11 Ways to ‘Work Smarter Not Harder’

There are a few idioms that have only ever made about 5-10% sense in my head since day dot of hearing them, but I’ve never really thought long or hard enough about what they actually mean.

For example:

No use crying over spilt milk.

Feeling under the weather.

Wouldn’t be caught dead.

And that ever-so-puzzling adage,

Work smarter not harder.

I’ve spent the last 29 years of my life, not only nodding my head graciously when people use these phrases and pretending like I know what they mean, but heck, sometimes these words have even escaped my own mouth with no freaking clue what the hell I’m talking about.

In particular, I struggle with the last one, ‘Work smarter not harder’. Okay sure, sounds great in theory but how exactly do I work smarter, not harder? It has had me baffled for years. I get the theory behind it and absolutely do my best to put it into practice, but today I’m on a mission to break it down once and for all.

What I’ve come to learn is the phrase ‘work smarter’ means something different for everyone depending on their definition of success and progress – but, one thing we all agree on is that working smarter means getting more value out of the hours that you put in. Kinda like going to an all you can eat buffet. You pay the same price regardless of how much you eat, so you may as well stuff your face ‘til you’re moderately to excruciatingly uncomfortable in your own clothes.

This means leveraging our own time, effort and money, prioritising our own needs, outsourcing help, cutting our losses, and building upon strengths in an intentional manner to advance ourselves in the direction we choose. In other words, working smart essentially means figuring out how to reach your goals in the quickest and most economical way possible. Think a combination of Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss and your mum’s house cleaning abilities on a Saturday morning.

Here are some ways I’ve recently been applying this well-worn motto to my life and business, and getting back some sanity and extra hours in my days.

 

  1. Patch up the holes in your bucket, dear Liza.

So, you’ve got a great business, but you’re leaking money faster than a drunk teen on the pokies? You’ve got too many holes in your bucket, dear Liza. Working smarter not harder, means conducting regular audits of the business to look for holes or gaps where you might be leaking time, energy or money. My general manager and I have a massive spreadsheet that lists literally every aspect our business on it – yes, it’s bigger than Ben Hur (another idiom I have no idea about). I make it my mission to look at one or two of those aspects every few weeks and critically analyse how we are currently approaching it from an operational perspective. Could we be more efficient at how we tackle it? If so, how? It’s generally a matter of looking at the process objectively and asking if the right people are on the job, if software could handle it for us, if we’ve been hitting roadblocks at certain points or if there is a solution we can implement to ensure a faster, smoother process. It requires strategic thought, an objective point of view and asking many, many, often stupid questions of ourselves.

 

  1. I always have a ‘Tess to stop doing list’.

Delegation is a powerful force. Particularly when it’s done well. I have a post-it note sitting on my computer that reads “Is this for me?” No, it’s not the beginnings of an existential crisis, it’s a reminder to critically analyse every task, email or request that comes my way. I do my best to ask myself at each situation, am I the best person to be answering this question or performing this task, or am I better to delegate it? To be more effective, you’ve got to ask for help and enlist people who are better at certain tasks and functions than you are to free you up to do the tasks more suited to you.

But remember, this is only effective if you have the right people in the right positions who know exactly what their job descriptions are.

 

  1. Batching is the bee’s knees.

As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, it’s important we become more be intentional with the hours in our day and strive for velocity over volume. This means increased focus with decreased distractions, aka no multitasking. As far as I can tell, we’re the only species that goes a little Cray Cray for multi-tasking. I mean, I’ve never seen my dog try to eat, drink, bark and defecate simultaneously. Oh, actually, only that one time after she ate a rotting deer leg at the beach and got incredibly sick.

Anyways, I have an obsession with batching tasks. Each week I list out the days ahead of me and batch tasks under each of those days according to similarities and focus required. The days I’m in the studio, I start at 6am (which means a 4:30am wake up call – yikes), and from the get-go it’s ON – I tackle all the small tasks like emails and 10 minute tasks. The days I’m at home are more bigger picture , strategy days. Which leads me to my next point….

