The Art Of Working Smart: 5 Steps To a More Productive Workday

The Art Of Working Smart: 5 Steps To a More Productive Workday


In an increasingly competitive work environment, one begins to realize that to be successful in our career takes more than just sheer hard work, diligence and dedication. Granted that these are important qualities but then we are also aware that there are many workers, employees and executives who worked very hard in their jobs but never seem to make much progress in their careers.

They are those who slog from early morning and stay back at work till the late hours of the evening. They sacrifice their lunch hours, family time, relaxation time and social interactions but will still not, at the end of it all, harvest the fruits of their labour. They are hard workers but are they achievers?

Results must be viewed from the eye of the boss and not just your own.

To be successful in our career, we all currently face a challenge. A challenge to be able to deliver results in lesser time or to achieve better results within the time we have, or better still, better results in lesser time. Under such demanding situations one has got to take another look at the way we do things.

The issue these days is no longer how much work or items or jobs we can complete in a day. After all… work can never really be completed. There are always more things to do. The issue now is how much result can we achieve in a normal workday. The key is to think in terms of results, not just the number of items or jobs done.

The ability to get a lot of work done could mean that one is fairly efficient. But being efficient is not enough… the way to success in our career lies in effectiveness. The question becomes: how effective a worker are you? What is the difference?

Efficiency relates to performing a particular task within a certain performance criteria, eg. typing 100 words in three minutes. Effectiveness involves determining what should be done and how results can be best achieved. A smarter way of putting it is, efficiency is doing the job right whereas effectiveness is doing the right job.

For instance, a person receives a letter written to her from some place far away requesting for a particular piece of information urgently. To be able to immediately go to her typewriter and hammer out a perfect letter with the perfect information and have it sent out the same day would be considered as very efficient. But is that necessarily effective? Is that the way to achieve the results we want? Perhaps not. Perhaps a more effective way to handle that would have been to send a fax, to phone or to telex the information.

In another example, we can measure the efficiency of a computer department by the number of reports generated by the department within a particular time frame. Effectiveness would mean more than just the number of reports. If none of the reports are ever used by whoever it goes to, it would be a case of an efficient but rather ineffective computer department. In short, for the individual, we say work smarter and not just harder. The question is how?

Here’s how:

1. Keep focus on objective and results.

In whatever work you’re doing, two questions should always be kept in mind;

  • What is the objective?
  • What results do I want to get out of this?

This is necessary, particularly when one is under pressure. There are some who end up in a frenzy, rushing about and in great haste, getting what appears to be work… done. The concentration is on completing rather than achieving. The focus on results will not be there and ultimately, results will not be achieved. As they say, much ado about nothing.

One also finds this deficiency common among workers doing routine and procedural work. They are often hard workers but they tend not to know what they have to achieve. Even if they do know, they often lose sight of their goals and get caught up with routine. Often the routine has inherent characteristics in it, namely the irrelevant and the unnecessary.

Procedures are large nets designed to catch everything. But sometimes we do not want to catch everything. As a result, precious time and efforts are wasted. However, it is not to say that procedures and policies are not necessary. What I am saying rather is that it is important to know why and when they are appropriate and timely, and to find a better way to do things whenever possible… which leads to Principle No. 2.


2. Challenge the “obvious” and be creative.

Challenge the “obvious” because nothing remains static for long. Circumstances changes, so do the environment and the people and even the objectives. One should always test and challenge what appears to be obvious.

With objectives and results to be achieved in mind, one could always look for a better way to do things. This can be done by releasing oneself from the routine, the norm and the accepted while keeping focused on what needs to be achieved.

The idea is to be creative while remaining purposeful. Being creative brings out the best in you and will set you apart from the mass… most of whom could be just simply hard workers.

For instances, it was obvious that in particular company, the management wanted monthly submissions of a particular report. This may be diligently and fervently carried out but nobody remembers that the senior manager who wanted it has since left the company and the present replacement never uses it.


