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Work smarter, not harder

Hard work is for hard-workers! Do you feel good when you’ve put in a long, hard day’s work? Then I’m talking to you.

The challenge we hard-workers face is hard work defines us. We have been told all our lives that hard work pays off, those who don’t work hard are lazy and will miss out. Secretly our mindset is: Hard work is not just a means to an end, it is an end in itself.

We are programmed to buckle down, push through, no excuses, just execute and deliver. This mindset is a valuable asset. It has helped us achieve great things and deliver where others have failed. But it also has a shadow side. It actively works against us when we want to be strategic, preserve our energy and work smarter. Hard work has become a bad habit!

We must be strategic

Strategy is not about choosing what to work on, it’s about choosing what not to work on—what we say ‘no’ to. And we need to say ‘no’ to a lot of good opportunities to make space to execute really well on those few great opportunities.

However saying ‘no’ to any opportunity is a very difficult decision, especially for a hard-worker. We would rather double our efforts, bear down and work round the clock if need be, just to avoid having to say ‘no’ to a good opportunity.

If you pride yourself on being a hard-worker, then you need to do the truly hard work of prioritising opportunities and saying ‘no’.

We need a smarter mindset

To work smarter we need a smarter mindset: Hard work is just a means to an end. What’s the least work I can do to reach my goal?

Hard work may still be required—which is fine by us, we’re not afraid of rolling up our sleeves—however it should be minimised wherever possible. This allows us more time and energy to do the critical thinking that really takes our business to the next level.

The first step is getting really clear on what our goal is—which can also be harder than just slogging away at whatever comes along. But once you have a clear goal, it will be much easier to decide what to say ‘no’ to.

Ask yourself: Will this opportunity take me significantly closer to my goal? If not, say ‘no’, leave your time open to do more critical thinking and find better opportunities. If your answer is ‘yes’, then ask: Is this the best opportunity I have? If not, can I easily achieve both and do them well? If your answer is ‘no’, you know what to do.

This could also mean saying ‘no’ to an existing project. Every opportunity is business is an experiment. If the experiment has clearly failed, better to cut further investment and move on.

We will enjoy our new identity

If hard work for hard work’s sake has become your norm, kick that bad habit to the curb. Buckle down and do the really hard work of setting a clear goal, prioritising and saying ‘no’. Then allow yourself to enjoy the space that has opened up for you by becoming a smart-worker.

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