Hard Work vs Smart Work (and how to work more efficiently)

Oct 22, 2018

What’s the difference between smart work and hard work?

Work (in the traditional sense) brings to mind long hours chained to the desk, overtime, and scheduled breaks. Success lies in putting in the hours, the old mantra: ‘work hard and you’ll see the results’ is a popular one, but quite often, if you really look, the results aren’t there to back it up.

Companies and individuals are starting to focus on productivity, rather than hours worked, because the appearance of working hard doesn’t always mean you’re working in the most efficient way and achieving what you need to be achieving.

We’ve all been there. You’ve been working hard for hours and look back over the day and think ‘what did I actually achieve? I’m tired, I haven’t moved, but I’ve still got a long list of things to do.’ Maybe the quality of your work isn’t even that high. You become frustrated with yourself.

This is particularly important if you’re a freelancer, or an entrepreneur. You’re working for yourself, and having to manage more tasks, learn more things and talk to more people than ever so your time has to be managed extremely well to ensure you get to where you want to go.

Smart work is all about efficiency, essentially achieving more in less time, creating systems and processes to enable you to use your time well ‘We all have the same amount of time each and every single day. What we do with that time is entirely up to us.’

I’ve always believed long work hours don’t suit everyone,  I’ve always worked well in short, sharp bursts, however previous jobs have meant that sitting at a desk is actually the mark of whether people think you’re good at your job, as opposed to the output you create. Some organisations (less progressive) place more value on ‘face time’ then actual results, luckily this is starting to change and flexible working and remote working (the magical Friday ‘work from home’) are on the rise. Taking a break, ending early one day, taking a longer lunch to read can all help increase productivity, and if that works for you, then it’s what you should be doing. We’ve just all got to remove this competition we enter with each other over who can work the most.

What do people think?

Tim Ferris is one of the champions of the smart work theory in his book ‘4-Hour Work Week’, the idea of lifestyle design, changing your life to work less but achieve the same amount, if not more, by creating processes, outsourcing and working on what you love.

While he has come under criticism for peddling an unrealistic lifestyle, the idea of delegating tasks that feel like ‘work’ for us and putting all of our energy in to the aspects of our work that we’re passionate about can only pay off. Entrepreneurs and Freelancers across the world are moving to calmer, more relaxing destinations (like Bali!) to find this balance.

Strategic hard work (or smart work) doesn’t mean not ‘working hard’, it just means working more effectively and becoming results orientated rather than time-orientated. Tim (and I) very much advocate putting in the effort, just in the most productive way possible.

So how do we become smart workers?

Many successful people have been proven to be naturally ‘smart workers’. While this is great for them, there are many ways we can train ourselves in to working in a more efficient way, freeing up some of our valuable time. The best way is to consider that it is possible, to be able to achieve the same amount, in a shorter amount of time, free-ing up time to actually live your life. No-one on their death bed wishes they worked more.

So, here are three tips to get you started:

Organise:

A big part smart work is life and time management skills. This comes from using the huge variety of tools which are available to us (Trello, Asana, One Note, Any Do) and really learning the PRINCIPLES of how to use these tools (which I will be explaining in another blog. Create a ‘backlog’ of tasks and spreading them out through the week, track everything in one place, use collaborative tools so you don’t spend hours on emails, all of these little changes save hours in a week.

Prioritise:

Find the things that are really important and do them first. It sounds simple but we all know how easy it is to get distracted by another aspect of your business (perhaps part of it you prefer working on).  Split your tasks into 3 categories, 1, 2 and 3 (or whatever you want to call them) and apply some rules. Here are my rules to get you started:

  1. 1 is needed, huge value add and needs to be completed this week. These are the tasks which NEED to be done.
  2. 2 is less urgent, ideally done this week, but can wait until next. These can afford to wait for all 1s to be completed.
  3. 3 are ‘nice to haves’ – these are the things which aren’t crucial, and can wait. Often, we let ourselves feel overwhelmed by our to do list when actually, it’s a load of 3s which can either wait or actually should be removed all together.

When you do those things is up to you but they have to be done. So, if you need a break or you need to do something for yourself, fine. You’ll probably find you’re more productive for it.

Delegate/Outsource:

Learn how to delegate, use other people’s time and expertise. Spending three times as long doing something someone else could do faster isn’t a cost-effective way to manage your time and it’s definitely not working smartly. Outsourcing is key to a successful business mindset – network with others and ask for help from people who know how. I will be sharing a lot of guidance and help for how to successfully outsource and delegate, which I believe is a real skill, and one we aren’t taught how to do properly but one that can actually change our working lives.

Conclusion

Finally, keep some long and short term perspective. Be realistic about what you can achieve and by when. You need to keep goal orientated, understand your field and what you want out of it. Having a view of the ‘big picture’ can help pull you back when you’re overwhelmed jumping from task to task.

Now, I’m not saying that success doesn’t take hard work. Success takes effort, but it’s important to make sure you’re channeling your effort in the right direction. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re spending your time effectively and ‘working hard’ just because you’re sat at a Laptop 10 hours a day and work weekends. Spend 1 week challenging yourself on every task and see if it’s ACTUALLY a task which needs doing, or if it’s a brilliant way of deferring the real work.

Use strategic hard work, have a positive goal-orientated attitude, and you can stop wasting your time behind the desk, start working effectively and enjoying your life!

Hannah x

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