3. Focus on what counts; the 80-20 rule.

Some of you may be familiar with Pareto’s Principle which states that “80 percent of the value of a group of items is generally concentrated in only 20 percent of the items.” For instances, 80 percent of the sales of a business would probably come from 20 percent of the customers. In the case of phone calls, 80 percent of your calls would come from 20 percent of your callers.

If you find it difficult to disagree with Vifredo Pareto, you will therefore agree that 80 percent of your effectiveness comes from achieving 20 percent of the work to be done.

Smart workers know that it is not the number of items you complete that determines your success but the number of items completed which generate results that will determine your success.

In short, spend 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of the work that will bring 80 percent of the results. It is foolhardy to try to do everything. Just do the right things the right way. But of course, you have to know which are the important items that constitute the 20 percent and which the 80 percent. If you don’t know it, you must find out.


4. Know what is expected of you and your job.

Suppose that a questionnaire survey was done of ordinary workers on how their bosses would judge them to determine if they are good workers or not. Don’t be too surprised if the majority of the answers you get are blank stares, muffled “I don’t know’s” or pure assumptions. How can one be a smart worker if one doesn’t even know what one is expected to do?

The smart worker knows what is expected of her and her job. She would know what her boss expects out of her in terms of results and performance. She would know what criterion her boss would base his judgement of her performance on. And what would the smart worker do if she knows? She will play the music according to the music sheet.

The expectations may be unusual and the criterion may not be appropriate, but if you work smart for this particular boss, you have to meet his expectations. So if you have a boss who judges you by how often you stay back to work after five even if that is a bad criterion to judge effectiveness on, you may have to do just that.

Results must be viewed from the eye of the boss and not just your own.

No two bosses have the same expectations or criteria to determine success. It is therefore necessary to find out should there be a change of bosses or alternatively if you changed jobs. When going into a new job, it would be essential and smart to have a chat with your new boss and find out what are her expectations of you and your job.


5. Manage your time.

There is a proliferation of books and seminars on time management and all of them have one principle in common. The principle is best expressed by Benjamin Franklin who said, “If you want to enjoy the greatest luxuries in life – of having enough time to rest, think things through, get things done and know that you have done them to the best of your ability – there is only one way:



The key to better time management, better life and eventually better health is to learn to prioritize. Prioritizing is an exercise in determining what’s more important and getting them done.

One should guide one’s daily life in terms of priorities. To this end, one should consider:

Making a daily list of things to do. The famous TO DO list is a well-known and proven tool, but it takes determination to make it work for you. And it will only work if the list is based on the priority of things to do.

Stop procrastinating. Procrastination is a common disease that brings other diseases, such as ulcers and heart diseases, that are due to stress. The idea is to make everyday in your life meaningful and not to waste it by procrastinating. There’s no time to say you don’t have time. It’s just an excuse because it is a question of priority.

Learn to say NO. The smart worker is selfish because if she’s not, she’s foolish. If you can’t say no because you have to please others at your own expense, then you have to live by that decision. If you decide to put away your own priorities for others, that may be well and good. There’s certainly a time and place for that but at work, the ability to say no may just save you from the deluge of obligations that you have reaped for yourself. The trick is learning how to say no and yet remain pleasant. It’s difficult, but very possible.

Delegate. For those who have people to delegate work to, not doing so would be the death of your effectiveness as a manager or supervisor. You can’t hope to achieve results for your department unit all by yourself. Learning to extend results from what you yourself can do to what you can control is a smart manager or supervisor’s key tool.

Know yourself. This principle calls for you to:

  • Know yourself
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses
  • Know what you like
  • Know what you want
  • Set goals

Ultimately you should find a job that utilize your strengths and that you love. Confucious once said: “Find a job you love and you will never have to work for the rest of your life.”


If you love what you do, you will do well in it. The smart worker is a happy worker… she knows what she loves and wants, she does what she loves and she does it with greater effectiveness and productivity. She’s working smart. Are you?