Let me give you an example.
Two people walk into a coffee shop.
The first takes a seat and opens a word document on their computer.
Somebody texts them, so they look down to respond. They hit send, and then look back up. “Okay, where should I start?” they ask themselves.
Another text. They look down to reply and then look back up. “Okay wait, where was I? Oh yeah, so I think I’ll start with…”. Another text. They look down and respond. And so on and so forth.
The second person sits down, responds to any lingering texts, and tells anyone they’re having a conversation with that they need to focus and will talk to them later.
They then turn their phone on silent, plug in their headphones, and work without distraction.
After an hour, I can guarantee you the second person was more productive than the first.
They got more done. They probably feel more accomplished and less stressed, because they were only focusing on one thing. And they probably entered a state of flow that allowed them to do really great work.
The difference, here, isn’t that the second person was somehow “smarter” or “more intelligent.” However, they worked smarter because they knew if they left the door open for distraction (aka kept their phone available), they would be distracted.
The first person may have worked the same amount of time, may have sat there for an hour, but their time was not as well spent.
This is what people mean when they say it’s better to work smarter instead of harder.
Harder means measuring success by time.
Smarter means measuring success by what was accomplished.
To work smart, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you get started:
- What is going to distract me, and how can I preemptively remove those distractions?
- Is there a way for me to better organize my tasks so that I can get more done in less time? (For example: chunking similar items together so that you can get into a flow of doing the same sorts of work over and over again for a period of time)
- Based on what I’m looking to accomplish right now, would I benefit from a different environment? Should I be around people or by myself? What variables do I need to consider in order to do my best work?
- How am I going to measure my own success? What is my “finish line?”
- Who can I ask for feedback from, to avoid wasting time learning lessons the hard way when someone who has already learned those lessons can provide guidance on how to most effectively move forward?
Too many people in the world waste time trying to do everything themselves, or trying to do too many things at once.
Focus is what allows you to do one thing well, faster, and more effectively.
This means working smart is the ability to create moments where that level of focus unfolds naturally.
This article first appeared in Medium.