The last two weeks for me have been an onslaught of exciting new opportunities. Some came through fate, others were the culmination of long pursued objectives that finally reached their optimal peak.

Hard work alone will not let me capitalize on these wonderful opportunities. To make the most of them, I must use my brain to make sure I can execute and meet expectations. Otherwise, I'll look back and wonder how failure got the best of me.

When the stakes are high and the task load huge, you have to think beyond just working long hours and focus on efficiency instead. Here is my approach, and more insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Consider the big picture.

Great success comes from integration. If you look at each task on its own, the cumulative effort will likely exceed the available hours in your day. I set out all my opportunities on paper and look for the synergy, then identify patterns and create repetitive practices. I select team members for their highest and best use, so I can restrict my efforts to doing just the things that only I can do best. Then I pre-plan everything, so I am pragmatic rather than optimistic about my resources, budgets, and timelines.

2. Tackle the big-ticket items.

Limit how many items you add to your to-do list. Take your master list and choose one to three of the most important tasks--the big, tough tasks for your day that you really need to get done, the ones that will keep you in the office past the time you planned to leave or working after dinner if you don’t complete them. Then do them first. Not only will you get important stuff done, you’ll feel good about yourself and motivated to tackle some of the other things on your list--and to start tomorrow off by knocking out one to three more most important tasks. --Owner's Manual

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3. Break your routine.

There's always a better way to do something--even something you think you've perfected or done 1,000 times before. I'm always challenging my approaches to doing work, looking for new ideas and new ways to do something. Don't let routines rule your approach to work--constantly look for new and better ways to do the same thing. And when you get a new task, take some time up front to really map out the best approach, or ask others for advice on how they approached it. --The Leadership Guy

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4. Reassign responsibility.

When I have a new or ongoing project, I design systems around it and assign as much of it as I can to a virtual assistant. People often resist this outsourcing opportunity, claiming that they don't have the time to train, or that no one else can do the job properly. Even if a task takes only a few minutes, when you add them up you'll be surprised to see the amount of time you've wasted. In the long run, investing in training is well worth it. And yes, someone else can do the job just as well, if not better! --The Successful Soloist

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5. Fire yourself!

Early in my career, I thought the companies I managed wouldn't survive without my involvement in every aspect of the work. I found myself working "in the company" rather than "on the company"--the exact definition of working harder, not smarter. Over a spring break vacation, I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. Gerber teaches you how to run your business with an eye toward repeatable processes and delegation. A light bulb came on for me.

I had surrounded myself with very capable individuals, and I needed to practice better delegation. I emphasized that everyone in the company should do their work in such a way that they could teach their job to others. This is a hard lesson to learn in business, but it ultimately makes your company better and is the smartest way to work. --Lean Forward

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