 

  1. Have ‘untouchable’ days.

I recently wrote about why I’m having ‘Untouchable Thursdays’, you can read more about that here, but essentially, I have one day a week where I’m uncontactable. I spend the day at home working on big, fat juicy tasks that will actually propel the business forward. Without any meetings, emails or G-chats from my team I’m able to truly focus and zone in for the entire day. It’s blissfully productive and the business is so much better off for it.

 

  1. Strap in for the long game.

Have a gazillion and one items on your to-do list and double the amount of emails in your inbox? That’s perfectly okay. Stop thinking you need to finish all of them right this second – instead focus on the things that are crucial to your business’ bottom line and your personal gratification. My advice is to slow down and focus on the things that are actually going to propel you towards your goals – those that bring the greatest long-term impact. Often these tasks require greater psychological bandwidth and deeper focus, but trust me, they are so worth scratching your head over when you see the results they bring you.

 

  1. Play to your strengths

I’m sure you’ve heard about the 80/20 rule? It’s a principle often applied to business that argues that if you have a list of 10 items to accomplish, 2 of those items will turn out to be worth more than the other 8 items put together. It sounds unrealistic, but once you put it into practice, it’s veracity becomes undeniably apparent.

When we are busy, stressed and overwhelmed, we tend to procrastinate on the 20% of tasks that are the most valuable to our business, and instead gravitate towards the less important 80% of our tasks that are easy wins, or time-fillers.

In order to have impact and velocity in our days, we should instead, focus on the 20% vital tasks that will bring us most success and satisfaction. The way that I do this is write down a list of 10 goals for the day, and then circle the 2 that will bring most impact to the business – the key here is to think about the long term benefits these tasks will bring you. Then, I get cracking on those tasks first. Once I complete those top 2 tasks, I know that I’ve skewed my day to ensure the 80/20 rule works in my favour. The remaining 8 tasks on the list are simply cherries on the icing.

 

  1. Put some things on auto-pilot.

I’m not suggesting you do as Zuckerberg does and wear the same thing every day for the sake of productivity, but I do agree that reducing the amount of decisions we need to make each day allows us to focus on the more important things. Think about the everyday tasks that you do that you could perhaps automate. By eliminating things like going to the store to buy toilet paper every two weeks (Hello Who Gives a Crap!), you can focus that time and energy on more important tasks instead.

 

  1. Break up with your inbox.

Stop checking your email every two seconds. It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and when we start to spiral into exhaustion or burnout, our reservoir gets depleted and we are less inclined to stick to the things we know are good for us. I know for myself, that when I’m feeling tired it’s far easier to spend the day eating Mars Bars over salad, and dawdling my day inside my inbox doing menial tasks, than it is to work on the bigger ticket items that will actually have long last effects on my business.

 

  1. ‘Sleep when you’re dead’ is for suckers.

In the past when I was feeling behind, I’d stay up late trying to catch up. This works if you do it very occasionally, but I did it all the time. That made me tired, meaning more mistakes, less foresight, and less energy focused on the work. Now when I’m feeling behind and tired, I take the day off and come back in the next day refreshed and raring to go. As tempting as it is to handcuff yourself to your desk and force your tired self to smash out all of that work, it’s really just setting you up for burnout in the long run.

 

  1. Research how the big doggies do it.

There’s no denying I’m a sucker for a self-help book. My house is drowning in them and I buy them faster than I can read them. Why? Because I want to know successful people’s’ secrets. I think, surely if they’ve figured out how to maximise their time and reap the rewards, I can learn from them? This is why I devour book, podcasts, blogs and eavesdrop at every chance I can. Tools of Titans is a great starting place for anyone looking for ways to work smarter, not harder.

 

  1. Look back to look forward.

It might seem counterintuitive, but sitting still is actually one of my favourite methods to move forward. I find that when I’m still, be it in meditation or simply enjoying a day at the beach, by creating a sense of spaciousness and looking back, I’m able to look forward.

