Women are constantly being told ways to ‘work smarter’ so that you can get more done without having to ‘work harder’ – with helpful suggestions around time management and process streamlining that are supposed to assist.
It’s certainly compelling advice, but does the ‘work smarter, not harder’ mantra actually help you get more done?
Project manager Rebecca McCann* tried to implement some ‘work smarter, not harder’ techniques when she found herself struggling to keep up with the demands of her job.
“I went on some time management skills training and bought some new software that would help me stick to a new regime back in the office,” she explains.
But despite her best efforts to adopt the ‘work smarter’ methods learnt on the course, McCann found herself working harder than ever.
“Time management can only go so far,” she says. “As we got further into the project I found my work days getting longer and longer. Working ‘smarter’ didn’t seem to make much difference – I was still working flat out day after day.”
Business owner and entrepreneur Kelly Exeter says that the concept of working ‘smarter not harder’ is inherently flawed.
“It subtly suggests that you can achieve your business goals without hard work,” she says. “But the fact is, everyone I know who is successful in business works really, really hard.”
Exeter notes that the concepts of ‘working smarter’ and ‘working harder’ are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. “Working smart and working hard should actually go hand-in-hand to ensure each person is getting the best out of themselves to the benefit of the business,” she says.
Productivity coach Faye Hollands from Outshine consulting agrees that ‘working smarter’ and ‘working harder’ are not mutually exclusive.
The problem with the philosophy according to Hollands is that people think great productivity just happens. “It takes conscious focused effort to work smarter,” she says.
Hollands says that for most people adopting a more productive “work smarter” mentality would mean changing old habits. “Not everyone can be bothered to change,” she says.
“So they stick with the same old ways of working and as a result end up working harder instead of smarter.”
When it comes to working smart, planning is of paramount importance, explains Hollands. “The critical starting point to working smarter is to get crystal clear on your goals and then plan accordingly.
“If you don’t plan then it’s too easy to get sidetracked and end up doing the quick and easy tasks instead of the things that actually help you achieve your goals.”
While ‘planning’ is the key to ‘working smarter, not harder’, ‘multitasking’ is perhaps the area where most people fall down.
“Multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 40%,” says Hollands. “Our brain can’t process multiple tasks simultaneously, it actually flicks back and forth rapidly between them which slows us down and makes us less productive.”
Of course there are some professions in which there is no substitute for hard work. Writer Karen Andrews says that while there are some areas of her work that can be managed and planned there are other tasks that are not so easy to organise.
“When it comes to more creative work such as novels and poems I can be ‘smart’ all I like,” she says. “But that wont necessarily make my work any easier.”
* Name has been changed
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