Working Smarter, Not Harder
Here is a popular Zen joke: A Zen student goes to a temple and asks how long it would take to achieve enlightenment were they to join the sanctuary. The Zen Master answers, “10 years.” The student then asks, “What if I study diligently, work especially hard, and double my efforts?” “20 years,” replies the Master.
The expression work smarter, not harder has been so often repeated as to be a mantra of productivity. Underneath the expression lies a wisdom worth acting on. Faced with multiple tasks and priorities, the natural response is to dig in, work harder and get stuff done. But when we concurrently take on too many tasks, we inevitably fall farther behind.
Doubling down on effort seems like the only way out of this dilemma, but results in feelings of being overwhelmed and paralyzed by competing priorities and tasks. The frustration we often feel when drowning in too many tasks, or a highly difficult one, can shut us down and make us less effective than ever.
Working smarter is all about how a leader uses their thinking skills to minimize tasks and avoid unnecessary action so that progress gains speed. Having a strategy about how to tackle the problem or work is always the first step.
Abraham Lincoln gave us this gem: “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” The smart pathway is always in knowing what will make a task go well without the friction of extra steps.
Knowing what needs to get done and rallying the resources to accomplish the highest priority is the work of a smart leader. When leaders work smart they find ways to complete tasks with efficiency and effectiveness. Working harder is usually trumped by working smarter. The smart money is on you.