5 Tips For Working Smarter, Not Harder

Our guest blogger Faisal Hoque is founder of SHADOKA and other companies.  His newest book is “Everything Connects”. This blog first appeared at Fast Company.

Working smarter requires a combination of critical thinking, discipline, and techniques that we can employ for making continual progress

Regardless of our background, location, or profession, there is one language that is the same, and that language is the language of progress.

Progress certainly comes from putting in the hard work, but working hard is not enough. To achieve our desired outcome, each one of us needs to find our own ways to work smarter.

Working smarter requires a combination of critical thinking, discipline, and techniques that we can employ for making continual progress.

Here are a few techniques that I find helpful:

1. Assess Everything That Needs To Be Done

There is a saying that 80% of our accomplishments come from 20% of our efforts. So what 20% of our work is the most valuable? Once we’ve identified it, focusing the lion’s share of our time and energy in that direction creates progress.

Selecting the right success indicators to drive our activities creates the tasks we can knock out first for greatest impact. Here are three fundamentals for assessing potential for success:

  1. Closely examine your strategy and execution methods from the perspective of your particular situation.
  2. Next, articulate and analyze the impact of your work on yourself, your team, partners, and customers.
  3. Finally, evaluate your own ability to execute, focusing on your assets structure, and capabilities.

2. Limit Your Short-term Goals

Once we have our long-term goal stated as an intention, we need to break it down. Let’s say your intention states a five-year goal. Where do you want to be in one year along the journey?

Let’s say that you want to build a new company. Your new company will offer a unique product. Your year one goal may include developing, commercializing, and market validation of offerings. Your first 30-days goal may solely focus on defining the purpose, audience, and the usage of the product.

Where do you want to be on your journey in the next three months? Perhaps doing market research, positioning, and developing the first version of the product. And so on.

It is very tempting to focus on many goals at once. As we mature our own personal techniques and disciplines, it is very possible to be involved in multiple initiatives. However, limiting goals for each initiative to measureable outcomes is what allows us not to overwhelm ourselves into a state of submission and defeat.

3. Work To Your Own Cycle

Our bodies work in cycles. There are times of the day that are most productive as well as times that are quite the opposite. The most effective way of staying productive is to learn your cycle. Which times of the day do you find that you complete the most tasks as well as those times in which all you can think about is taking a break?

For example, my maximum peak of productivity and efficiency generally occurs between 4:00 am and 11:00 am, so I prefer not setting up meetings during those hours.

Studies show that, on average, our brains are only able to remain focused for 90 minutes; then we need at least 15 minutes rest. This is based on the ultradian rhythm, the body’s “basic rest-activity cycle.”

By taking period breaks roughly every 90 minutes we allow our minds and bodies to refresh and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.

4. Create, Modify, Reuse, and Automate

The biggest lesson from my computer science schooling was the concept of reusability. In computer science and software engineering, reusability is the use of existing assets in some form within the software product development process. More than just code, assets are products and by-products of the software development life cycle and include design and implementation technique. Reuse implies the creation of a separately maintained version of the assets.

This notion of reusability can be applied to anything we do. For example, as an author, I first write small blogs, the blogs turns into feature length articles, and articles become the basis of a new book.

Reuse is what gives us speed and efficiency without reinventing the wheel every time we want to create a new asset.

Much has been written about the benefit of automating repeated tasks. Automation can be a great personal and organizational productivity method. For example, you can use a social media scheduling system that posts your content on social media platforms regularly versus you posting repeatedly at different times of the day.

The trick is being conscious enough to connect the dots between our past, present, and future.

5. Summon Your Willpower

In her book Maximum Willpower, Professor Kelly McGonigal talks about three different aspects of willpower; I will, I won’t, and I want.

Understanding these three areas of willpower is key to reaching our productivity goals.

Having the I won’t willpower is saying no to things that will keep you from achieving your tasks such as getting easily distracted with emails, social media, and lengthy useless conversations with others.

The I will willpower is having the will to focus on productivity. As an example, we can use social media to move our work forward or we can choose to become addicted to self-entertainment.

