The Koa Club Newsletter (February 2023) – Work Smarter Not Harder

Life Musings

Work Smarter Not Harder

You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen

Like many people, I long held the belief that with dedication, sacrifice, risk-taking, and most importantly, gobs amount of hard work, I will certainly become successful. That mantra was drilled into me almost daily when I was growing up, where my dad worked tirelessly round the clock at his own business, while my mom ran a tight ship around the household, making sure that my siblings and I spent most of our waking moments with our noses in our schoolbooks. If any of us dared to be idle, or have less than an A, we would be subjected to extra hours of tutoring by serious teachers, who would not think twice to complain to our parents that we will surely fail in life because we were not working hard enough. I was always told that anyone, no matter what station they have in life, can attain their own version of success if they just work harder.

Most people who know me would easily agree that I work hard in almost everything I do and that in their viewpoint, I have achieved the coveted American dream. However, no matter how successful others may think I am in my career and life, I was, for the longest time, always fighting hard to get to the next level. Since I often got rewarded and recognized for my hard work, I find myself in this vicious cycle of seeking ways to stretch my almost non-existent bandwidth so I could work harder and pile on more projects on myself, and then unkindly chastising myself for not working harder, not being even more successful, and not appreciating what I already have.

Then one overly stressful day after working nonstop for hours trying to tackle a myriad of projects, I had an epiphany. I asked myself, what happens when all that hard work translates to constantly being busy, but producing small or even no real progress, and resulting in endless overcommitment and burnout?  It’s easy to feel like if we are not constantly busy, we are not achieving. We care too much about what others see, but workaholics aren’t heroes, they don’t save the day, they just use it up. I thought long and hard about this issue and admitted to being a workaholic and having FOMO (fear of missing out), culminating with the need to closely examine the tightly knitted interdependency between my self-worth and my achievements.

Along the way, I also realized the importance of working smarter instead of harder.  There are many different ways to work smarter, which can help to maintain momentum at work without feeling like we are unable to get off the carousel. We discussed this at The Koa Club’s recent monthly Collaborate for Success Huddle group meeting. Below are our top 10 tips to help you work smarter not harder:

  1. Prioritize Your High Impact Tasks.  If you have a long list of tasks to tackle, focus first on tasks that are most critical, which can have the greatest long-term impact. Remember to ask yourself, “Am I doing busy work that does not significantly contribute to my goals, or is this productive work that will lead to progress towards my goals?”
  2. Delegate More.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to give up control, but those who are willing to delegate some of their tasks can often benefit from lower levels of decision fatigue and fewer instances of burnout.
  3. Take Needed Timeouts and Know When to Quit.  Allowing yourself to say enough is enough will help maximize your brain’s productivity for the day. It may be tempting to keep grinding away at your project but do pay attention to what your body is telling you. If your mind is wandering or a simple task is taking much longer than it should, those are signs that it is time to take a break or be finished for the day. Quality over quantity.
  4. Front Load Your Week. Mondays often get a bad rap, but we all know that Friday feeling – no one is looking forward to the afternoon meeting keeping us on the clock. Try front loading your week to not only give yourself more freedom towards the end of your week, but to also allow more time to accomplish those harder tasks.
  5. Bundle Together Similar Tasks.  Instead of answering every email as it comes in, consider scheduling chucks of time during the day dedicated to just checking and respond to emails. It takes time to get into a rhythm. It can often be a waste of your time to be constantly start and stop what you are doing, and trying to remember where you last left off.
  6. Apply Your Energy Levels Efficiently. The time of day you work on certain types of tasks can impact your productivity. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach because each person has a different internal clock. For example, if you know you are most energetic and focused in the morning, you may be best served by tackling your high impact tasks in the morning, and to focus more on your creative thinking tasks in the afternoon when you’re feeling less active.
  7. Cut Down To-Do Lists. We can all relate to that ever- increasing to-do list, however, when we have too long of a to-do list, it can be overwhelming to even get started, and only sets us up to feel like a failure when we cannot earn that satisfying checkmark of accomplishment on our monster list. Cutting down your list to the most important tasks for the day and limiting those tasks to a realistic number is a great way to stay focused and have a higher success rate feeling so satisfyingly accomplished at the end of each day.
  8.  Turn Off Notifications.  Minimize distraction by turning off notifications on your phone and on your Teams or Zoom (or whatever online messaging platform you use). Consider putting your phone out of sight if you are trying to focus on completing a task as it has been found that just having your phone visible can make you significantly less productive. How many of you are guilty of being distracted by a ping on your phone where a friend has sent a link to a cute TikTok video of dancing puppies and the next thing you know, you have lost the last hour looking at all the dancing puppy videos that TikTok has suggested for your viewing pleasure? Don’t go down that rabbit hole.
  9.  Use Real Life Events as Time. Use physical markers in your day, such as taking lunch, or picking up the kids to break up your work on projects. If you allow yourself to work on one thing until your lunch break or work until your two hour music playlist is over, you will have a hard and fast stopping point to either give your brain a break or wrap up for the day. Remember taking more breaks can be a good thing – see number 3 tip above.
  10. Set a Start Date. We often talk about deadlines, but starting a project can often be the hardest part. The Zeigarnik Effect states that not completing a task creates mental tension, which keeps it top of mind. Try focusing on the project for a few minutes, your brain’s desire to complete it should then take over and before you know it, you’re ready to start!

We hope these tips will get you started down the path of working productively.

There is no doubt that it would be difficult to achieve our goals well if we do not put in the requisite time, effort, and hard work towards it. However, as we work hard to climb the corporate ladder, aim to break glass ceilings, or show the world our brilliance, we need to always remember to be kind to ourselves along the way.  Do consider being more intentional about the goals you want to achieve, make the effort to apply the tips to work smarter and more productively, and check in with yourself regularly on why those goals are still important to you and adjust as appropriate.

If you are a member of The Koa Club, we invite you to continue this discussion and share your voice on working smarter and not harder in the Collaborate for Success Huddle group in our Koa Network. If you are not a member, we invite you to come join us (subject to eligibility requirements).

Finally, don’t forget to show yourself love this Valentine’s Day!

Susan Seah
Founder & CEO
The Koa Club
Learn. Connect. Lead.

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