We all have likely heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”, yet it might be not so clear as to what it means or even how one accomplishes this. It’s actually much simpler than one thinks. “Working Smart” is about improving productivity and work-life balance.

Less is more
Less is more Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

“Less is more”

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Can you achieve more by doing less? Yes, you can. When your focus is on many things, you may be able to achieve a few important tasks or projects, if you are able to achieve any at all. Imagine for a moment trying to catch a big bouncy ball while holding onto many small balls. Doesn’t sound like a good idea right? Most likely you’ll end up dropping a bunch higgledy-piggledy.

Our focus works the same. We need to decide on our big goals that will give us the leverage. This leverage goal, once achieved, can help solve the other smaller goals. As an example, if you are able to secure a highly talented Head of Operations, you will not only be able to optimize your operational needs but also reduce overhead and increase the overall performance of your business. One leverage goal (a good hire) can help achieve and resolve three highly important affiliated goals.

Now, how do you know which goals are the ones to “leverage”?

Bird’s Eye View (Zoom Out)

You need to zoom out. If you are in the weeds on the ground level, it is impossible to see the big picture. I talk to entrepreneurs and my executive clients about stepping back and flying high – high enough to see the whole picture. The ability to see your work from a bird’s eye view is a highly important skill for not only entrepreneurs and leaders but also anyone who wants to live an intentional and successful life.

Now that you are out of the daily weeds, and flying above it all, can you see the big catch? Do you also see generally where the catch is heading?

bird's eye view
Bird’s eye view, Photo by Kieran Wood on Unsplash

Or Step Back

Another way to get a full picture is to step back in time. Think back to a couple of years ago and see what change or initiative you implemented that is now giving you a surprising return? Can you amplify this initiative? And what about another, opposite scenario? Can you think of a project or effort that you spent a lot of time on but yielded very little or no results?

Most likely, you will see that your high productivity derives from your core strengths (working smart) and your low return results from a lack of focus, passion, and/or talent (working hard). The moral of the story is that you want to leverage and focus on your strengths.

You might have heard of Jim Collins’ hedgehog concept. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” – to get away from the fox. What is your core competence? How can you leverage it?

Some aspects of our lives and businesses cannot be totally deselected. We may either delegate, internally or externally, and find a system to support you with it.

Establish a focus (or two maximum)

Now that you see your goal (your catch, your leveraging goal), establish your focus. If you have too many things to focus on, that is not a focus. That’s confusion. Get clear about your goals.

If this is about your business and you have multiple members on your team, get everyone on board with the primary focus. A combined force that is focused on one thing together is so much stronger.

Ruthlessly Deprioritize to Prioritize

Prioritizing is ironically also about de-prioritizing. You might have heard from other people saying or even you might’ve said it yourself. “I have too many priorities.” That is to say, “I have no priorities nor focus.”

Once you have your focus, you need to deprioritize the things that don’t support your big goals. Here’s where you really act on the concept of ‘less is more.” If you have 10 big goals to achieve this year, it’s likely that your focus isn’t very clear.

Focus on high leverage goals, and deprioritize the rest. Make sure that your goals are aspirational and that they excite you (& your team).

Measure Your Progress

It is much harder to stay on track if you don’t measure your progress with priorities. It is like running a solo marathon and seeing no milestones or indicators to tell you how far you’ve run so far and how much is left. Feedback is highly important for us to stay the course. Wouldn’t you agree that the journey will be so much more fun and reassuring with the milestones along the way?

What is your focus this year? Can you work 20% less and achieve 80% more? I challenge you to try. I’d love to hear from you about your experience in working for high productivity and work-life balance. What are your challenges and successes?

Best wishes to your productivity and balanced life!

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