JW Way Fundamental #14: Work Smart. “Be organized and plan work for maximum efficiency. Have the tools necessary before starting your work. Be thoughtful about your schedule and have a game plan for calls, tasks, and the workday. Establish priorities and work on them first.”
I love this fundamental. My brain likes to work in efficiency mode so this fundamental deeply resonates with me. Since this is not an easy fundamental for everyone, I’m sharing ten tips on how to boost efficiency muscles.
Work at and embrace your biorhythm. If you are a morning person get up and go at it early in the day and if you are an evening person, sleep in and burn the midnight oil. With portability of work and some flexibility of work schedules, there is no reason to force yourself to work when you are not at optimum.
Focus on working with your natural energy. No matter whether you are a morning or a night person, energy will ebb and flow through the day. If your energy is waning, then a quick walk, stretch, or spending a few minutes outdoors will boost both energy and creativity.
Working smart doesn’t necessarily mean working hard. Or stated differently, just being busy doesn’t create results. Always working or being busy at work, doesn’t equal productivity. Ask – What can be delegated, what is essential, does this need to be done, can it be automated and what is simply filling time? If you find that work, or being busy, is all consuming, there are numerous studies that show the impact of diminishing returns of working longer hours.
We all have aspects of our job that are not exciting or very stimulating. It is difficult to focus on less stimulating work. We live in an Interruptus culture and it is easy to quickly check social media or click on the red screaming breaking news alert. And it is easy to slide down the distraction rabbit hole. Even web browsers now serve up, using their sophisticated algorithms, content that is meant to distract and be consumed. Distraction has taken over and the not exciting work is waiting, unfinished, the next morning.
We all know someone who says, “I work better when I am at deadline.” While this may work well for one person, it does not necessarily work well for clients and co-workers. Errors, frustration, and stress all increase when working at a deadline. If the only person that you are impacting is you, then working at deadline is ok. If more than you are impacted, perhaps time to take another approach.
If procrastinating is a problem, do the project that you are procrastinating first. It will continuously distract you as it bubbles up from your subconscious for you to address. It will grow in magnitude and create a loss of focus. Once it is started – or finished – it will allow your mind to focus more clearly on your next project. And, if procrastinating is not your thing, tackling the worst project first will allow the rest of your day to be more productive and enjoyable.
Large, detail intensive projects require different strategies. To remain effective, take breaks and give yourself a mental or physical reward at intermittent times. It is unusual that someone can work at a sustained high level for extended periods of time. If the project requires your undivided attention, look for a physical space where you won’t be interrupted.
Get organized – whether it is using tasks, calendar, reminders, apps, or good old-fashioned to-do lists. Whatever works for you. Key is that it works for you, requires minimal time to keep updated, and helps you focus. Watch for self-sabotage. I worked with someone who spent 30 minutes each day re-writing their to-do list although it was almost identical to the previous day’s list and another one who had created a beautiful system which was too complex – and too pretty – to keep updated. Neither was effective and compounded inefficiency.
Working smarter is NOT done in a vacuum. Your team may help you see ways to be more efficient that you can’t see. A team that says “we’ve always done it this way” is death knell to working smarter. Ask your team for their suggestions and carefully listen to their ideas.
Finally, working smart will improve life balance. However, highly efficient people naturally have more work assigned to them. In a culture that values life balance saying “no” when the work is unreasonable is not only accepted, but encouraged.
For next week, try a tip and see if it helps you work a little smarter. Happy almost end of the year!
About the Author: Brenda Edwards is the Executive Director of Jaburg Wilk. She frequently writes on law firm management topics.