How to outsmart the hard workers at your job

Work smart.
Work smart.
Image: Reuters/Phil Noble
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The idea that you should work smarter instead of working harder isn’t anything new. But when we explore the differences between smart and hard work, it can get a little complicated. We all basically know what it means to work hard: You put long hours into your job. You start early, before everyone else, and you stay up late, when your coworkers have gone home to enjoy a glass of wine.

It isn’t nearly as easy to define clear guidelines on what working smart means compared to working hard, but in that difference lies success. I’m here to help define the traits of smart worker, and to put an end to investing fruitless long hours, hoping that you will get a streak of good luck some day, and delve into what makes smart work smart. Below, you can find some elements of smart work; the more elements you manage to implement into your working strategy and style, the smarter your work will become.

1) Understanding the system and the territory you operate in

You are nothing but a biological system operating within larger social systems. The better you understand the systems you operate in, the better your capacity to manipulate them and claim your advantage.

Many entrepreneurs want to raise money from business angels and venture capital funds, but only one out of 50 succeed. Those who succeed usually understand the VC system really well before they pitch. They understand how venture capital funds work and how business angels operate.. They do due diligence on investors, prepare awesome investment materials, and talk to investors only when they have know they have enough material to show. Entrepreneurs who don’t understand the system go from conference to conference pitching their ideas, getting no traction whatsoever and failing to make connections.

2) Knowing what you want

There’s one consistent trait among really successful individuals. Really successful people know what they want. They have a very clear picture of their desired final outcome or endgame from the very beginning. That also goes for smart workers. Because they know what they want, they can build their strategy much more easily and make better choices in the process.

3) Providing scarce resources to markets with high demand

Being a smart worker means putting yourself in a position where you have access to many options and opportunities. Options and opportunities mean freedom, faster promotion, more clients, and more money. The best way to access opportunity is to own competences that are in great demand but in very short supply. People who combine the right markets with the right competences are the winners.

Here’s the magical combination that smart workers understand very well:

  • Finding niche markets that have potential for exponential growth
  • Developing competences that are in big demand in those markets, but are in short supply

4) Carefully selecting the right opportunities

You may drown in opportunities across the span of your career. Smart workers very carefully select the opportunities they engage with before saying yes to the first one to come along. They have no problem saying no. They’re patient and wait for the one right thing with low risk and massive potential return. It’s called value investing and, as mentioned, your time is the most precious resource you can invest.

5) Focusing on creating, delivering, and capturing value

Smart work means understanding that there are only three activities that are really important for maximizing your life results. The first one is creating value (innovating), the second one is delivering value (marketing), and the third one is capturing value (invoicing).

A hard worker usually has a very poor system of task prioritization in place—they just want all work to be done. Smart workers, on the other hand, don’t bother with most of the work they “should” do, but focus only on the tasks that bring the biggest long-term impact.

6) Leveraging other people’s time

Doing everything by yourself, especially because you do everything so much better than others, is the biggest enemy of smart work. With a mindset like that you never focus yourself on creating and delivering the biggest value, but on your perfectionist mindset that only forces you to work harder, not smarter. Never forget that perfectionism is an unproductive cognitive distortion.

If you want to work smart, you have to learn how to delegate. You have to see other people’s time as an infinite resource you can engage, assuming you know how to inspire, motivate, and lead people or have enough money to pay them well. Anyway, smart work always comprehends leveraging other people’s time, whether you work in a startup, big company, or non-profit organization.

7) Networking and asking for help

No matter who you are, the odds are good that you’ll need help from all kinds of different people who are positioned in industries and jobs you need access to. Smart workers know very well that reaching out to the right manager or HR coordinator can save years of hard work. That’s why they become excellent networkers, with sniper-precise targeting when it comes to why they network and with whom, all to maximize their value creation.

Smart workers also have no problem with asking for help, and are quick to offer help to others as a way of fostering a positive image within their community. Put yourself first, but don’t be a jerk. You’ll always have to work with people, no matter the industry, and it’s best if they like you. And remember that if you want to help others and share something with the community, you need to have that thing you want to share first. Usually in an abundance. Figure out what that is, and hold onto it.

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