IS it better to have employees who work smart or hard? In the early days of my career, the generally accepted practice was to stay in the office later than your boss. Although there are still companies who practise this, many organisations are taking the work-life-balance approach. It used to be a status-symbol to be extremely busy because it meant that you were doing something really important.
However, things have changed. Taking too long to replay an email these days is usually frowned upon and could even lead to loss of a business opportunity. Hence, being busy is not necessarily fashionable anymore. In fact, being able to waltz into the office well after 10am and being able to leave before 6pm is now seen as an enviable position to be in.
Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state coined this phrase, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
There certainly is a strong argument for hard work as almost any successful person that comes to mind has had to put in the “sweat-equity” to get where they are today.
Warren Buffett the well-known American business magnate spends a great deal of time studying investments and financial data before making business decisions.
The famous NBA player Kobe Bryant is said to prepare for game days with marathon workouts and would show up for practice at 5am and only leave at 7pm during his high school days. For these individuals, there is no question about it – hard work is necessary for any measure of success.
On the other hand, Bill Gates’ hiring policy is to “choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it”. Hence, he prefers individuals who work smart. In fact such, individuals who strongly advocate working smart may even believe that working smart trumps working hard because it has the allure of using intelligence to make work less arduous – at least on the surface level.
For instance, I remember having to test potential employees on their typing speed on a manual typewriter which have now been replaced by computers which greatly transformed the way we work as well as reduce the time we spend on manual work. Thus helping us to work smarter and more efficiently.
How do you know if you are working hard and not smart?
The most obvious tell-tale sign of working hard and not smart is if you are the first person to arrive in the office and the last to leave, yet you are still not getting your work done on time. There may be instances when we stay back late to meet some deadlines or put in extra hours for a project during the peak periods. However, if this is a perpetual occurrence, it becomes a pattern.
Another example is if you are putting in more hours than the rest of your peers but not being recognised for your efforts. It may be that your projects just require more time and effort to deliver but if you are doing more than your fair share of work for no good reason, it may be a symptom of working hard but not smart.
7 Ways to Work Smarter
Working smarter doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change everything you do but it could start with a few small changes such as these seven suggestions.
Work Smarter Idea No. 1 – Begin with the end in mind
It is always wise to know the end-game or the final destination of your journey. For example, if you are executing a project, it is essential to understand what the deliverables are and the deadline for the work to be completed. It is also important to understand why you are doing this so that you are able to see the bigger picture, remember why you need to stay focused and complete the job.
Work Smarter Idea No. 2 – Have a plan in hand
We cannot deny the importance of planning when it comes to execution. Failure often stems from a lack of preparation and planning. It is also crucial to have a structure in place that supports your plan and helps get you to the final destination that you have defined earlier. Let’s face it, there will be times that our energy may be low and we may even get side-tracked from our goals. A solid support structure will help us stay on track. For example, setting time for status report meetings by putting the dates in everyone’s calendar in advance will allow for regular timely updates and adjustments to be made if and when necessary.
Work Smarter Idea No. 3 – Outsource
There is a strong argument for playing to our strengths as all of us excel in something but we can’t be a “Jack-of-all trades” and neither should we attempt to be, as this may derail us from being successful at what we are good at.
As such, it may make more sense to outsource a non-core task or bring in external consultants to work on areas which require expertise that your team does not possess. Otherwise you and the team may be pulled into the trap of spending a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel and end up with a wheel that doesn’t work as well as it should.
Work Smarter Idea No. 4 – Go for the High-Impact Items
The higher up the corporate ladder you are, the more meetings and training opportunities you are likely to have. Whilst it would be nice to attend them all, it may be physically impossible to do so.
For instance, it may be wise to choose which training sessions to attend by selecting the ones that can add the most value to your personal and professional development.
Work Smarter Idea No. 5 – Stop being a perfectionist
Many of us try to do everything ourselves because it may appear that guiding someone to do the job will take too much time and effort. However, this task may take-up a lot of valuable time which could have been spent on more productive work particularly if it is a recurring task. The idea is to delegate the work that can be accomplished by someone else so that you can focus on what really matters.
Work Smarter Idea No. 6 – Pick Your Battles
It would be nice if we could all go through life without any obstacles or roadblocks. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in reality. There is usually that one individual whom you know will object to your idea in a meeting or a boss who won’t easily approve your plans without numerous detailed discussions. In such situations, it is important to pick your battles and not try to fight every single one of them as the time and energy spent may not justify your efforts.
Work Smarter Idea No. 7 - Be open and get help from others
We often forget that we are not alone in most situations that we face. Someone you know may have faced a similar situation or you may have a colleague whom you can brainstorm with to come up with solutions. The burden may not seem as heavy if you are able to share it with someone, even if it is just to get another perspective; of course it is also important to choose your confidant wisely and not disclose confidential information that should not be shared.
Needless to say, if we are only working smart and not putting in the necessary hours we may not achieve our objectives and goals as it generally takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill or to become an expert. Working smarter in such an instance may not be enough; rather, achieving a balance of working hard and working smart is the ideal combination.
PAULINE NG, managing director of BTI Consultants believes in achieving a good balance between working hard and working smart.