Imagine two workers have been hired to move a large pile of 70-pound rocks from the front yard of a flat property to the back.
One of the workers stands tall at 6’5’’ and weighs about 250 pounds. From the looks of it, he hits the gym regularly—you’d be wise not to mess with him. The other guy? He’s a pipsqueak of a man, carrying 135 pounds on his 5’7’’ frame.
Who do you think will have an easier time moving the stones?
Turns out that the little guy makes up in brains what he lacks in girth. Whereas the giant decides he’s strong enough to pick up the rocks and carry them to the backyard, the little guy figures to make use of a wheelbarrow. At the end of the day, the big guy’s exhausted, and the pipsqueak—having used considerably less energy while being more productive—heads to the bar for a beer.
There’s an old American adage that tells us hard work pays off (and nearly 60 percent believe it). But tell that to the janitor who’s cleaning shit-stained toilets to put food on the table for his family.
Working “hard” is not really a differentiator.
Back to that janitor: Even if he’s the hardest-scrubbing and most thorough janitor on the planet, chances are there isn’t a shortage of suitable substitutes a company could find to replace him. While his work is undoubtedly appreciated, it won’t make or break a company—he’s not curing cancer.
But if that janitor developed a state-of-the-art cleaning process that enabled his organization to reduce janitorial expenses by 80 percent, there’s a good chance he might become an irreplaceable head custodian.
“If I look to promote someone, I need to see how they made a difference to my enterprise,” one senior executive says. “I am not necessarily impressed with employees who work hard by logging long hours.”
So professional success is not necessarily about how much work you do or how long you stay at the office. It’s about what you bring to the table that can’t be mimicked by anyone else.
What does it mean to work “smarter” anyway?
Have you ever been stuck in an agreeably pointless meeting in the middle of the week when you have a huge project on your plate? As you listen to whoever’s speaking drone on and on and on about whatever, all you can think about is rushing back to your desk and diving into your work.
Time is finite, and there are only so many hours in the business day. So the trick to working smarter is simple: Work more efficiently.
Regular team meetings, for example, have long been a staple in the business world. Refusing to see that technology has evolved to the point where many of these meetings are completely unnecessary, stubborn managers still hold them on regular bases.
Anyone who’s ever been stuck in one will tell you the same thing: Meetings often veer off course, and they very rarely start exactly on time. When you’re busy, you can practically hear the minutes evaporating as you start worrying about how the hell you’re going to beat deadline.
Maybe you won’t be able to convince your boss to 86 those kinds of meetings. But you can most assuredly figure out other ways to trim the fat off your day. By figuring out how to streamline business processes, you’re able to produce more in considerably less time.
You are not an island.
If you work for a company or even start your own, chances are you won’t be the only person pulling a paycheck from the organization. Remember, there’s a reason you find yourself surrounded by the same folk every day: They’re paid to work at the same place you are.
Some perfectionists might feel as though they have to shoulder a huge load in order to make sure all projects are completed with the utmost precision. But taking on too much work can be off-putting to coworkers and employees—not to mention exhausting on your end.
Many people think that an entrepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is completely inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs—scratch that: almost no one—ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate.
It’s okay to let other team members tackle projects on their own. There’s no sense in trying to carry more weight than you can bear.
Taking time off is an essential element of success.
You might feel compelled to continue pushing yourself, proving your commitment to your company—so you think—by working and working and working without any breaks. But contrary to what you may think, your body needs downtime to function properly. Writing in The New York Times, here’s Tim Kreider:
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.
Indeed, vast sums of scientific research indicate how necessary rest and relaxation are for the human body to function at optimal levels. If you’re deliriously tired, you’re not going to be able to produce at your highest levels.
People who take at least one week off from work realize an 82 percent uptick in job performance upon their return to the job. But beyond that, taking breaks throughout the course of the day has also proved to help workers maintain mental dexterity at the office.
So find the virtue in downtime. Leave it to the other guy to burn out.