We love our work. We find value and enjoyment in the product we create and the service we get to offer our customers every day. But still we need to strive to work smarter not harder so we can also enjoy the lives we have outside of work.
Let’s take a look at why this mindset is important, the history behind hard work norms, and how to work smarter not harder.
What’s Wrong With the “Work Harder Not Smarter” Mindset
The trouble with regularly working long hours is that it leads to burnout. According to a recent Gallup study on burnout, almost 75% of full-time workers regularly experience burnout. During tax season, burnout may seem inevitable, but innovative leaders like Erik Solbakken have explained their success working within normal hours and outlawing overtime in their firms.
Overall, adding more hours of work each week is ineffective. In a recent Stanford study, researchers found that working longer hours does not lead to better work. The correlation between quantitative output and hours worked is positive to a point, before the output drastically declines.
Whether we admit it or not, there are limits to the general human capacity when it comes to waking and working hours. In some circles, there seems to be a competition among colleagues over who can work the most hours. Hearing someone brag about a late night spent on a project sounds similar to the mentality of students who once celebrated pulling all-nighters to finish an assignment.
But the bottom line is this: We all have to sleep and eat at some point. And this is not the time to suggest surviving off of bleak sustenance like Soylent. (No offense Soylent; you just can’t fulfill us forever.) Please eat real foods and get full nights’ worth of sleep.
Let’s dive into how you can work well and accomplish a lot in your career, while leaving room to lead a full life outside of your job.
A Brief Review of Minimum Hourly Work Week
Now that we can agree that we do indeed have limits as humans, we can start to create a better expectation for what can be accomplished within our natural boundaries.
Let’s travel back in history to remember how we got to the 40 hour work week in the first place.
In the western world in the 1800s and early 1900s, the market changed drastically with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. People were often treated as machines, working upwards of 100-120 hours per week. With the rise of accidents, injuries, and major damage to buildings and health hazards, labor activists fought internationally for better work conditions. Among many laws to make work practices more humane, included was the maximum hours workers would be required to be present every week.
Robert Owen, a labor activist in the 1800s Industrial Revolution, fought for “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” This successful change in legislation led to the standard of the eight hour workday.
Travel to America in the 1920s, and the eight hour workday continued to be the standard, still running on a six-day-per-week schedule. Henry Ford changed up the standard by reducing the six-day week to five, thus creating the 40 hour work week we now know.
But does the 40 hour work week really work for everyone in every industry and position? Many leaders think it might still be too much. In a 2004 study by the 2004 study by the CDC’s Department of Health and Human Services, researchers found that “the 9th to 12th hours of work were associated with feelings of decreased alertness and increased fatigue, lower cognitive function, declines in vigilance on task measures, and increased injuries.”
As a result of findings like these, some companies have been experimenting with even shorter weeks. A recent example, Microsoft in Japan reported a 40% increase in productivity when they tried out a four day week.
Why stop at four days per week? Blow your own mind when you learn about how entrepreneur Tim Ferris completes all of his work in four hours per week. He explains how he successfully runs his business from anywhere in the world in his bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek.
While only working four hours per week might not be doable for all of us, it’s still important to think creatively about how you can restructure your firm’s environment. Afterall, the goal is neither to work the most nor the fewest hours of all. The goal is to create excellent work to serve your clients better than your your competition.
Five Hacks to Work Smarter Not Harder
The level of service and quality of work you’re able to provide for your clients are more important than the time you spend working on them. Here are our five tips for how to work smart in your firm:
1. Before you start on a task, take the time to clarify the exact expectations.
Lack of clarity in your work leads to burnout. Instead of sitting in confusion or trying your best to read the minds of your colleagues and clients, ask clarifying questions, use simple team collaboration tips like brainstorming with colleagues if you’re running low on creative juice, and take time to research what’s already been done. The less you can reinvent the wheel, the better your time will have been spent.
2. Understand the “why” of the task.
This concept is natural to those of us with the motivation type of “Questioner.” We must understand and agree with the reasoning for why something needs to be done. This purpose-driven perspective ties into motivation as a whole, and work performance has been proven to be dependent on motivation. If you’re driven by purpose to accomplish a goal, you’re much more likely to stay focused and dedicate the time needed for it.
3. Break down each task into bite-sized pieces.
We love when a solution is way simpler than we expected. Sometimes the best workflow system starts with a simple checklist. Atul Gawande literally wrote the book on the power of the checklist across many diverse industries in his book, Checklist Manifesto. If you want a simple nine-minute summary of this practice put into play, check out Matt D’Avella’s video on the power of checklists.
Pro Tip: Use Jetpack Workflow to break down regular projects into assignable and recurring tasks. We have 70+ premade templates that you can adapt to your firm’s needs, but you can also create your own from scratch.
4. Create and stick to routines, rituals, environment for the right headspace.
What’s the secret to automating your life without technology? Creating habits. In Atomic Habits, James Clear dives into the practical tacticals of how to create a habit. In a similar approach, Jeff Olson explains in The Slight Edge his philosophy on working on 1% improvements at a time. Over time, these seemingly small changes add up to huge - and more importantly - long lasting and habitual improvements.
5. Step away from the work and refresh as you need.
It might feel sometimes like it’s impossible to step away, but unless you’re forced to stay in one place with no permission for a bathroom break, you do have the ability to pause. Or schedule your day with built-in breaks like Francesco Cirillo’s "Pomodoro Technique.” This can be done generally by batching tasks together and time blocking.
If you need a simple way to work smarter and take back your sanity, start your 14-day free trial of Jetpack Workflow today.