How to Work Smarter
5 Strategies to Help You Get Better Results with Less Stress using ManagePro
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:
- We get frustrated when people don’t work what’s priority, get pulled off on something else that’s urgent or whatever is in front of them, and then deadlines loom and you mutter, “We’ve got to work smarter people.”
- We get frustrated when people working on the same project don’t check in with each other, which then results in duplication of effort, or worse yet, things don’t get started on time because person A is waiting on person B, and didn’t know person B had completed their part.
- We get frustrated when people do stuff, have a key conversation, and/or make a promise and don’t write it down; and then it gets embarrassing in a meeting or in front of a customer as the disconnect surfaces and someone is annoyed and perhaps embarrassed… and you mutter to yourself, “We’ve got to work smarter.”
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:
- It is not only possible to accomplish more by doing less, it is mandatory. And it can improve your personal productivity by 100- 500%. So start by taking some of those 80% items off your calendar or mental to-do list.
- Be effective… not efficient. In fact forget about focusing on time efficiency and instead focus on daily doing the things that get your closer to your goals. When you’re emphasizing the 20%, you’ll find that being focused is critical. You won’t stay in the 20% zone without focus.
- Speaking of staying in the 20% zone, you should never have more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. This will force you to limit what you give time to based upon your priorities. And if you’re thinking you don’t have enough time, think of that as simply a signal that you’re working hard, not smart, without clearly defined or applied priorities.
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):
- Give up getting it all done! You’ll never get all the 80% stuff done each day (in fact why would you want to with so little return on your time?), so give up the goal of getting everything finished. It’s actually exhausting to work that way. We find that trying to “get it all done” actually starts filling up you day with non-priority stuff if you think about it, and ultimately short changes your impact at work.
- Pay attention to what creates the most value. Most of us are far too fuzzy in identifying what creates the most value, what gets us closest to the 80% return we’re looking for. Sometimes reducing the fuzziness is solved by asking others, sometimes it gets solved by stopping and asking yourself the 80/20 question. Regardless of who you ask, without having clarity on what you do that creates the most value… you’re really not ready to set priorities or work smart each day.
- Finally, and this is big, block out time chunks, it can be an hour or more at a time, and knock out your high value, high priority tasks first in your day. Do it every day.
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:
- Think of how many things you do manually or by memory. Is that because it’s expedient, or because you haven’t taken the time to learn a system? You see systems are an extremely valuable way to outsource as many of the 80% activities that we can. Why force my brain to remember something, when if I key it into the computer it will remember it for me. Your brain is a wonderful tool. The most important tool you have. So absolutely leverage it. By that we mean don’t plug it up with short term memory tasks. Instead use systems, checklists, and software to manage information and outsource memory based tasks when-ever possible. But that brings up a second point about outsourcing.
- You can’t afford the time to learn new things on your own if it’s possible to collapse your learning cycle by purchase the training from an expert. One of the limitations to using systems to outsource ourselves is the required learning curve. This is a common area where people defer on using a system “until they have time to learn”, which really means they continue to work hard, not smart. Whatever the cost of leveraging someone else’s expertise, if it’s a high priority, you can’t afford the time to learn/figure it out yourself. Reach out, shorten your learning curves, remember you’re working smart and your time is very valuable.
- Get others on your team to be expert system users. If you insist on a high level of systems usage (ex. information management to support decision making and project management) by other members of your team, you’ll notice they will be able to help you leverage your time better. If they don’t make good use of systems, you’re going to spend lots of time in meeting doing follow-up, e.g. not in your 20% zone. Both you and your team will not only create more value, but you end up spending more time on the top priority 20% and less time in meetings if you use systems to leverage information management in particular.
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:
- Follow-up supports follow-through, which generates results. When it comes to making requests of team members and your direct reports, don’t assign anything high priority that you don’t write down and have a tracking system in place such that you can follow-up easily. Make a point to follow-up on anything of priority that you assign or request of others and you will immediately begin collapsing the gap. Assigning without follow-up simply isn’t working smart.
- Increase your persistence by 10x, especially on your high value 20% activities. No good idea that I know of succeeds with one try – they all require persistence. In fact, our research suggests that any good idea needs a minimum of 10 weeks of consistent work (which inevitably involves making course corrections) to generate results. This will undoubtedly be true for your efforts to work smarter by closing the gap. Your team may go through quite a period of testing, before they jump on board. Out-persist them, prioritize and commit to bridging the gap for at least 10 weeks, and by all means use a tool like ManagePro to make the tracking and follow-up automatic.
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:
- Complacency. It’s a state of not being engaged and just “going through the motions.” Sometimes it just looks like mechanically working one task after another. However you describe it, complacency or lack of engagement represents a level of detachment for whatever reason that has us plodding through life, instead of living life and working smart. We definitely are not in a learning or improvement mode with this attitude, and if a new opportunity came along, we wouldn’t see it because we’re working “head down.”
- Defensiveness. When we’re defensive we don’t learn well and we certainly don’t adapt to changes well. We tend to make the same choices and mistakes over and over, because we’re protecting ourselves against new ideas. In fact we severely restrict ourselves at improving, in part by shutting down ideas or recommendations from others that could help us improve. John Galbraith described this attitude years ago when he wrote, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” When we practice being defensive, it’s harder for others working around us to work smart, and we don’t have much fun with the process as well.
- Hubris. Hubris or arrogance has been written about for ages. “Pride going before a fall” is a simple way to say hubris doesn’t set us up to work smart, even though the repercussions may take some time to come back around. The problem is that hubris is such an easy attitude to pick up as we accrue accomplishments, and as I’m sure you have witnessed, inevitably causes people not to work smart.
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.
Work Smarter with ManagePro Checklist
- Work in your 20% Smart Zone – prioritize what creates the most value and work that… every day,
- Outsource your learning curve (buy expertise/training to accelerate your own learning curve) and leverage other’s resources,
- Bridge the gap between thoughts and talk and results using ManagePro to capture all requests and commitments, and make it easy to follow-up on follow through,
- Leverage information to keep everyone on the same page, using ManagePro connect all the dots
- Develope an attitude of living big without the traps of defensiveness or hubris, building your strength of being able to listen and discern as you compile achievements and be great at recognizing others.
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!