Reflection allows your brain to better access new strategies and ways of working with greater clarity and focus. To give you an example, the other day I was reflecting on the key things that have allowed me to build SBD to what it is today. Without a doubt, the big glaring thing that sprung to my mind on a flashing neon sign was ‘People’. The people who’ve been on my team over the years, the clients, the friends, the mentors, the ‘network’. So, looking forward I’m placing more focus on relationships and genuine interaction.

Image credit: Joost Termeer

Why I’m having untouchable Thursdays.

My first job was at McDonalds. No kidding.

When we weren’t being harassed by impatient soccer mums demanding Astro boy with their Happy Meals, or underagers jacked up on soft serve, my yellow-clad colleagues and I used to play this game where we’d throw the little sauce containers as hard as we could against the floor and whoever’s sauce splattered against the ceiling, won. It was, at the time, one of the biggest challenges of my life. (I was only 13, don’t judge me).

Fast forward to today and some days I would kill to be back at Maccas. I now juggle 4 businesses, house renovations, a Kelpie and shortly, a newborn.

I hate the notion of wearing the ‘busy badge’ with every cell of my body. But in all honestly, I find it super hard to buy into this ‘my life is full’ not ‘busy’ methodology. When you wake up each morning and study your calendar to try and find the 5 minute breaks in your day when you might be able to fuel your body and take care of its bodily functions, it’s hard to avoid using the word ‘busy’.

The other day, a 7 year old asked me the million dollar question – if I could have any superpower in the world, which would I choose. I told him, I would freeze time. If I could just have an extra hour in my day, or day in my week, or month in my year I would be so much more chill. But until I stumble across a Genie in a bottle, I’ll have to put up with the same 365 days as everyone else.

I know all business owners out there can relate to this. I often joke that the only place busier than an entrepreneur’s calendar is Disneyland in the peak of school holidays. And to be honest, running a business often feels just as unhinged, bewildering and energy draining, only you walk away with far less fairy floss and Vitamin D in your system. More on the ‘busy’ dilemma here.

Whilst I haven’t yet found the Genie to grant our wishes, (don’t worry, I’m still looking), I have, however, found the next best solution. It’s called an Untouchable Day.

Since I started my business I’ve always had one day a week that I spend on the business, not in it. Sounds great in theory right?! But implementing this is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve had to be really disciplined about sticking to it. Even though I’ve been doing it for seven years now, still every week, every force under the sun will try to prevent me from taking a day out of the studio, a day away from the mundane tasks, away from my inbox (God forbid!!) and a day to sit in solitude and get some proper, deeper work done.

But the thing that keeps me persisting with it is that these untouchable days are almost as addictive as crack. No joke. They are so valuable to the trajectory of my business and my sanity that I crave them. And if I don’t get my hit one week? I feel it – like a junkie coming down, I feel anxious, stressed and like I haven’t achieved anything in my week.

My marketing manager, Hannah, recently shared this post with me which inspired me to tell you about my version of Untouchable Days and why I love them so much.

So, what do I actually do on an untouchable day?

It depends. I either label the day as an ideation day or execution day, depending on what the business needs from me that week.

An ideation day is where I use the day to generate new ideas and workshop existing problems or facets of the business that need my attention. In the first half of an ideation day, my existence usually evaporates into a piece of butcher’s paper, scrawling my thoughts and ideas so vigorously I’m sure I’ve got early onset RSI, completely losing track of time and brain dumping anything and everything that comes to mind with the filter of a 3 year old child.

The second half of the day is a process of coming down from caffeine, and slowly but surely piecing together the remnants of a few good ideas and transforming them into a solid strategy and action plan.

An execution day on the other hand, is a day spent ploughing through some actual work. It’s all about implementing new strategies, systems or action plans. I write down no more than two or three things I want to get done for the day. These tasks are solid tasks that require my full strength focus and a full strength coffee. They might include writing a bunch of blog posts, auditing our processes, reviewing one of our products or implementing an action plan for a new strategy I’m working on.