The I want willpower is to remember the end goal and the reason why we are doing what it is that we are doing. Consistently exercising our willpower keeps us focused—and that takes disciplined practice.

You can learn more about techniques for entrepreneurs in Faisal Hoque’s SoundviewPro course, How to Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset.

Imagination: Use It Or Lose It

John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of many books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership. This blog first appeared at www.forbes.com.

How can a one-footed worm kick a soccer ball?

You cannot “put too much thought into such things… [Y]ou have to allow room for imagination and just let things be as they are,” replied Richard Scary, Jr., son of the famous children’s author speaking about one of his father’s greatest creations, Lowly Worm.

The above question was posed tongue in cheek by Scott Simon of NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday. The interview was conducted in connection to the publication of The Best Lowly Book Ever, which was initiated by his father (who died in 1994) but finished by the son, known as Huck Scary. Judging from the interview, Huck has the same kind of wit and humor that his father depicted in his books, which are treasured by parents for their wit and children for their imaginative turns and both for their style and beauty.

Most important, as is evident from Scary senior’s work is a respect for his audience. Richard Scary “loved to put a lot of things on the pages so the children would have a lot to look at, and he also wanted the parents to have a good time.” Scary wanted to entertain children by catering to their own vivid and fanciful imaginations. A child won’t question how a worm can kick a ball. That’s a question for grown ups.

It has become an axiom that as children mature they lose their sense of imagination. Certainly the structures of formal education — coupled at times with a need for conformity — does not encourage imagination and in some areas it is devalued. That said, the world has been shaped by the creative energies of people who refused to stop imagining, whether they were at drawing table or a research bench, or work on CAD screen or managing a new business. Creativity abounds.

Part of the imaginative process is as Huck Scary, pointed out is to stop thinking literally. There is a need for literalism in learning the basics of one’s discipline, or disciplines like science, engineering and medicine, but once we have the rules down we can innovate to our hearts content.

A perfect metaphor for such thinking is jazz, an oft-cited example of free flowing creativity. Jazz musicians will often begin with a standard tune – be it by Harold Arlen or Dave Brubeck – and after playing the melody, the basic thirty-two bars will let it rip into an improvisational tour de force that accents the musicianship of the combo. Think Charlie Parker with his dazzling riffs, Miles Davis with his soaring trumpet solos, or Oscar Peterson with his classically inspired piano maneuverings. It sounds incredible in the hands of such masters. What we forget however is the hours of practice that talented musicians pour into their crafts in order to create sounds that sound spontaneous and unencumbered.

Creativity then is based on substance which in turn becomes transformed by the energy that an artist, scientist or entrepreneur expends in producing something new and something different. Most importantly, as we see in the work of Richard Scary as well as in jazz, there is always purpose. The phrase creativity for its own sake gives short shrift to the intention that creator gives to the work.

Management by nature is administrative. It is designed to make things work operationally. At the same time management without innovation becomes stale and stolid; it degenerates into bureaucracy where policy dictates behavior to denigration of the individual.

Managers then need to fight back against burdensome bureaucracy in order to enable individuals and teams to think clearly and freshly. Why? So they can contribute purposefully. Creativity nurtures the organization and for that reason it must be fostered and stimulated.

Time spent reading Richard Scary – or other great children’s authors – might be a good place to learn how to turn off our literal mindedness in favor of imagining as a child might just how a one-footed worm could kick a ball.

As Huck explained, “Kids understand that Lowly can kick a ball. They don’t care that he can’t back up and then run forward and kick it, but he kicks it.”

Simple when you imagine it!

You can learn more about leadership from John Baldoni at his SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

What Really Matters in Life?

Marshall Goldsmith is today’s guest blogger. Goldsmith has twice been recognized as the top-ranked executive coach in the world and one of the top 10 most influential business thinkers by Thinkers50.

