You have to work hard if you want to be successful.

But succeeding isn't just about working hard. It is about working, that's for sure, but it's also about working smart.

Because you can work very hard and still not execute effectively on anything.

"Just because you clocked 15 hours at your office, with likely dry eyeballs and a complete lack of focus, doesn't mean you've accomplished things in a smart way," Meredith Fineman wrote in "Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are."

Most people think working smarter means increasing your productivity or getting more things done in less time. But you could still be getting more of the wrong things done, only faster. So, working smart goes beyond increasing your productivity.

It involves two core behaviors:

1. Find Your Bottleneck

Imagine two lanes in a highway. In one of them, an accident occurs and, suddenly, that part of the road becomes narrower. It slows everything down and creates a pileup. That's a bottleneck.

To work smarter, you have to find the bottleneck in your business. Look at your business and ask, "What piece is slowing me down? What piece do I need to fix or solve or deal with to unblock everything else?"

There's always a bottleneck. Once you fix the bottleneck, a new one comes up. There's a new narrowest part of your business. Find the narrowest part, that constraint, and work on that.

That's the first behavior of smart execution.

According to the Theory of Constraints, if you spend time working on something that isn't a bottleneck, then you'll make things worse at the bottleneck.

Consider an assembly line at McDonalds. In one station, julienned potatoes are cooked into fries. They then move into the next station to be placed in paper containers. If the fries producer is super-efficient, but the next person isn't packing them fast enough, then you'll soon have a pile up of fries. The harder the fries guy works, the more fries are just sitting there and waiting.

Reminds me of a scene in I Love Lucy:

You don't want to spend a lot of time and energy working on things that's only making the bottleneck worse. You want to focus on the bottleneck.

2. Administer the Minimum Effective Dose

The second part of working smarter involves the minimum effective dose. More isn't always better. Sometimes, more is just more.

"The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome," Tim Ferriss wrote in The 4-Hour Body, attributing it to Arthur Jones, inventor of the Nautilus exercise machines. Going beyond the minimum effective dose is not only wasteful, but also potentially harmful.

For example, in science class, we learned that the maximum temperature any liquid can reach is its boiling point. When you cook and the stew begins to boil, you lower the flames just to the point that keeps the pot boiling. If you keep cranking up the heat, your dish won't cook any faster, since it isn't going to get any hotter. You'll just be wasting energy.

When you identify the bottleneck, do the minimum effective dose or the minimum work you need to do to "break" it.

Of course, you need clear criteria for knowing whether things worked or not. If the bottleneck is still there, is it because you haven't fixed it yet? Or is it because your solution didn't work and you have to try something else?

Harder Than It Looks

These concepts are simple to understand, but they're difficult to implement. Here's why:

You never get to succeed for very long.

As soon as you break a bottleneck, you move on to the next one. You're always focusing on things that aren't working. You can never be in your zone for too long only doing the things that are succeeding.

That would be hard for anyone. Imagine being a student who's always failing most of the time. That's tough.

Worker smarter is a lifelong pursuit.

Published on: Jun 13, 2017
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