Ideas + Insights

11 Ways to ‘Work Smarter Not Harder’

Tess Robinson

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

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