The day is most certainly spent in a top knot and trackies, with endless snacks, and some sweet tunes cranking (lately it’s been a close battle between this and this). It’s about finding the perfect balance of upbeat and calm, so that I can focus in and switch my brain from frantic to focused.

I have a couple of rules for my untouchable days to ensure I get the most out of them and don’t just spend the day going back and forth to the fridge (FYI – the contents of your fridge don’t actually change no matter how many five minutes intervals you visit it. I know, so disappointing.)

Cardinal rule #1 of an untouchable day is to block out the time on your calendar.

Essentially treat it with the same level of seriousness as your fiancé’s wedding (you should probably attend that one) or emergency surgery (okay, perhaps not that level of severity, but almost).

I know just as well as anyone, that if I postponed my untouchable day to when I finish all my urgent, pressing, semi-on-fire tasks I might see the light of the untouchable day in ummm, approximately ten years’ time.

Look, in ten years’ time I plan on living in Topanga Canyon for half the year and drinking chilled red wine from a Swarovski goblet. Not having some kind of doctrinal ‘working sabbatical’ in my office each week – c’mon!

Long story short? I’m not getting to the bottom of my inbox or daily to-do’s anytime soon, so I may as well pretend like they don’t exist for one day a week and do the stuff that really matters.

Cardinal rule #2 is to block out distractions.

I am obsessed with Gmail’s Inbox Pause feature and swear by it for when I want to get some real work done. It essentially just pauses any new emails coming into your inbox for a nominated period of time. Because let’s face it, anyone who’s tried to avoid the allure of a busy inbox for an entire day knows it’s harder than breaking up with your high school sweetheart. There’s so much procrastination, temptation and ease to just slip back into it and not face the music.

I also pretend that it’s the good ol’ days and social media doesn’t yet exist (oh, what a time to be alive!). An Untouchable Day means avoiding falling down any proverbial rabbit holes such as Instagram, Pinterest, The Fat Jewish, Comments by Celebs or answering the door to people who aren’t couriers bringing me gifts. This extends to and includes friends, family and girl scouts. You are not welcome. Except for my partner / roommate / gardener, Byron, and even sometimes then, I’ll only allow him into our home at my own discretion.

So, what are the benefits of an untouchable day?

Well, that’s a 40km long blog post, so I’ll leave the full deets for another day. But in short, when I’m not sucked into the vortex of the daily to-do’s I can access my brain with a killer combination of speed, intelligence, focus and grounding. As soon as I open that little red demon we refer to as Gmail? All these parts of my brain are zapped. Nadda. Zilch. Empty. It’s like a phone with a dead battery – you know it works and functions as it should, but you just can’t access it.

No matter what kind of work you do — writing, designing, coaching, project management, personal styling or potato peeling — having an Untouchable Day will bring back the genius in you.

Because after all, time is the most valuable asset you own, you have to use it wisely.

Image credit: Glossier

The keys to killer confidence

If your name is Kanye West or Tony Robbins you probably don’t need to be reading this article, (but thank you for subscribing to my blog anyways, I’m truly honoured but puh-lease, the last thing you guys need is more confidence).

If you aren’t Kanye or Tony, then this post is for you. And, for me, if I’m really honest with you.

It’s been a weird week. I think I’m going to blame it on pregnancy hormones or this full moon eclipse, or the combination of the two!

I’ve been feeling a bit out of character. Not, in the sell-everything-I-own-on-eBay and move to Greenland kinda way, just in the ‘something’s odd and I can’t quite put my finger on it’ kinda way.

It’s more just like someone scooped out a little spoonful from my self-confidence jar whilst I wasn’t looking and left me feeling just a tiny bit deflated and doubtful.

The thing is, we live in a world that is designed to make us feel uneasy about ourselves a lot of the time, (ahem, Instagram I’m looking at you). We’re reminded multiple times a day that we’re not smart enough, not rich enough, not beautiful enough, not achieving enough, not #goals, #extra or double tapped enough.

And I think this last week, I’ve been listening to the world and that pesky little voice inside my head a little too much. It happens to all of us, most likely even Kanye and Tony… once every few years I’m sure.

