When describing this blog to someone for the first time, there are two words I often use: Productivity and Motivation. They make a helpful starting point for understanding what this whole crazy experiment is about: taking life on in a more streamlined way (productivity, “working Smarter”) and turning it up to 11 with determination and discipline (motivation, “working Harder”) to build an unbelievably abundant life.
But the truth is, working Smarter is about so much more than productivity. And the Harder approach really is that much more than simply “getting motivated.”
Now it’s time to really get in there and unlock the power of these two intertwined forces, starting with Smarter. We’re going to closely examine what working Smarter really means, the strategies you need to take advantage of it, and how it can unlock the doors to a thrilling and prosperous life.
If you came here looking for actionable tips on getting things done more effectively, don’t worry; you’re in the right place. And if you came here for a toolset that will help you build a holistically better life, from the material to the emotional to the spiritual, then you, my Friend, have just taken the first step.
Working Smarter has three main components, and we’re going to tackle them one at a time: Identify, Reduce, and Optimize.
The essential first step is the simple (though not always easy) act of Identifying what you want to accomplish. Unfortunately, typical productivity advice tends to skip over this step entirely.
There’s a saying in the engineering world that “mistakes are cheapest at the beginning.” Meaning that problems that come up on a project are far easier to resolve in the design and planning stages than they are once the product has been designed, built, optimized, or even sold. The number of people and steps involved make issues harder and costlier to fix at later stages of a project.
The same applies to designing and building our own lives. The most common “design” issue we have with building the life we want is that there often is no design. We don’t put enough time or energy into figuring out what is essential to us and what we really want. So we take whatever comes along, try to fit all of it in, and ultimately don’t make it very far.
Before we jump ahead to optimizing and fine-tuning the details, we need clarity. Let’s figure out exactly what we want the “product” of our productivity to be, what our most important goals are. Then when we do reach that optimization step, we’ll be cruising like never before.
1. Isolate Your Priority
Did you know that for most of the history of the word “priority”, it was only ever used as singular? The plural “priorities” is a fairly modern invention. That’s because a priority really should be something so important to you that it stands head and shoulders above everything else in your life right now, the one most essential thing that will have the biggest positive impact on your life.
Having a priority is about creating clarity. It’s about determining the #1 Most Super-Important Thing in your life right now. Because then you can focus your time, energy, and resources on achieving that one thing.
This doesn’t mean you should only ever have one objective, set in stone for all time; far from it. As you’ll see in tip #2, goals work best when they live, evolve, and change along with us. But if you want to achieve any of them, you will need to maintain focus on the current most important thing.
2. Know Your Goals
Reinforce the clarity and focus of your vision by clearly keeping track of it. It’s great to write down your goals somewhere, starting with a priority and going from there. A concrete reminder of what you are working toward is an invaluable tool in Identifying and focusing on what is most important for you right now.
But as you solidify your goals and track your progress, remember this: writing down your goals does not make them into eternal absolutes. Situations change, as do our abilities, opportunities, and needs. Don’t be afraid to periodically check in on your goals. The benefit of this is twofold: It helps keep you on track with your goals, and also keeps your goals on track with you.
Once you know what your goals are and what your most important focus is, you’ve taken the first step to working Smarter. And from there, you’re well on your way to crushing those goals.
Alright, so you’ve mastered the first big step, and Identified what you most want to improve in your life. You know what your goals are. You’ve isolated your current #1 Most Super-Important Thing (your priority). The next step is my personal favorite, because it is usually where the most opportunity lies. Now that we have a picture of what is important, we can start to liberally cut back on everything else.
3. Free Up Resources
I don’t know exactly what your aspirations are in life, or what your #1 Most Super-Important Thing is. But I do know two things about your life:
- You will need one or more resources like time, money, physical effort, or mental energy to get where you want to go, and
- There is a number of things in your life taking up these resources, yet not making you any happier
Because your resources are finite (you only have so much time, energy, or money to spend in a day) you’ll make better use of them if you consciously budget your resources.
If you want to invest in yourself or your business, then let’s look for what we can remove that’s draining your budget. Maybe you don’t have enough hours in your day for the work you want to do. I promise that those hours are already there, they’re just being drained by something else that doesn’t need to be there. This pattern holds true for every personal resource in your arsenal.
Whatever it is, the objective here is to Reduce the clutter and the noise to make more room for you and your most important work.
4. Cut out the Distractions
Even when you’ve deliberately narrowed down your focus to the biggest, most important goals, and the most essential work you can be doing for those goals, that doesn’t mean you’re all the way there. This kind of work tends to ask a lot of you. It’s hugely fulfilling and ultimately rewarding, but nonetheless taxing.
And work like this, that takes up lots of your energy, tends to open the door for your mind to start looking for something easier to focus on. In other words: distractions. Distractions are an unending stream of escapes and loopholes that your mind will gravitate to in order to find a path of less resistance. This is why knowing how to wipe out distractions is a staple of the working Smarter toolkit.
