It’s an age-old question really: is it better to work harder or to work smarter…and do most people really have a choice? For many that were born to previous generations, the predominant thought was that working harder was the key to everything; Laboring with your hands or entering the “rat race” brought feelings of self worth and a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end of the day. Sure – a ton of money may not have been made, but food was on the table and a roof was overhead and tomorrow would bring a new set of obstacles and setbacks to overcome.
There are always exceptions to every rule, though, and every generation has been rife with individuals that rose to the top of the success ladder simply by finding ways to innovate and work smarter. These passionate, creative souls have risen up to say, “There has to be a better way,” and then they carved that way for themselves – often blazing new industrial and entrepreneurial trails along the way.
While those that have found ways to work smarter are often associated with rising industries like Technology and Retail, there are many others that are looking for a way to stop working so darn hard so that they have a few moments to take a breather and enjoy the life they have worked so hard to achieve. After all – what good is gaining the whole world if you lose your identity and your spirit in the process?
This all begs the question: How do people find ways to work smarter and not harder?
We recently read a fantastic article by Will Yakowicz (@WillYakowicz) at Inc.com talking about the importance of realizing that we can’t do it all. Impacted by his words, we decided to look into some of the things that people who have mastered the art of working smarter do incredibly well; below are our findings. Enjoy!
- They Invest Their Time Well
Keep a calendar. Use a planner. Put your priorities and commitments ever before you, and you will reduce your last-minute time-sucking emergencies exponentially. Missing an appointment and over-booking your client schedule – among a slew of other no-no’s – cause strain on both your work like and your emotional wellbeing. Failure to set and keep deadlines can negatively affect your feelings of success and self-worth…and don’t even think about all of the time that gets wasted when open hours or minutes aren’t taken captive and put to productive use.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related activities make up almost 9 full hours of the day, and close to 2 hours are fully unaccounted for! That spells a disastrous inability to manage time well, if almost 11 hours out of each day are spent working and frittering away time that could have been otherwise spent with family, friends, or on a meaningful hobby – all of which bring fun, excitement, and heightened meaning to life.
If you don’t know where to start, consider trying out some of the most popular time and schedule management tools out there. FranklinCovey Planners are some of the best you can find, and for those looking to manage their to-do lists online, Trello and Evernote are both great options.
- They Protect Their Time From Others
If we were all honest with ourselves, we would say that much of our time – both at work and during our personal time – is consumed with meeting the needs and demands of others. This is not to say that helping others or working with them on things that matter to them is a waste of time, but when we spend that time without first considering what is best for our own personal schedules, we miss the chance to be master of our own destiny, so to speak.
The way that the team at Bennis Public Relations put it in one of their past blog articles is both poetic and convicting. They say,
We need to protect our time like we would any other item of great value because ultimately how we invest our time directly affects the lives we lead.
Heavy stuff! They go on to say,
So how do I protect my time? It comes from learning to do one of the hardest things in the world—saying no. If we allow it to happen, our time can easily be taken away from us by unproductive activities and other people who are not respectful of our time’s value. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for me to fill my week with meetings and commitments that didn’t result in future business for my firm or even a meaningful relationship—only a loss of time for which I can never make up. So now before I commit my time to anything, I ask myself “Will this bring me joy, fulfillment or money?” If I can’t answer yes to at least one of these, I don’t do it (It’s important to ask yourself all three categories, because time on the earth isn’t just for earning money, it’s for doing what brings you joy and what fulfills your emotional and physical needs. This encompasses hobbies, charity, time with loved ones and exercise.
Protect your time – it is as valuable as any of your other valuables or financial assets…and once you spend it, you can never get it back.
- They Make Loved Ones A Priority
Going back to the Inc.com article:
When you’re on a deadline, your family and friends get pushed aside. But keep up the pattern of missed dinners and dates and you’re headed for a lonely road. A family dissolving doesn’t often happen in a single large event. Instead it erodes with each choice to not make the people who love you a priority.
This is so true. It is unlikely that any of us would intentionally go out of our way to alienate ourselves from those we love most…but it happens all the time. An article by 20 Something Finance explored the statistics behind the average American home and unearthed these disturbing facts:
- Over 130 countries have laws dictating how many hours can be worked in a week – the U.S. does no such thing.
- According to a study done by According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work almost 140 more hours per year than Japanese workers, and a whopping 500 more hours per year than French workers, just to name a few.
- In most countries workers get at least 20 paid vacation days (France and Finland give a generous 30 days) every year; the U.S. only averages a meager 13 days per year.
This goes to show that we are living in a culture that celebrates a “workaholic” mentality, leaving little to no room for cultivating a thriving, tight-knit family. At the end of the day, if all we have is work and the time we put into making a living, we will undoubtedly find that we have forgotten to make a good LIFE…which, in the end, is what we are all really striving for anyway, isn’t it.
- They Make Personal Time A Priority
How much time have you spent exercising, enjoying a hobby, taking a class, or just reading a book in the last month? How about in the last year? Chances are, you haven’t spent much time on your personal growth or health at all.
Author of The Compound Effect and the Publisher of Success Magazine, Darren Hardy is known for his no-holds-barred approach to productivity and life. He is a firm believer in the treasure of time, and is a staunch supporter of creating pockets of personal time throughout the week. He has created a quick quiz to help you analyze your current lifestyle; check it out here and see how you stack up.
Go ahead…we’ll wait.
Did you do it?
How did you fare?
Several of us here at WhyTelecom took the quiz and despite feeling pretty confident going in, most of us scored dismally on several sections. Areas that gave us particular trouble were the Physical and Lifestyle sections. Eye opening, isn’t it. It is all too easy to go through life oblivious to the effects that business and stress have on our minds and bodies.
If you never put a priority on your health and emotional wellbeing, you will not ever reach your full potential. Period.
- They Make A Point To Reflect And Redirect Often
Educators, successful business professionals, athletes, and driven individuals alike all understand the benefits to personal reflection and redirection. Setting goals and making plans is of no good long-term use if it is never backed by a constant stream of evaluation that can get you back on track when you have lost sight of what matters. According to Edutopia,
School is generally not structured in a way that easily accommodates ambiguity and differentiation. While this presents a challenge, the strategic integration of meaningful closings and reflection into classroom practice gives students multiple avenues for engaging with complex ideas and allows more students to find broader meaning in their work. Additionally, these activities help teachers to more deeply understand and adapt to the intellectual processes of our students.
Even if you are not a student, this perspective holds great truth for you as well. The workplace, much like a school setting, is a fast-paced environment that often rewards the high-achievers regardless of how much stress or struggle it took for them to arrive at that place of success. By finding time to ponder complex thoughts or reflect on your goals and dreams, you will be equipped to seek out new courses of action that will get you where you want to go, thus effectively innovating within your current place of being to work smarter and not necessarily harder – all while ideally achieving the same goals.
This is all well and good, but let’s circle back to the original question: which is better – working harder or working smarter – and do we really have a choice in the matter? Ultimately, as the statistics and research show, working smarter is a better option on many, many fronts, and yes – we do have a choice in the matter. No matter if you are a waitress or a website designer or an entrepreneur or a Fortune 500 CEO, you have a choice how you invest your time and how you live your life.
Work does not have to define us. It was always meant to be a vehicle to the life we ultimately want to live. What does that mean for you?