Recently, a new buzzword appeared on the scene that made everybody cringe but also bonded us together in wholehearted ‘yes-ness’: imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome refers to the feelings of inadequacy that lurk our thoughts with self-doubt and persist despite evidence of our success and adequacy. I know you know the feels.

It might speak to you just as you’re about to have an important conversation. It might wake you in the middle of the night to tell you how lame you really are. It might surprise you when you’re stuck in traffic with backhanded compliments about your new job title that you clearly don’t deserve. It might slap you across the face in the middle of a meeting. It might spring on you when you’re minding your own g-damn business. Maybe in a couple of minutes from now, when you return back to your inbox and notice an email from someone asking something of you, you read it, the pit of your stomach zings with anxiety, and you know that whatever this task is, you’re the last person in the room capable of doing it.

Imposter syndrome is a real bitch.

We all know that it’s a bitch and that it’s purely a figure of our imaginations, and yet we all struggle to free ourselves of it and get on with being the best boss/designer/partner/writer/editor/backgammon player we can. We all know that confidence plays a huge role in success, but how exactly do we foster enough of it to get through and show the world how capable we really are?

I’ve written about looking like a pro, even when you’re not before, but I’m about to drop my fave ten tips to cultivating confidence so y’all can get a little Kanye in your step.

 

  1. Stay in control of your destiny.

(I’m well aware that the above phrase conjures up images of Tony Robbins fist pumping and yelling positive affirmations at an audience of thousands, but I’m going with it anyways.)

So much of life creeps up on you without you noticing. If you’re not paying attention and taking control of your destiny, life can take over and lead you on a journey you’re not entirely comfortable with or excited by. One day, you’re a well-paid, sassy marketing manager at the hippest farrshion label around, and the next you’re the 3IC at your local Video-Ezy. Which is actually still a thing by the way.

Life happens when you least expect it. By staying in control of your destiny, you remain in the driver’s seat, making informed decisions about the direction you wish to go and therefore in control of what fills your happiness and confidence buckets each and every day.

 

  1. Use haters as fuel to your fire.

There will always be people in the world who think you’re not the bees knees. And if there’s not, there’s always your imposter syndrome to fill that void. If I don’t keep my I.S in check she can make my confidence levels drop like a fat kid on a see-saw. But I do my best to not let her get me down, instead I use the negative criticism (whether from others, or myself), as kindling for my inner fire. Whenever I feel a sense of inadequacy or doubt creep in from negative feedback or self-criticism, I do my very best to convert that into energy to prove the theory wrong. If you tell me I suck at making my bed, you better believe that the next day I will have watched at least 20 YouTube videos on the perfect pillow plump and will have nailed my 5* hotel corners before the sun’s even up.

 

  1. Do work you love, that magnifies your skills.

It’s a simple equation really – get good at things, feel good about things. Confidence is built on accomplishment. My confidence in my own abilities comes from practice, persistence and hard-bloody-work, not sitting there chanting positive affirmations and cleansing my chakras. If you’re working in a field that accentuates your skills and you work hard, soon enough you’re bound to become reasonably good at it. It sounds pretty straightforward, right?! But I get it, sometimes even the path that we were unmistakably destined for can scare the bejeebers out of us. Just remember, every single wildly successful person has been afraid, and they’ve kept working anyway. As our old buddy Tony would say, feel the fear and do it anyways.

 

  1. Don’t credit luck.

There are entrepreneurs and there are accidental entrepreneurs. I’m part of the latter. I ‘fell’ into this world and whilst I’m certainly grateful I did, falling into my career means that I’ve had to deal with a lot of self-doubt around deserving what this position entails. Because of my far-from-traditional career trajectory, it’s easy for me to cast the word ‘lucky’ as a blanket cover for all that I have achieved, “Oh, I was just lucky. In the right place at the right time, rah, rah, rah.”

