Work Smarter, Not Harder
If your teachers or parents were anything like mine, they taught you that hard work is essential in life to get to where you want to be. In our history classes, we were taught that America was built on hard-workers, which has paved the way for many generations after (literally with how many highways, railroads, skyscrapers we now have). Coaches have taught us that practice makes perfect, which transpires to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert. Sounds like a lot of hours to become an expert at something, right?! While working hard does often get us results, working harder is not always what will get us better results.
Coming up on my two year work anniversary at a digital marketing agency in the Bay Area, I cannot help but to reflect on the people that I have encountered during my time in the “real world” that helped me into the position that I am in today. From the first intern of the company, to the manager of a three-person team, I have worked with a broad spectrum of leaders. One supervisor in particular stands out because he stressed the importance of the idea of “working smarter, not harder.”
As an intern, I was tasked with the joys of billing, which if you have ever experienced, know that it is actually a rather monotonous and tedious activity. Billing occurred monthly over a day’s worth of work, but as we began growing rapidly with more and more clients, it became a more frequent task. Not to mention, it wasn’t the only job I had on my plate, as I worked on digital advertising for upwards of 20 clients with my two other teammates. Taking 16 valuable hours out of every month soon became very inconvenient, as I arrived early in the mornings and stayed late at night to finish the billing work that seemed to never end.
After three months of billing using the same method, my supervisor questioned me, “What have you done to speed up the billing process? Is there anything you can do to make your life easier?” Who knew that these two questions would change the way I thought about work. I realized I was going through the same motions, thinking with tunnel vision that there was only one way to complete the task. Then, I took the time to look at it differently, wanting to fully understand the process of billing and strategize how the task could be easier for interns to come. Just 30 minutes later, I found a way to eliminate a full 8 hours from each month’s billing cycle by “working smarter, not harder.” This is easier said than done, but here are some tips to help you evaluate your work processes:
- First, take a step back and breathe. Sometimes tasks can be stressful and they can burn us out. If we do not take the time and invest in our own solutions, then we will not become better than we were yesterday.
- Secondly, practice effective time management techniques to help you prioritize and revitalize your tasks. Check out the ‘Leadership Lesson’ below for a helpful exercise!
- Remember that failure is OK! It can be frustrating to act upon solutions you think may work, but end up making tasks even less efficient than they originally were. In your failings, take the additional step to record your learnings and pass these down to others that will follow in your position. If you think about it, setting others up to not “repeat history” can save time for better solutions.
- Lastly, be resourceful and be realistic – You alone do not have all the answers in the world. Ask questions and brainstorm with others around you! If we collaborate with others, we can come up with many great solutions that even Albert Einstein would not be able to think of alone.
While figuring out a solution to billing might not be the most appealing story, the learning from this experience has helped me to become the leader I am today. Coming into a growing organization as an intern, it was easy to work hard helping with everyday tasks, but over time it became tiresome repeating those motions. It was so amazing to have my supervisor empower me to challenge the established process of billing and so rewarding to be able to revitalize the process to be more efficient for future employees.
We so often fall into the trap of going through the motions of something we are accustomed to, but as leaders, we should always be looking to question ourselves and the effectiveness of our current methods. By challenging the status quo and thinking critically, we can create solutions that give us more time and energy for ourselves. Thus, having more to give to our families, our friends, and to empowering others. So, next time you are performing a tedious task, ask yourself, “How can I work smarter, not harder?” and get to those better results. One thing is for sure – if you step back, breathe and set your mind to finding a better solution, you will learn a lot in the process!
One of the strategies that can help you to “work smarter, not harder”, is to take the time to prioritize your tasks for more effective time management. Make a list of all of the things that you need to accomplish during the week, work related or otherwise. Then, spend time organizing each and every task into a chart like the one below:
Once you know what tasks are in each category, you can dedicate your time and energy accordingly to tackle urgent and important tasks while exploring new ways to accomplish some of the tasks that might not be as urgent or important so that they can be done faster and with less sweat and tears!
*Meet the Author*
Sean Brennan has been with Leadership Inspirations for over eight years now as a student and coach. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a B.A. in Public Relations and ended up as a social media marketer at a digital media agency in the Bay Area. While he is not working, Sean likes to travel the globe and will check his fifth continent off the list this year!