No matter where you are in your working career, whether you’re entering your very first job or if you are a working mom looking to expand your home business, there is probably one phrase you have heard again and again (or even repeat to yourself as a mantra): “Hard work is the key to success.” But what if that phrase is not completely true? 

It should be: “Smart work is the key to success.” 

While hard work and dedication cannot be ignored, at a certain point, too much hard work alone just doesn’t cut it. You may find that your days feel too short, or you may feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get your to-do’s done — but your to-do list never shrinks. You may need to step back and ask yourself, “How can I do this better?”

Work smarter, not harder. If you’re having trouble picturing what working smarter looks like, interchange the meanings of “smart” and “efficient” and you’ll see that the key to success, in reality, is time management. After all, time is money!

Understand That You Are Valuable!

Speaking of time is money, consider this version of an old analogy: the assembly line at a popular car manufacturer suddenly stops for no discernible reason. No one is able to fix the problem.

Workers on the floor are running around for hours frantically trying to find the cause, all while the assembly line sits idle, racking up thousands of dollars lost every hour.

The plant manager, desperate at this point, calls in an expert. The expert, a retired decades-long technician, surveys the situation before she walks straight over to a box on the wall in a row of identical boxes, opens it up, revealing a mess of wires and fuses, and carefully extracts and replaces a fuse. Instantly, the entire plant springs back to life.

The awestruck manager walks over and thanks the expert, asking for the bill for services. Scribbling on a piece of paper, she hands the manager the bill. He begins to protest before she points at the bottom of the paper. Without further protest, the manager pays her. At the top of the bill, it says: “Total: $10,000,” and below that: “Fuse, $1. Knowing which fuse to replace, $9,999”.

In that situation, the factory could have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by the end of the day if no solution was found. If you were the plant manager that day, how much would you have valued the solution?

Not too long ago, the best jobs valued physical strength: the ability to work your body for long, hard hours without giving in. In our current age, your earning power can come directly from your intellect. It’s not about how many hours you work; it’s about the quality of work you put into those hours.

Your knowledge is valuable, and applying it to the right place in your professional life can be the way to make more money.

Identify Your Focus

If you have ever struggled in life — or maybe you are currently struggling — it’s not from a lack of hard work. In fact, you are probably already working very hard. Instead, what you need to know is where you can best apply your time to give you the best return for your time and work investment put in.

Thinking back to the car factory analogy, out of the entire factory, it was just one box and one fuse that solved the assembly line problem. In your life, there are also many small fuses, or foci, where a simple knowledgeable action can have huge returns. Working smart instead of hard is all about knowing when and where to apply yourself.

Identifying the actions in your life that have the biggest impact on your work, impact on your relationships, your finances, your health and your well-being is the crucial first step to knowing where to apply yourself so you can have the most gain without burning out from working too hard. You can think of these actions as a force multiplier, similar to how force multipliers work in military science.

A force multiplier allows a person to use the same amount of effort, but get vastly greater results. Think of digging a trench with a small hand trowel versus digging a trench with a large sharp shovel. You will get just as tired using either tool, but doing vastly more work with the latter than the former.

Impact goes both ways, too. Knowing where to apply your time and energy can help you identify where you may place too much energy avoiding work, even while at work. Knowing where to put your time and energy is just as important as knowing where not to put your time and energy.

80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto principle. It means that about 20% of your efforts will yield you 80% of your total results.

Considering a list of to-do tasks, it is most likely that two of those tasks will be more important than the rest of the eight tasks combined. Unfortunately, most people wait until the busiest day of the week to do their top two tasks: tomorrow.

We all like to push 20% of our tasks off until “tomorrow” or “later” instead of choosing to do 80% now, because they are easier, less demanding, or less stressful. Unfortunately, this is working harder, not smarter, because you are still using your time and energy, but are not accomplishing the most important tasks which still need to be done.

A good exercise is to ask yourself, “If I had to leave town for a while, what are the two most important things I need to do today?” And, no, packing luggage does not count as an answer!

Identifying your top tasks is in itself a force multiplier, because when you know what is most important, you know where to put the majority of your energy.

Your Time is Money

While we are at work, most of us spend half of the time doing anything other than work. This can include looking at phones, social media, talking to co-workers and so on. However, that does not change the fact that the same amount of work needs to be done later, leading to a situation where you will need to work harder to catch up. Instead, identify and eliminate time-wasting habits so your work is done smarter, not harder.

You should get in the habit of viewing your time as valuable. Even if you are not at work, you should consider every hour as worth at least an hourly rate.

When you are pulled away by someone asking you to donate your time, you should always ask yourself if that task is worth your time and your money. While it can be hard to learn to do, do not be afraid to say “no” if the task is not important or a good use of your time.

Always remember that time is your most valuable commodity. You can always make more money, but you can never produce more time when it is already wasted. The most important factor for how to work smarter, not harder, is how you manage and apply your time and energy.

The process of assessing where you are and how to get you working smarter is very straightforward. The first step is to get another set of eyes and a different perspective on your current situation which you cannot usually see for yourself. We are here for you!

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