5. Ditch Your Busyness Habit
One specific area of the distractions described above that is big and problematic enough to warrant its own spot on this list, is the business of busyness. Busyness, though it may feel very much like productivity and wear all the same outfits, is really just another distraction that eats away at your energy and holds you back from making real, serious progress.
Remember, distractions are basically loopholes – shortcuts for the brain to sidestep difficult (though important) work. The mind says, “I can’t worry about that right now, I have to go look at THIS thing!”
Most distractions are easy to spot, yet difficult to avoid. That’s what makes busyness especially nefarious – often, we don’t even notice it’s there. When you’re busy, you feel productive because you are actually getting things done, or at least making progress on them. But it makes no difference how much progress you make if you’re saying yes to everything and taking on every task that comes along instead of laser-focusing on critical work.
6. View Your World Like a Minimalist
There is perhaps no other movement that has crystallized this idea of ‘less’ quite so well as minimalism.
You don’t have to be a minimalist to achieve your biggest goals and reach your dreams. But you could be leaving a ton of opportunity on the table if you don’t at least make an attempt to think like one.
The minimalist’s secret is that there is waste everywhere. There is waste in our homes, waste in our schedules, waste in our budgets, and even waste filling up our digital worlds. And while waste may sound like a dirty word to the uninitiated, it is really an exciting gateway of opportunity. By learning to identify, remove, and ward off waste, you can claim untold space and resources in your life for the things that really do bring you joy, prosperity, and abundance.
We’re really cooking now. You’ve Identified what you’re going after, and you’ve Reduced the clutter getting in your way. Your time and energy are freed up and supercharged to go after your #1 Most Super-Important Thing.
The last step to Working Smarter is to Optimize. You know what you’re doing, you know what you’re not doing, and all that’s left is to figure out the most effective way to do what you’re doing. You may find the strategies in this section most familiar, because they look the most like traditional productivity tips. We’ve arrived at the proverbial cart that is too often put before the horse. Or as I call it, the third major component to working Smarter.
7. Create Leverage
We have seen that tasks, projects, and initiatives vary from highly impactful to not very impactful at all. And we’ve just talked about (perhaps ad nauseum) how to Identify the highly impactful stuff, and Reduce the low-no impact stuff. This is basically the range of output your activities may have.
Now let’s add a second dimension: the range of input. Now here is where things get, and I don’t say this lightly, freaking juicy.
Since we’ve already narrowed down to make room for the most highly impactful (greatest output) activities, we can further filter that group to find the most accomplishable (lowest input) things. In other words: the low-hanging fruit.
We all need wins. Success is little more than a long series of wins that have not been outperformed by losses. Start piling up your wins by looking at the options before you, and going where your work will yield the best result. Where you’ll get the best bang for your buck, so to speak. This principle is called input-output asymmetry, and it can lead you to accomplishing more than you ever thought possible.
8. Don’t Forget to Rest
People are often surprised when I mention rest amid topics about working Smarter, getting more done and living out your aspirations. It seems that the 21st century fetishization of reducing sleep, never taking breaks, and working 29 ½ hour days has really taken hold of some people with the impression that this is the road to material success.
But like, dude, seriously. Is it any wonder that so many of us are dealing with perpetual burnout? Overworking won’t make you happier, and it doesn’t even get you closer to superficial metrics of success like wealth and job titles.
Being tired is unproductive and, more importantly, terrible for your health. In fact, Arianna Huffington even wrote a whole awesome book about it. If you don’t allow yourself adequate time to rest and recharge, you’ll be less effective and feel worse the entire time. Learn to enjoy getting plenty of sleep and don’t forget to take restful breaks. And then when you’re ready, jump back out there and get back to killing it.
Oh, and One Last Thing…
That’s it – you’ve done it. You now have all the keys to working Smarter – you’re ready to Identify your most important goals, Reduce everything in the way, and then Optimize what’s left. All the tools you need to grab life by the horns, tail, legs and torso with unparalleled focus and intensity. You’re ready to start working, as the adage goes, “Smarter, not Harder.”
BUT WAIT A MINUTE! RECORD SCRATCH! That’s not the name of this blog. And look, there’s even still another whole graphic underneath here. We obviously haven’t covered the whole story just yet.
Working Smarter is a freaking awesome toolset that can give you back control of your life and get you moving hastily in the right direction. But it’s only one side of a two-part system. On its own, it is yin with no yang, peanut butter with no jelly, mac with no cheese.
The other half, of course, is working Harder. A system of taking all that you’ve gained from working Smarter, the time and resources, the focus, the opportunity, and turning it all into more of all that you love, and more chances to enjoy every last drop of life as an even more prosperous you.
Working Smarter is sufficient to be more productive than ever before and set yourself apart from your peers. With your working Smarter toolkit, you could get an average amount of work done using far less time and energy; and then sit back and spend your leftover time and energy twiddling your thumbs or taking between fifteen and seventeen naps. But if you’re ready to turn the world over on its head and achieve, feel, and build more than you ever thought possible, then get ready to Increase all the right stuff by stepping into Harder.