Learning the art of smart work can save you a lot of grief in the long run

15th Apr 2016
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Despite clocking in long hours and sacrificing mid-day coffee breaks, you may find yourself slouched over your laptop for most part of the work day. Rallying through heaps of data, pending emails, unread documents and an unending to-do list swiftly crawling into the next day can be daunting even for the best of professionals. And being a woman professional, juggling many hats at once, the agony of such a day can be harder.

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(image credit – istock)

Emphasising the fact that hard work is the underlying theme of success, there comes a time when you realise that hard work alone is not enough. If you are one of those people who miss the deadline despite being punctual or lose a client in spite of putting in tremendous effort, you need to dump your hard work syndrome and adopt smart work ways to walk out of office happy, and early too.

Here are some handy tips to help you cope:

  1. Define your individual success: When you are leading a project you know how you want the outcome to look like. Those who define the outcome work with focus, while others just waste their time figuring out their objectives. For some, success could mean being home to put kids to bed, while for some it could be forging relationships at work. Whatever is your narrative, it will serve as motivational goalposts and help you prioritise your activities while planning backwards.
  2. Apply the Pareto Principle (80/20): It simply means that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs. So look through your day, to-do lists or schedules – one or two of the things will be the ones making the biggest impact on your productivity or desired results. Hence, focus on activities that give you the most bang for the buck.
  3. Take breaks: Sometimes, going through the same rubble repeatedly can actually be counterproductive. You will either end up making the same mistakes or would have a deadlock where new ideas just would not stream in. Therefore, give your mind some rest- take a nap or just watch TV. At times, great ideas just creep into your mind when you expect them the least.
  4. Accept imperfection: To be able to move on with other work and not spend copious amount of time lingering on the same projector task striving to make it perfect, you need to accept small imperfections. Spending time perfecting the work will make you less efficient and less effective. Get smart, and don’t dwell on the task for longer than it’s worth.
  5. Follow the structure: There are times when some formula, style of working or technique works wonders for you. So stick to it, rewind and reapply what yields results. There is no need to innovate or reinvent the wheel if there is no value in it. Sometimes trying to think too out-of-the-box at every step can actually box you down.
  6. Manage technology: Let your software, gadgets and apps do some work for you- at least the banalities like automated reminders, scheduling meetings, filtering emails or sending acknowledgements. It is true that always being plugged in can erode productivity. Hhence, step out, unplug and let the technology work for you. Consider technology your friend: Skype with someone rather than conducting an in-person meeting. Do a conference call to avoid a working lunch.
  7. Delegate: Many of us, especially the insufferable perfectionists or the incorrigible working mothers, tend to imagine ourselves to be super human. But when you take cognisance of your surroundings, you will find yourself wasting energy over cooking up that meal or fixing that virus in your computer, when both could be delegated to someone else, ideally a hired help. You would rather spend that cooking time chatting with your kid or that computer troubleshooting time reading the newspaper than getting into the mundane.
  8. Outsource: Develop your expertise in the high impact items, at work or in personal lives and outsource the rest. Do not learn the skills that don’t add any value to you. So, don’t waste time in learning the formula of compounding interest or C++ coding, if your forte is marketing or strategy.
  9. Ask for help: While it is a great practice to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, a self can only contain so much. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you get stuck. What is more important is the solution and not where the solution comes from. Women especially tend to hoard favours as precious, but this is a capital worth reinvesting. So give and take favours and forge relationships to grow. Consider people and advice as enablers not inhibitors.
  10. Review periodically: Review what you have done in the past week and the corresponding results. It will help you garner what works best for you. Keep the review cycle weekly or maximum fortnightly. Any longer the cycle, you will lose the focus and lessons both.

We need to stop getting into the self-flagellation mode for stepping away from the desk. Taking a break, reflecting and reorganising work and energies can mean better output and perfect time management. While there is no universal panacea for smart work, adopting any of the above tips and retrofitting them in your working style can be a small step to a happier you.

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