8 Simple Ways to Work Smarter Not Harder

The world’s most successful people are working smarter not harder. It’s the only practical way to accomplish all your goals in a reasonable amount of time.

Regardless of your chosen industry or career path, there are a fixed amount of hours that you have available for work. In some cases, you might be able to work a few more hours to accomplish more. But eventually, you hit a limit where there simply isn’t enough time in your day or even energy in your brain and body to get things done.

So, what’s the answer here? How can you accomplish more while working the same or even less hours?

Work smarter not harder.

Find ways to get the most results from the same amount of work by employing smarter work strategies. Here are 8 simple ways to work smarter not harder.

(1) Start with a Proof-of-Concept

When you’re starting on a new project, it is hard to know if it will work out or not. You may be confident in your new business idea or feel really good about the new side hustle you’re working on, but you can never be 100% sure about it. At the same time, you definitely don’t want to commit, work really hard for months or years, only have the whole thing bust in the end.

That’s why you’ll be doing a Proof-Of-Concept (POC) first.

A POC is a mini-version of the project that you want to do, for the purpose of getting a better idea of if it will work. You try the smallest, most basic version of the project, to see if it works at least to some degree. Then, once you’ve verified that you’re on the right track, you can go all-in on it with full confidence since you know it’s been proven.

  • Instead of investing your life-savings into that new app idea, make the barebones version and show it to a couple of friends or family members. They’ll quickly be able to tell you if it sucks or if it has potential
  • If you’re unsure about a certain industry you might want to get into, go to a couple of local or online meetups, or even join an online forum like Reddit. You’ll quickly get a vibe for the work and the people, which are really a signal for if it’s a fit for you

By trying out a smaller version first you’re able to get a feel for how likely your project is to work and how much you like it. If it seems great, you can confidently commit to it and do really well. If it seems not-so-great, you can easily drop it before having sunk a lot of time and energy into it.

(2) Work in Your Circle of Competence

We all have certain things we’re good at and that we like, and others that we’re not so good at and don’t like. You’re not going to be supremely talented in everything.

It makes perfect sense to focus on the things that you have knowledge of and are really good at. Charlie Munger has a really great quote for this:

You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.

It’s a simple concept: if you play against the chess world champion, Magnus Carlsen, it’s going to be a wash. But you can probably beat him at cooking, coding, marketing, or something else that you’re really good at.

You play the games that you know you can win and make big achievements. Knowing and working in your circle of competence allows you to play at your strengths. You leverage those strengths to give yourself a big advantage, rather than trying to work on weaknesses that will take a lot of hard work to become successful in.

Figure out what you know how to do and then focus your time and energy on that. If you’re really good at or enjoy selling, then make a career out of it. If you love to code, then code. Keep focused on your strengths and interests as those are the things that you can stick with long-term and become supremely successful in.

If you don’t know what you’re good at yet, you can always do a Proof-Of-Concept and try it out for a month. You’ll know once you’ve found your thing because it naturally clicks well.

(3) Use Small Habits

We all know that good habits are, well, good for us. But they’re also incredibly hard to build. It’s hard to eat healthy for the entire week or read for one hour each day or any of those great habits that people talk about.

But we can start off small and build our way up by using small habits.

  • Instead of trying to “have a healthy diet” start with just never letting soda into the house. After you do that for a week, replace the white bread with whole wheat. And so on with removing or replacing one bad thing each week
  • Instead of trying to read a book a week right away, read just one page per day. Then after a week, increase it to two pages a day. Then three, then five, and so on until you’re reading and learning more than ever before

Building up small habits is way easier than trying to establish the big habits right away. It requires a lot less willpower so you never find it as hard. Reading just one page a day will take you two minutes. But the idea is that over time, this will add up tremendously. That’s a lot better than continuously trying and failing to read a book in a week over and over again.

James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits:

“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

Think of this crazy number: if you were to improve your life by just 1% each day, then after a full year, you would be over 37 times better. The math works like this:

1.01³⁶⁵ = 37.78

The goal should always be long-term improvement and growth — and that goal is a lot easier to achieve with small habits rather than big ones. It’ll save you a whole lot of time trying and ultimately lead to more long-term success.

(4) Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of results typically come from 20% of the work. That means that there is a small subset of the work we do that actually accounts for the results we are getting.

This is important to understand in our discussion about working smarter not harder. Your 20% work that gets 80% results is very efficient and totally worth the effort. Yet that extra 80% of harder work that only gets you 20% results is very inefficient, even wasteful!

“Conventional wisdom is not to put all of your eggs in one basket. 80/20 wisdom is to choose a basket carefully, load all your eggs into it, and then watch it like a hawk.”
— Richard Koch

Working smarter is all about finding out what your 20% work is — that small subset of tasks that get you the majority of your results. Once you find them, focus fully on them to maximize your work efficiency. For example:

  • If you’re running a business, does marketing, sales, or more R&D tend to increase sales? It may be one of them or some combination. Find the best distribution of your efforts and go all-in on it
  • When you’re working out, are there certain exercises that get you more bang for your buck? Compound lifts are known to be better in this regard as they use more muscles. Focus on the exercises that are worth your time

When looking for your 20%, a helpful thing to do is to link every one of your decisions and actions to an expected result. If what you are doing isn’t going to deliver you a big enough result, it probably isn’t worth doing at all. So put it aside and look for something else that will give you bigger gains.

