Work Smarter, Not Harder

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It’s that time again, the beginning of another year.  The time to start over.  The time to set goals.  The time to decide how this year is going to go for you.  I’ve always looked at it as a second chance.  A second chance to start anew with anything that you want to improve.  For anyone that feels this way it is an opportunity to do better than last year.  Thus, why not pick a routine that will not only help you grow personally but professionally as well. 

We’ve all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder”, but many aren’t really sure how to do this.  After all, most will also tell themselves that they are already working “smarter”.  In order to make a change that is actually “smarter”, sometimes we need to develop a new system.  A system, that if done consistently, makes your job easier and more productive at the same time.  One such system involves better time management.  We will discuss several different time management systems in this article in order to help you work “smarter”, not “harder”.

The Ivy Lee Method. 

How many of you start your day with a “to-do” list?  And, how many of you, in order to create that list, simply add things that you remember need to get done as you go?  The problem with this method is that we don’t always prioritize correctly.  Some will start at the top of the list and just accomplish one at a time, even if the tasks on the top of the list aren’t necessarily top priorities.  Others will tackle the easiest tasks first and yet; others will tackle the most difficult task first (some call this “eating the frog” – not necessarily a bad suggestion).  However, super-productive people have other methods.  One such method is called the Ivy Lee Method.  If you looked it up on-line, you’d discover that the basics are this:  Each day, or the night prior, create a list of the most important six things that you need to get done, ranked from most important to least important.  When the day begins, do task #1 until complete.  Then move to the next task, and so on.  Now, here’s the important part.  Most will wake up the next day with the unfinished tasks and start there.  With the Ivy Lee Method, you don’t do that.  Instead, you re-create the list, writing a new list of tasks from 1-6, prioritizing it the same way as before.  That way, you are always and only working on top priorities.  Just because something didn't get done, doesn't necessarily mean you should do it first the next day, assuming there are more pressing tasks that need to be done.


This system is particularly helpful to salespeople, account managers, managers and owners.  It works like this:  every task that comes to you is evaluated.  Is this a $5/hour item, a $50/hour item, $500/hour item or a $5000/hour item?  As example, a $5/hour item might be loading the copier with paper, cleaning off some equipment or organizing some papers.  A $50/hour item might be putting together a quote, researching some potential key accounts or setting up a new filing system.  Examples of $500/hour items could be making calls to potential new customers, following-up on proposals or setting up a meeting with a current customer.  $5000/hour items might be meeting with a potential customer about a big project, holding a closing meeting with someone you quoted or dropping by on a potential large customer. 

Now, if you set up a four square grid on paper, or even in your mind, putting the lower dollar figures on top and the higher one’s on the bottom, you can simply put the tasks in one of the squares, making sure that most of what you do during working hours are in the $500 or $5000 areas.  This keeps you working on high payoff tasks throughout the day.  With the $5 and $50 items, either delegate them or do them after hours. 

To further help you understand the importance of a system like this, there was a study years ago with the top 5% of salespeople. It was determined that the top 5% of salespeople spent on average, 57% of their time in front of, or on the phone with, their customers and prospects.  On the contrary, the bottom 5% of salespeople were only in front of them on average, 7%.  Doesn't take a genius to figure out that top salespeople monitor their tasks so they can spend more time with their customers and prospects.

Today/This week/This month Folder system. 

Many businesspeople are inundated with paperwork.  From a time management perspective, it can really create a problem with productivity when they get bogged down.  The folder system can help you prioritize this flow of papers.  Pretend you are staring at a stack of papers.  During off hours, you evaluate each piece of paper and decide which folder to put in. It could be placed into the Today folder.  Meaning, it has to be taken care of today.  If it is not urgent for today, it can go into the This Week folder.  The important part is to pick a day of the week that you always review this folder.  It typically will fall on a Monday so if there is an item that becomes urgent, it can be moved to the Today folder.

The This Month folder is used similarly.  Tasks that can wait, but that need to be done by the end of the month, can be put in this folder, reviewing them weekly to make sure that if an item becomes more urgent it can be moved to either the This Week or Today folders.  It is also valuable to review this folder each week on a Monday for the same reason as stated before with the This Week folder.

These are only three simple systems for managing tasks and time.  As stated before, without a system we tend to work on tasks haphazardly, which typically wastes tons of time.  The real key is to work on tasks that move the revenue needle of the organization.  If it doesn't produce revenue, perhaps it can be done after hours or delegated.  We all have the same amount of time; it comes down to what we each choose to spend our time doing.  If you can pay particular attention to high revenue producing activities and minimize those that aren’t, you've become an expert at time management, working smarter, not harder.