But what I’ve learnt, is that calling yourself lucky strips you of your worthiness, and therefore your confidence. Why? Because luck is synonymous with randomness. To label yourself or your achievements as ‘lucky’ is to deny the impact of your hard work, persistence and skills. I’m a big believer in the fact that we all create our own luck and that nothing on our journey is an accident. Jamila Rivzi’s book, Not Just Lucky is a brilliant read for anyone struggling with this.

 

  1. You take with the good with the bad and accept there will always be bad.

One of the keys to confidence is being happy with where you’re at, regardless of where you’re at. The older I get, the more I learn that there will always be work to be done and things I could do better. My businesses are still very much full of rough edges and dark corners that wake me up at ungodly hours of the night. There are still, and always will be, plenty of mess and mistakes. There are F-ups and days where I wonder if I’d be better to flush the whole thing down the drain, spruce up my CV and log on to Seek. Most of my daily work is not glamorous, it’s not easy and most of the time I’m just Googling the answer to simple business equations how like to balance my income with my expenses. But I’ve learnt to look at the bright spots, the daily wins and the achievements. I accept the bad and celebrate the good, with this comes a sense of ease and confidence in the things that you are doing well.

 

  1. Find a fan club that builds you up.

One the easiest ways to cultivate confidence is to outsource it! Surround yourself with people who are more supportive than your bestie after 5 rosés and a shot of tequila (baaaabe, you look grrreaaaat!). Confidence comes with having a support crew who celebrate your wins and remind you of your achievements every day. My team, my friends, my family and my dog (in her own special way) are my biggest fans and greatest groupies. And of course my partner, he’s my emotional rock and loyal cheerleader through thick and thin, and probably the reason I’m still in business.

 

  1. Stick to your strengths.

When it comes to life admin I am an imbecile. Seriously, an imbecile. Oh sure I can conjure up an outlandish creative concept at the drop of a hat, describe with the most sincere adjectives what my morning smoothie tasted like, colour coordinate my wardrobe better than Marie Kondo herself, or brew the most perfectly delicious, day-changing chai – but put me in a room and ask me to renew my rego or consolidate my super and I’m Screwed with a capital S. By sticking to your strengths you’re bound to accomplish more, and by accomplishing more, you’re bound to feed the confidence appetite within.

 

  1. Get over yourself.

A huge amount of self-doubt stems from us worrying about what other people may think of us. It’s like Judge Judy haunting us with a feedback loop of all these nasty comments people are saying about us, but aren’t actually saying, or even thinking. The problem with this is that it’s all make believe! Our ego likes to tell us that other people think about us more often than they actually do. Have a think about how many times a day you think about people who aren’t in your immediate circle of daily interactions. Like those old school friends, work acquaintances, and all those so-called ‘friends’ on Facebook. Unless they text you, call you or poke you on Facebook (is that still a thing?), I’ll bet my left kidney that you can go quite a few days without thinking of them. Now consider how often people are thinking about you. Pretty much never. Isn’t that the most liberating feeling?

 

  1. Make your decision and then stick to it. Back yourself.

I’m one of those people who finds making decisions really easy. I’ll go out for lunch with friends and whilst they’re to-ing and fro-ing between menu items for a cool 40 minutes, I’ll have planned out the next 20 years of my life… I made my lunch decision before I walked in the door. One the best ways to build your confidence is to wear it like your favourite sweater. If you ooze confidence then eventually, by osmosis, you’ll end up being more confident – it’s the fake it til you make it theory, and it has power! Next time you make a decision, don’t question yourself, just stick to it and watch your whole energy shift.

 

  1. Like yourself.

At a certain point in your life, you have to decide to like yourself. Yeah, I know – shock horror, how-the-F-am-I-EVER-going-to-do-that?! But it’s true. Most of us, if we’re lucky, get to spend many years alive on this earth… with the company of one person – ourselves. If you spend your entire lifetime disliking yourself, that’s a long bloody time wound up with someone disliking you. Get comfy with yourself, present your real self, full strength and just simply own it. You will never find killer confidence living in someone else’s shoes.

Image credit: Kelsey McClellan