(5) Understand Psychological Biases

We all like to think that we make intelligent, rational decisions all the time, but psychology research says otherwise. We are in fact quite irrational, influenced by our psychological biases.

Psychological biases are the systematic errors in our thinking that occur when we make decisions and judgements. Some examples include:

  • Loss Aversion we tend to be more scared of losing a thing than we do of gaining something of equal value. Most studies point to our brains wanting twice the upside vs downside to feel comfortable
  • Confirmation Bias — our brains are biased to search for and favour information that confirms prior beliefs. A person who doesn’t believe in climate change will look for any evidence to prove their own beliefs to themselves, no matter how weak or even absurd that evidence is
  • Hindsight Bias —we overestimate our ability to have predicted past events. People say things like “I knew that stock was going to go up” when there was never any 100% guarantee that it would — but it looks explainable in hindsight

Understanding these biases is key because it will help you to think a lot more clearly and make better decisions. You won’t be thrown around by your emotions if you know about confirmation bias, nor will you miss out on opportunities due to loss aversion, and you won’t waste time thinking that you missed out on past investments with hindsight bias.

Being able to work with your biases will make you more efficient. Your work becomes a lot smarter because you are conscious of your decisions, rather than at the mercy of psychological biases.

(6) Optimize Your Energy Schedule

The reality is that you’re not going to be able to work at 100% clarity and full energy for the entire day. There will be times when you feel more efficient and productive than others.

It makes perfect sense to work with that schedule. I call it optimizing your day for energy. You figure out the times in the day that you feel the most energetic and motivated. Then, always do your most demanding and important work during those times. You can break this down into an easy process:

  1. Write down a list of the things you have to do
  2. Schedule each task in the time slot that matches the required level of motivation. Save your hardest and most important tasks for your highest-motivation times. Do your less demanding tasks when you’re feeling less motivated
  3. If there are any leftover time slots, use them to rest and recharge for future productivity, especially if the time slot is small (30 minutes or less)

By doing your important tasks at that optimal time, you’re ensuring that you get them done faster, with higher quality, and more consistently. This is supported by scientific research as it has been proven that we have a limited amount of willpower to use throughout the day. As such, you want to make sure you’re using that willpower on the most important things.

Maximize the results you get from your hours by picking the best times to work. Do your most important work during your best times and less important work when you’re less energetic.

(7) Look for Leverage

The word leverage comes from the word lever, a primitive tool used to lift and move heavy objects — a crowbar is a common example. The beauty of levers is that they are force multipliers. With the proper lever, you can apply more force while still using the same amount of effort.

Practically speaking, leverage is the technique of increasing your results without the need to increase your efforts. There are a number of ways you can do this today:

  • People — Hire people to help with your work or get them to volunteer. Work with a team when you can, with smart people that complement your strengths and weaknesses. When you’re stuck, ask for help — it’s a lot faster to get the answer from someone who knows already rather than working hard trying to figure it out from scratch
  • Capital — Capital is essentially just money that you can spend. You can buy assets like stocks or real estate that will grow in value over time without you having to lift a finger. You can use capital to buy people leverage by hiring them to do a job. You can also buy advantages like advertising for your business or a ticket to an important networking event
  • Automation— We live in a digital age of code, computers, and machines — so why not use them? There are apps out there today that can do all of your taxes and monitor your spending habits. There are automatic vacuums and grocery delivery to take care of that manual labour. Automate things where you can to save your most valuable asset — time

Applying leverage is all about looking for ways to multiply your output while maintaining the same amount of work effort. Use people, capital, and automation to offload work and get more results without working any harder.

(8) Say “No” More Often

One of the biggest time sucks in our days are all the commitments. An invitation to a friend’s event here, an obligation to respond to an email there, or a promise made to someone that you just caved into.

It’s not that it’s bad to make commitments. It’s just that oftentimes, saying yes to too many little things adds up, and it takes away from the things that are truly important to you. You end up working a lot harder and becoming more tired than is healthy or productive.

The way to work smarter is to say “No” more often. Say no to that random event that your coworker Sally invited you to. Say no to that cousin of a cousin of a cousin’s wedding. Say no to anything that doesn’t align with your values or make you really happy.

There are 4 phrases that will help you say “No” more often:

  1. “Let me get back to you” — to give yourself the time to think about it first. This is a good default response
  2. “I can’t add anything to my plate right now” — It’s a really valid reason that people will accept
  3. “It’s not my thing, but thanks for inviting me” — A polite way to express that the invitation wouldn’t be a good fit for you
  4. “……” — just stay quiet to subtly but clearly communicate that you’re really not interested

Saying no is about taking back control over your life. You don’t have to work hard on the things that don’t truly matter to you. The way to work smarter is by making your time yours — do that by saying no.

Final Takeaway

Anyone can work hard, and we all have the same fixed number of hours in the day. Working harder isn’t the answer to success — working smarter is. Finding ways to get more results out of the same amount of effort. Here are 8 simple ways to work smarter not harder:

  1. Start with a Proof-of-Concept
  2. Work in Your Circle of Competence
  3. Use Small Habits
  4. Pareto Principle
  5. Understand Psychological Biases
  6. Optimize Your Energy Schedule
  7. Look for Leverage
  8. Say “No” More Often

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