Everyone has heard the admonition "work smarter, not harder," and it's actually sage advice. A good work ethic is incredibly important, but no matter who you are, you only have 24 hours in a day. The most effective business leaders have learned to use each of their working hours as effectively as possible, which often means finding more efficient ways to perform work.

When it comes to running a business, doing things "smarter" is just as important. To stay ahead of the competition, you need to do more with less -- more efficiency means more productivity, and it also means you can serve more customers with fewer resources. Smart solutions aren't always obvious -- otherwise, everyone would be using them, and they'd just be par for the course. Finding the smartest way to do something requires thinking creatively and approaching an old problem from a new angle. It can take a greater upfront time investment, but the results are generally well worth it.

The process of arriving at smart practices can vary widely depending on your industry, but there are certainly a few commonalities to be found. To increase the IQ of your business, look into the following areas.

1. Be smart about development.

One area you might be overlooking when it comes to being smart is your physical space. Smart development as a whole aims to improve the quality of life for the community around you.

Sustainable thinking is taking on an increasingly important role in today's businesses as both customers and key stakeholders demand development be done with the planet in mind.

With low-impact development, "developments are built with more attention to the potential environmental impact they may have," according to TRUEGRID Pavers, a permeable paving company that has worked on parking lots for Whole Foods, NASCAR, and the University of California. What makes this smart for businesses? Parking lots and buildings absorb heat from the sun, meaning you use more air conditioning. Features like rain gardens and permeable surfaces can dissipate some of that heat and lower your energy costs, making these development practices good for your bottom line.

2. Embrace smart tech

Sometimes being smart means adopting a tech solution. For instance, when UPS was looking for ways to become more efficient, it used advanced analytics to determine shorter driver routes -- small decreases in mileage that eventually resulted in 85 million fewer miles being driven per year.

The company also incorporated basic IoT sensors to detect when drivers were out of the truck making a delivery by hand. By turning off engines during these periods instead of leaving them idling, the company has reduced fuel consumption, cost, and environmental impact. Each instance makes a tiny difference, but the overall initiative has reduced idling time by a staggering 100 million minutes per year.

3. Set SMART goals.

Smart goals aren't just goals that are well-thought-out. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Specificity eliminates sources of error by answering the 5 W's of who, what, where, when, and why. Measuring goals breeds a culture of accountability and means there's no gray area in terms of success.

If goals are not realistically attainable, then they're more like fantasies -- so keep your aspirations within reason. Relevant goals are the ones that will drive your business forward, and no matter what your goal, you should set a timeline for achieving it. Smart leaders set goals not only for their business but also for their employees to work toward.

In business, a smarter solution can mean any number of things. It can be a more efficient way to produce products, a better way to manage customer relationships, or a faster way to serve consumers. It can be hard to break away from processes that have become routine, but focusing on intelligent practices comes with significant benefits, and it may be the thing that catapults your business to another level.