you know the reason you're doing what you're doing. If you're not sure, try a "Five Why's" analysis.
3. What are the results? It's great that you're going to the gym if you want to be stronger, but are you actually putting any more weight on the bar? Do you know the profitability of the kinds of marketing you're doing? How much of your creative work is turning into released-into-the-wild published work?
The first question -- "What am I doing?" -- is easy. Start with any written agendas you have, and then brainstorm the rest. It comes quickly.
The second question -- "Why am I doing it?" -- is harder. Often, it's just habit. And the "why" question has a relationship with the third. If you don't know why you're doing something or only have a vague notion of why you're doing it, then knowing the actual results is hard to come on. But if you want to work the smarter way, you need to know what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what the current results are.
Now, it's time to figure out what the best actions you're not doing are.
This is a much harder question. But go ahead and ask yourself,
4. What are the highest value activities I'm not doing? This might require you to clarify your values, but you probably already have a somewhat good idea. A recommendation: Include some "easy wins" in addition to ground-shaking world changing type projects. While taking on a massive project might be the best use of your time, adding in some simpler tasks like sending thank-you cards lets you get that much-needed feeling of incremental progress and winning. You should also consider what habits you want to adopt since those pay large gains (but don't try to change too many habits at the same time).
This takes a little while. The absolute least amount of time you should spend is 20 minutes. Often the last thing you'll think of will be a breakthrough idea, so give yourself space to work on this.
5. What can I cut? You might realize that one particular task, client, hobby, or time sink provides you with no core satisfaction, none of your objectives, aggravates you, and is a net negative to your net worth. Or worse -- you're just ambivalent about it, and meanwhile there's more impactful work being left undone.
Again, you've only got 24 hours each day -- and you're already using them all. For good or for bad, you used 24 hours yesterday, and you'll use 24 hours tomorrow. To get more hours into the things bringing you gains, you need to prioritize them and cut things that bring you little.
6. Is there a chance cutting this screws things up? Before we wrap up and make the cuts, it's worth asking if making the cut is "knocking a leg out from under the table." If a table has a lot of legs, knocking one out might not be fatal, but it does make things more risky going forwards. So quickly ask, "If I stop doing this activity, is there a chance of irrecoverable damage?" Cutting from fitness, meditation, intelligent planning that's been executed on, training, learning, networking with people, and so on might not show initial adverse affects, but could be dangerous. On the other hand, if you get "There's minimal chance of damage, and it's recoverable if something goes wrong" -- then you have greater confidence in the new activity.
You can actually run this process, use it to prioritize your current work, and be working smarter instead of harder.
Go through the six questions. Answer very honestly. Spend the time to generate the assessments on the activities you're not doing. Check out the risks of cutting the lower value activities. And then move your time up into what matters -- and be happy you did.
I agree 100%. In my own experience, working smart leads to amazing results once you're already willing to work hard to get what you want. On the flipside, I guess it's easy for some people to rationalize that working smart equals avoiding hard work, so instead of optimizing their processes and increasing their efficiency and then working less as a result, they just decide they will work less, which obviously leads to poor results.
This relates to the 80/20 principle. 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions. 80% of the profits come from 20% of the clients. 80% of the hassles come from (a probably different) 20% of the clients. So if you can figure out what the 20% is in each case you can prioritize for that case, and hopefully find another 20% of it that duplicates the same results. Hence achieving 160% of you former results with 40% of your former efforts.