Working Smart, Not Hard
Just a decade or two ago, our work culture ran productivity around the motto of “work hard, play hard.” We all wanted to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and we believed that the way to do that was to work around the clock, maximize every hour, and beat your competition. But in recent years, more people and more people are burning out, reporting less overall happiness, and even our lifespan has decreased. Why? Perhaps this idea of “work hard, play hard,” hasn’t been working out as well as we thought. When we’re burning the candle at both ends, instead of optimizing our best selves and talents, we end up living unsustainable, and quite frankly – miserable lifestyles. We live in an incredibly fast paced world that is only increasing in speed by the second. At any given moment there are tens, if not hundreds of tasks pulling us in different directions: respond to this email, follow up with this investor, post this social media post content, prepare this report, check your team’s progress, pack the kids’ lunch – the list goes on forever. Nobody wants to be that hamster running around in a wheel that never stops, but that’s the work culture that we’ve pushed ourselves to.
When we’re running on a list of never ending tasks, we end up focusing too much of our precious time and energy on day-to-day, unimportant items. This depletes our ability to give our 100% on tasks that truly require creativity and problem solving skills. One of the top tips I’ve gleaned over the past few years is the skill of focusing on one task at a time, and automating everything else that can be automated. Robin Sharma, the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, and The 5AM Club, says “What makes a genius? They all have one trait in common: They were able to spend extended periods of time in isolation, focused monomaniacally on their most valuable project.” By removing distractions, it develops our creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills. And finally, it gives us the opportunity to grow in our own unique strengths, and operate at our highest capacity. With technology, we can resolve many of these issues simply by automating menial tasks with simple tools: scheduling, setting reminders, and delegating tasks outside of my skill set to real experts. In today’s fast paced environment, individuals and companies that can hone this skill will be the ones to dominate, simply because they’ve freed up energy that allows them to strategize, innovate, and evolve ahead of the market.
Automate your mentality
The human brain is amazing. We are creatures with an incredible ability to adapt, evolve, and run on high-performing routines – once we learn how to get through the messy process of implementing it. According to The 5AM Club, it takes up to 66 days for your mind to incorporate a new routine to the point that it becomes automated, and takes little willpower for you to commit to it. The trick here is to get the right system hard-coded into your psyche so that your mind automatically snaps into hustle mode in a specific time and environment.
One of the key habits of highly successful people is scheduling out their day to the minute and budgeting their time wisely, because as the saying goes: “time is money.” Other leaders such as Anna Wintour, Richard Branson, and Tim Cook swear by a morning routine, which usually consists of waking up early and starting your day with meditation, exercise, planning, and some sort of personal enrichment. Start the day by listing your top 3-5 priorities. Then, plan out your meetings, goals, and other deliverables on your calendar so you don’t have to waste time figuring out what your next task should be. The schedule that works best for you or your team will vary from individual to individual, but the key is to set a schedule, budget your time, and stick to it.
Programming your routine is important, but so is calibrating your workspace for peak performance. “A cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind.” Ever heard of that saying before? That’s because it’s true. Studies show that working in a quiet, clean, and organized environment allows your mind to focus because it produces minimal distractions. At the end of every workday, tidy up your space so that all your tools, documents, and systems are in its right place. This ensures that you can start every day afresh with a clean slate and the right resources readily available at your fingertips. You’re training your mind to zero into focus-mode at your specific workplace.
Automate common tasks
When you automate simple tasks and responsibilities, you create time and energy to focus on important skills and decisions. People used to rely completely on assistants in the past who would carry around their schedule and calendar and set reminders for their next meeting, their deadlines, and deliverables. While working at Dreamworks, I knew directors who ran on such a packed schedule that their assistant had to schedule bathroom breaks for them!
Thanks to technology, we can all have our own personal assistants through tools like Google Calendar to calendar reminders. Take advantage of it. Use free digital tools like Google calendar to schedule meetings, quarterly reviews, newsletters, and other recurring events. Set yourself reminders to begin planning for large annual events, or milestones that you would like to hit for sprints. If you want to get even more granular like me, you can automate every hour of your day to ensure that you’re tackling every item on your list. You can even automate your emails and social media content.
Also, when it comes to the regular office supply run, stop asking your intern to get coffee, and instead upscale them to do something more productive than running coffee or supply breaks. You have a universe of delivery options available to you, and while some may think that saving a few delivery fees is worth it, think about how much creative skills you’re wasting when that office boy or girl could be coming up with million-dollar solutions.
Automate your focus
People have varying ideas about the optimal time block for focusing, whether that’s in 20 minute, 60 minute, or 90 minute increments. I know some people who swear by the classic pomodoro technique: work for 25 minutes, then break for 5 minutes. For me personally, I find that the best increment of time depends on the type of work I’m doing. The more managerial and strategic my task is, the more I enjoy breaking up the day into smaller steps and sprints, checking lists off one by one. But for creative tasks like design or writing, I thrive in those moments of intense flow. I can get lost pumping out content with some dope music for hours.
To quote apple: “There’s an app for that.” I’m a huge fan of apps that gamify, and reinforce, positive habits. When it comes to automating your focus, you can set a timer on your phone that lets you know how long you need to focus for until you hear the alarm go off. The apple store or play store also has countless free productivity timers that you can choose from. My favorite at the moment is an app called Forest. You set a timer for anywhere between 15 minutes to 120 minutes, and in the interim a little tree grows. Here’s the catch – if you leave the screen to check on any other apps, your tree dies and you will have a sad dead tree in your record. Sometimes all it takes for us to exercise a little more self restraint, is knowing that your productivity keeps a little virtual tree alive.
Automate rest and recreation
One of my mentors shared a saying with me years ago: “I can do a year’s worth of work in 11 months, but I can’t do a year’s work of worth in 12.” Some experts in professional and personal coaching may claim that we need even more time away from work to optimize our full potential. More recently, the “hamster wheel” mentality of running around squeezing tasks into every second of the day is changing – thank God. We are understanding more about how humans need rest, sleep, physical activity, and recreation to perform at our best. Now regardless of what your opinions are on the new self-love culture, I’ve experienced this on a personal level on multiple occasions, and realized that my natural inclination is to run on the belief that “there’s something more productive that I can be doing right now.”
If you have that “hamster wheel” tendency to overwork and drain yourself like I do, it’s even more important to set boundaries and automate some much needed r&r (rest and recovery.) Some techniques on how to do this include:
- Set clear boundaries for yourself and communicate with your colleagues if necessary: Which hours in the morning or evening are meant for yourself, and which day(s) of the week is your recovery day? Use this time to spend with your family and friends, engage in personal recreation, or read a good book
- Set a “do not disturb” timer so that during specific times, even if there are inbound messages your phone will not send you notifications
- Set a greyscale timer on your phone as a “digital curfew” reminder for when all digital devices should be stowed away.
- Block out weekends or vacation days in your calendars so that your teammates know not to contact you about work related tasks on those days
Don’t automate creativity
Finally, it’s important to remember that these automated systems are set in place so we can remove distractions. Instead, we’re freeing up time for ourselves to our creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills. Automation gives us the opportunity to grow in our own unique strengths, and operate at our highest capacity. With technology, we can resolve many of these issues simply by automating menial tasks with simple tools In today’s fast paced environment, individuals and companies that can hone this skill will be the ones to dominate, simply because they’ve freed up energy that allows them to strategize, innovate, and evolve ahead of the market.
Want to automate your office snacks and caffeine supply? Keep your eye out for Breadfast @ffice, and get scheduled meals, snacks, tea/coffee, and office supplies delivered. Leave the supply runs to us, so your team can get cracking on what’s really important.