Most people don’t want to “do nothing’ all day. We have hopes and dreams, goals and ambitions. We want to contribute to the world, make it a better place, not “retire” from it to a life of “leisure”. For most of us, the prospects of sleeping in late, lounging on the beach, improving our golf scores, living on cruise ships, and lazing about all day may sound good for a short time, but they hold little allure for us in the long-term.

So, what really matters in life? I can boil the answer to this question down to six major themes:
1) Wealth
2) Health
3) Relationships
4) Contribution/Achievement
5) Meaning
6) Happiness

First a little discussion on the themes.

Wealth – some have more than others, some have less, but most of the people I run across agree that while it can be used to pay for nice homes, fast cars, and fine dining, it can’t purchase meaning. Beyond a middle-income level, the amount of money you have bears little correlation to how happy you are.

Health – is critically important to enjoying life. Good health is a combination of luck, a healthy lifestyle, and medical care.

Relationships – are very important. Everyone I meet clearly values their relationships with friends and family members and sees that these relationships are key to their emotional wellbeing.

Contribution/Achievement – for most of us reading this blog we are fortunate in life and seek to give back, make a positive contribution, even leave a legacy. Helping others as we’ve been helped is important to us.

Meaning – work that has meaning is important to our sense of well being. We want to feel that we are making a real difference in the world.

Happiness – everyone I’ve ever met wants to be happy. True happiness can’t be bought – it has to be lived!

As you contemplate these themes and set your goals for 2015, you might choose to volunteer or work on projects that make the world a better place. You might choose to change to a job or a career where you have more opportunity to serve. For me, I still teach and give classes, but I focus more on advising people how they can have a great rest of their lives rather than just work harder and “make more money.”

Reflecting on life’s purpose should start when you’re young—and never stop. I served on the board of the Peter Drucker Foundation for 10 years, so I had a chance to observe Peter personally. He worked until his death at age 95! He was never interested in retiring. He was interested in working to make the world a better place. Through his example, I learned that making a difference means more than, and is very different from, making a living.

Think about your life. Now’s a great time to start planning the rest of it. How can you make a contribution? How can you find meaning? What will make you happy? How can you make this time count—for yourself, the people around you, and the world?

To learn more from Marshall Goldsmith about improving your life, check out his SoundviewPro course Engaging Ourselves at Work and in Life.

A “Selfie” Of Your Time Management

Today’s guest blog features Jones Loflin, an internationally recognized speaker, author and trainer, and the co-author of the award-winning book Juggling Elephants.

Selfie

Selfies are everywhere! These self made photos of people doing everything from standing with a best friend to kayaking down a river blindfolded (just wait) are appearing at the rate of one million per day… and that’s the ones we know about. According to an infographic at stylecaster.com, here are some other interesting facts about these portraits:

  • They make up 30% of the photos taken by people 18-24 years of age
  • Selfies are more popular in Australia than any country in the world. Second is Canada and third is the United States
  • 34% of males state that they retouch their selfies while only 14% of females make changes to their selfies before posting

Even world leaders, including President Obama and Pope Francis have snapped pictures of themselves! The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorite selfies, taken with my younger daughter.

All this interest in selfies makes me wonder what a quick and spontaneous “snapshot” of how we are managing our time would look. Would yours:

  • Show you spending time working on our highest priorities, or just switching from one task to another to get through the day?
  • Be more likely to be taken with a friend or loved one… or alone because you keep rationalizing you will have time for them later?
  • Be a generally fuzzy picture because you aren’t sharpening our focus on 3-4 key tasks each day?
  • Reflect a celebration because you stayed focused on that complex assignment and finally finished it?
  • Have you looking exhausted and anxious because you keep denying yourself much needed rest?
  • Be snapped in a spot where you are taking some time for solitude and reflection instead of always trying to cram more and more into each day?
  • Show your children or significant other looking longingly out a door or window or be a snap of them running toward you with a HUGE smile and outstretched arms?
  • Include your phone, tablet, or computer screen showing your 30th post to social media today?

What would your selfie reveal about how you are managing your time?

Learn more about personal productivity at Jones Loflin’s SoundviewPro course The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity.