Make no mistake, there is no substitute for hard work. But working hard is not always enough. There’s really no point grinding away aimlessly because your career time is finite, and there is so much to see, so many places to go, and so much to learn.
Take the lesson below to learn what it takes to maximise your career potential. Take the quiz at the end of the lesson when you’re done.
Ever heard the story of the lumberjack?
The Lumberjack story has been made famous by a reference in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’, although arguably, the story is popular in its own right because all of the metaphorical messages about life contained within it.
In case you haven’t come across it before, here’s how the story goes
The final day of the Annual Lumberjack Competition had dawned, with the final two contenders – an older experienced lumberjack and a younger, stronger lumberjack – vying for the Championship Trophy. The rules of the competition were clear- the winner would be the one who felled the most trees in 24 hours.
The younger lumberjack was brimming with confidence and enthusiasm as he strode off into the woods to start work. He loved the thrill of competition and worked tirelessly. But what elated him the most all through, was that at regular intervals the noise of trees being felled on the older lumberjack’s side of the woods would cease. A sign that the older lumberjack was tired and resting. The younger chap, with his superior youth, strength, and stamina had a distinct advantage and he knew it.
At the end of the competition, the younger lumberjack looked with glee at the piles of felled trees – a result of his near superhuman effort.
At the medal ceremony, the younger lumberjack stood on the podium, confident, fully expecting to be awarded the title of ‘Champion Lumberjack‘. Imagine his shock when the results were announced, and the judges declared that the older lumberjack had chopped down significantly more trees than he had.
The younger man turned to the winner and asked, “Impossible! How can this be? I heard you taking breaks almost every hour while I worked tirelessly. I am younger, fitter, – stronger than you. How could you possibly have beaten me?”
The older man smiled and said, “Sonny, I wasn’t stopping to rest. That was just me sharpening my saw.”
Inefficient tools waste time and energy. It’s better to spend the bulk of your time selecting and maintaining the finest tools you can find for any task.
The finest tools in this context relate to developing or adopting more efficient systems and processes to ensure smart and better work output and working at full potential.
Make no mistake, there is no substitute for hard work. But working hard is not always enough. There’s really no point grinding away aimlessly. Your career time is finite, and there is much to see, do and learn. You need to do the smart things and do things smartly, if you want to move on to better things.
Smart work is the magic ingredient to your career success.
On the flipside, an absence of smart work is guaranteed to leave you with a significantly shortened, and unfulfilled career span. Given the finite time, one must build a career, that’s an outcome best avoided, no?
Working smart is a skill that can be learnt. Here are some suggestions to help you:
a. Do the Smart Things
Doing the smart things is choosing to do the right things, and that pays. Because doing the wrong thing career-wise moulds you into the type of professional you don’t want to be and if anything, takes you further away from the results and lifestyle that you want for yourself.
Here then, are a few key points to help you do the smart things.
1. Play to your strengths, wherever possible
This might take some old-fashioned introspection. The things we like to do are usually the things we’re good at – our strengths. If you like crunching numbers and analysing statistics, you might do very well with Microsoft Excel or data analytics related tasks. If you’re someone who likes dabbling with communication and creative writing, then corporate communication assignments might help you shine. In any case, once you identify what you’re good at, you’re geared to work smart. Here’s what you do next…
2. Volunteer or request for high-stakes, high-visibility projects (that need your strengths)
Are there projects that your department or team is delivering on where the stakes are high and have the visibility of key stakeholders? Do they play to your key strengths? Embrace these. Volunteer for such projects as they will provide opportunities to learn and prove your mettle to the stakeholders involved. Rest assured, your motivation levels will peak, and your work will be top notch – a great way to get noticed.
3. Prioritise learning
You might be called to take on mundane tasks that are not of your interest. But embrace these. And learn as much as you can. For instance, a marketing executive doing a field sales job to start with. His deeper understanding of both job functions will help him learn new skills and build his existing skill set thus laying the foundation for career prospects.
We also suggest you set off specific hours for learning. It’s easy to skip your learning sprints it if you don’t schedule time for it, as there’s always more ‘stuff’ in the pipeline. Simply add it to your calendar or to-do list to follow a consistent learning routine.
b. Do things smartly
Apart from doing smart things, you need to do things smartly. Here are some suggestions to help you along.
1. Find the best time for certain tasks
Look for times of the day – be it morning or night, when you function at your best, your chronotype, in other words. Allot the most important mental tasks during that time of the day, as far as possible. For instance, if you are not a morning person, don’t schedule a mentally challenging work in the morning. Also, make sure that the time that you have allotted for cognitive tasks can be performed uninterrupted. Else you’ll just struggle – with deep focus and your best work as casualties of that wasted effort.
2. Find short-cuts and automate tasks
Repetitive tasks should ring alarm bells, especially if they add no value to expertise and knowledge. You should be asking questions like, what can be done to minimise your involvement in such tasks? In a nutshell, collaborate with others to find effective shortcuts and drive automation.
Spend time and energy getting to the next level of competence, not on aimless grinding.
Just like we observed in the story the older lumberjack was well aware that he was competing with someone much younger. However that did not deter him, he assessed his strengths, set his priorities and focused on the task ahead, thus doing the smart things. By sharpening his axe he took the best course of action and did things smartly.
Incorporating the two elements of smart work – do the smart things and do things smartly, will ensure you don’t get into the rut of simply working hard but focus on what matters. Using smart tools and systems to tackle tasks done is bound to save precious time because time well spent is the bedrock on which fulfilling careers are built!
Do the smart things. And, work smart.