In our last post we examined ‘How to get Promoted Quickly‘. People often think that being seen to be working around the clock is a fundamental step to climbing the ladder. This could not be further from the truth. Success is any type of business is measured by results, not by time. From an employers perspective let me assure you that it is very easy to spot an efficient smart worker from someone who is working round the clock but being very inefficient. Furthermore, working inefficiently around the clock will without doubt lead to burn out. During lockdown we have perhaps allowed ourselves to get into poorer working habits in some regards including our willingness to be ‘always on’. But with the fine weather starting to show its face, its time that we take control of the situation and set our sights on working smarter, not harder so that we will have plenty of down time to enjoy those summer rays.
Some of these changes may feel unnatural to you at first, especially when you are programmed to believe that you have to be ‘seen to be’ doing certain things. Here are my top 10 tips:
Filter out Low Value
The number one key to working smarter not harder is to filter out all low value added activity. I once noticed a sticker on a certain business leaders laptop with a picture of a filter on it. When I asked about it they told me, that it was their constant reminder to filter everything that came their way. When an email would come in they would ask themselves ‘Do I need to be the person that deals with this?’, ‘Is this a value add task?’. The key to career success is to replace ‘Low Value – High Time Commitment’ with ‘High Value – Low Time Commitment’. Don’t waste your time on meaningless tasks that are not necessary, could be automated or could be delegated to a more junior team member. You should be spending 90% of your time on high impact activities.
To Do List
Having a daily to do list with allocated time slots is a great way of stopping yourself from letting low value add or other distractions sneak in to your day. Once you have created your to do list, scan down through each item asking ‘Is this a necessary value add activity?’, ‘Do I need to be the person that does this?’ and ‘Is there a quicker/more efficient way of doing this?’. You may be surprised at just how much inefficiency you can cut out of your day.
Where you can automate as many manual tasks as you can. If you are not proficient in excel, you need to learn. It is amazing what you can do with a simple click or formula that you could spend hours trying to do manually. In this day and age almost every manual task can be automated. There is great software and tools available for almost everything. It might take a bit of time to set up to begin with, but will be definitely be worth it. If you are working for yourself, automation may very well be the make or break of your business. If you do not automate you will always be very limited by how much you can do and how far you can scale.
I have always struggled with delegation and am definitely from the ‘If you want a job done right, do it yourself’ camp! I also often feel bad for delegating certain activities and am very guilty of saying ‘Shur this will only take me 5 minutes’. The problem is that firstly it doesn’t take 5, it will probably take 20. And secondly, when I do that 10 times a day that is 3.5 hours spent doing work that I should be delegating.
Another barrier to those of you like myself is that we find it hard to delegate tasks that we actually enjoy doing. The problem here is that it is still a waste of your valuable time and more importantly it is preventing the opportunity for someone else to develop. If you are not good at delegating, try to set yourself a daily challenge to delegate 5 relatively straight forward items. You will be shocked at how quickly you will get into the habit and how much time you will save.
Put down your hand
As mentioned in my previous article, be very careful not to over promise and under deliver. Even with the best of intentions, tasks generally take longer than you anticipate and unexpected issues may arise. Unfortunately when we over promise the focus may shift to the items that we have not yet delivered and not the great list of items that we have delivered on. Don’t put up your hand to take on extra tasks that you don’t need to. If you must volunteer for something make sure it is high value add activity.
Put away the Phone
I’m a bit of a hypocrite here but our phones really are the biggest barrier to productivity. Obviously you need to answer work calls, but when you are working you should mute all social media notifications including Whatsapp. Even with the best will in the world, I will always get distracted when I see something flashing up on the screen and it can take a few minutes to pull back focus afterwards.
Focused Time Slots
If someone tells us that we have 5 days to do something, we will subconsciously drag it out over 5 days. If we have to do it in 5 hours, we will do it in 5 hours! Allocating focused slots is an excellent way of being highly productive. Follow the 25/5 rule (or similiar) and do a burst of uninterrupted work for 25 minutes where you turn off all messaging, email pop ups and put the phone out of sight/on silent. You can then take 5 minutes to check in on everything. It is very hard to get proper productive work done when you are constantly being disrupted by pop ups. Your focus will shift each time. So break your day down into different allocated slots for optimum productivity.
Meetings can be a very useful way of progressing teamwork, debating strategy and making clear actionable decisions. However there are countless meetings that are a complete waste of time. When scheduling a meeting:
- As yourself – Is a full meeting necessary or can I relay this update in a brief email or phone call?
- Allocate the required time only. If it is a very quick update, allocate 15 minutes. If you allocate an hour, it will take an hour!
- Have a clear agenda, a meeting leader that will keep the agenda on point and an assigned person for recording all action items.
- Do not let social chat go on for more than 1 minute at the start.
- It is the leaders job to ensure that the meeting is kept as brief as possible. People have a tendency to feel that they have to say something to be seen to be adding something. This is a complete waste of time. Be tough and keep the meeting moving.
- Make sure that a list of action items are circulated afterwards and monitored.
- If there are no actions, the meeting was a waste of time and most likely not necessary in the first place.
If you are invited to a meeting:
- Ask yourself if your presence at the meeting is definitely required. If it is not, then politely decline or discuss whether your attendance is necessary with the organiser.
- If you are only required for a certain part of a meeting, only attend for that segment. What is the point in sitting through a 2 hour meeting for a 5 minute slot.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge the allotted time.
- Ask for the agenda in advance and come to the meeting prepared.
- Leave the meeting with clear action items. But do not put your hand up to take on a list of actions that you do not need to take on.
- Don’t talk for the sake of talking, ramble on or go off point.
Get to the Point
If you observe the most senior people in an organisation you will notice that they can get to their point instantly. Emails, calls, their participation in meetings, their 1:1 conversations, are all efficient and to the point. They are masters at not wasting their time. Try it for a week and you will be shocked at the time you save. Instead of writing a four paragraph email, get to your point in the opening line. Don’t spend an hour long meeting talking about what could be said in 5 minutes. In all communications act as though your time is precious because it is.
This is definitely far less of an issue in the current environment! However in the past I have often seen people who have about 6 tea breaks a day and a long chat each time they meet someone in the kitchen. They then find themselves having to stay on much longer in the evenings to try and get their work done. Socialising is a very important part of any job, but you need to be reasonable. Do an honest assessment of how much time you are wasting? If you spend 10 minutes socialising, 6 times a day, plus your lunch hour, that is 2 hours wasted. Why not cut down some of that socialising time and make sure you get out on time or even early?
It has taken me many years to master the art of working smarter not harder and even now it is a daily battle. If you have also been guilty of some or all of the actions discussed above, don’t be hard on yourself and don’t try to change everything all at once. Try to make small adjustments every day and before you know it, working smarter will become a way of life.
If you have found this post useful I would love to hear from you. Please continue to follow this Free Career Series in order to equip yourself with the tools and techniques that you need to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
All views are my own. This career series is purposely designed to follow a certain order so if you are just tuning into this series be sure to head back to the start to catch up on the tools and techniques used so far.