Work Smarter Not Harder


Working hard and working smart are not synonyms. Yes you can work both smart and hard, but you can also spend a lot of effort and fail at the end of the day. Here are a few principles on how to work smarter that I have learned by watching successful leaders and managers as well as those who got them wrong. While these principles are simple…even obvious…they seem to elude us quite often.

Work smarter

Do what only you can do for your organization. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Once I was the technology expert for my company–doing everything from troubleshooting network connections to installing printers and drivers. Granted, there were only 3 of us in the early days. Today I don’t even know how to use the fax machine or get a conference call started. I had to let those things go or I could never do the critical tasks only I can do for the organization.

You are hired to get the job done and not to be busy. Some people justify their salaries by the sheer amount of activity they create. You were not hired to be busy; you were hired to be effective. You must have a firm grip on your supervisor’s expectations of your output and make sure you do that.

Become an owner. No matter what position I had in any of the jobs I’ve ever worked in, I always felt that the success or failure of the organization was dependent on how well I performed. As your sense of ownership in your organization grows, your sense of entitlement diminishes.  After all, you don’t ever hear owners say, “that’s not what I’m paid to do.”

Set expectations early and often. Whether it’s an assistant, a second in command, or a volunteer, you need to set clear and measurable goals from the beginning. A critical mistake managers make is to provide someone with a written job description at the time of hiring and that never gets updated or evaluated again until things are not well. Job expectations are tied to specific projects. If you can’t measure the small stuff you will never be able to assess the big picture. Take time to define a win for each project and evaluate them at completion.

Hire well. It’s easy to get married, but painful to divorce. Find the 3Cs: Competence, character, and chemistry. Spend the time to hire the right person. Avoid the rush to “fill a position.” The wrong person in your team could be costly. As a matter of fact, the wrong hire at a key position could cost your job and in the case of small businesses, the business itself.

Find the right distance to manage from. Micromanagers are too close; this lowers trust, disempowers subordinates and destroys their motivation. Absentee managers are too far away; they provide insufficient guidance, don’t keep track of work being done, and aren’t there to listen and provide answers to questions that come up. The optimal distance is in between. Provide direction and guidance, let your subordinates know you’re keeping track from your own vantage point, and check in with them periodically.

Which one of these have you found most challenging in your experience?


  • The first one.  When you stop doing the things where you bring no unique value, others accustomed to seeing you do them begin to look askance and wonder why you “don’t care” anymore.

  • Roy Wallen

    The most difficult task I have as a manager is hiring well.  The converse is also true: finding a position that is the “right fit” (that euphemistic excuse for telling someone they will not be successful) is key to retaining the position you accept.  Your 3 Cs are the most important elements to meet but also difficult to assess in the hiring process (an hour or two on the phone or in person will not suffice).
    Looking forward to more parts to this series.

  • Robert

    Who is the guy in the picture? he is like me!!!!

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