Working Smart

Successful people often emphasize the role that hard work played in enabling their achievements.  I've heard numerous CEOs and successful entrepreneurs attribute success to the tireless effort and the countless hours they logged to build their careers.  There are lots of notable quotes that emphasize this notion, such as this one from Colin Powell: "A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work."  These snippets are true and they likely serve to motivate people, but when taken as snippets they obscure the bigger picture.  The reality is that working hard is important, but what is more important is working smart.    

There is no specific blueprint for working smart since the details depend on one's job, industry, and experience.  However here are some basic things one can do to work smarter:

  • Leverage technology: Today more than ever specialized tools are available to help you do your job.  For businesses there exist collaboration, analytics, and CRM tools that enable amazing efficiency.  Pick any industry or professional function and I can find a technology or software that is enabling people to work much smarter than they did a decade ago.  Since the software applications that enable these gains often require little investment up-front there is limited risk in exploring and testing new ones.  
  • Use your downtime wisely: Everyone has downtime that they could use more efficiently.  What do you do when it's a quiet day in the office? If you see this as an opportunity to update your Facebook status or watch viral videos on YouTube, you're not working smart.  When it's dead in the office and you find yourself besieged by a lack of motivation find something that requires less brain power, yet still needs to be done.  Maybe that filing cabinet that nobody has touched in six months needs to be cleaned out and re-organized.  These are the things on your to-do list that keep getting bumped down because more pressing matters arise.  This is time with which you have nothing better to do, so you might as well do something that will save time for you in the future.
  • Take time to read relevant articles and industry news: This might sound counter-intuitive; if you're already pressed for time how on earth will you find time to read industry news? It's important to carve out time to do this, even if you don't read whole articles at least scan headlines.  Doing this will give you insight into industry best practices.  Chances are someone else is doing the same work as you, but doing it faster or better because of a certain tactic or tool that they use.  Find out what that tactic or tool is by being curious and learning about your industry peers.  

People talk more about working hard because it is easier to quantify.  It is measurable in hours and perspiration.  It is a lot more difficult to quantify working smart.  There is no reference point to indicate how much more or less you would have accomplished if you had operated differently.  However, as you work smarter over time, your point of reference is your competition which you will surpass if they do not work as smart as you do.

A great example of someone who worked smart is Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.  Under Walton's leadership, Wal-Mart began implementing technology for inventory and distribution management in the 1960s!  Walton was also a pilot and he researched potential new store locations by flying over towns.  In his autobiography he explains "From up in the air we could check out traffic flows, see which way cities and towns were growing, and evaluate the location of competition - if there was any."  These are two great examples of working smart.  If you're in retail or wholesale we urge you to check out MerchantFuse, launching this fall, since our goal is to provide a tool to help you work smarter.

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