“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”
– Dwight Eisenhower
Christina Wodtke uses this Eisenhower quote in her book Radical Focus. This quote sums up my personal failure to work smart, and I tie it directly to my emotionalism.
Emotion is one of, if not the most powerful force at work in our daily lives. Whether we are giving our emotions free rein or suppressing them, they are a powerful force.
Something our emotions lead us to do is focus on the urgent at the expense of the important.
When we focus on the urgent instead of the important, we might be working hard, but this effort cannot compensate for our failure to work smart. We must all learn to maximize the impact of our hard work by working smart. If you are like me, one path toward an improved quality of life, and greater productivity without increasing stress is to work smarter.
Here are my top reading recommendations for developing a smart work ethic!
- The Effective Executive – this classic tome is deep substance about “smart work”
- The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back – Chapter Three, “Doing Too Much, Pushing Too Hard.
- Deep Work – this book has done the most to help me work smart of anything I have read in the last 5 years, although I am still chasing the vision.
- 5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter not Harder – Unlike the books above, this is an article about pace (in my opinion), and the importance of taking breaks to sustain focus.
- We Need to Work Smarter, Not Harder – Another article, but with a focus on managing your time.
- Working Hard is Not Enough, 18 Ways to Work Smarter – Comprehensive article and sure to give you 3-5 ideas of how you can transform your life by developing a “smart work ethic”
- Work Smarter Not Harder: 17 Great Tips – I like this Time Magazine list best, so saved it for last, because it covers everything in 1-6 succinctly.
There is no way for one individual to teach another person to work smart, so I hope you avail yourself of these and other resources, and work hard to develop your own customized “smart work ethic.”
This is simple. No matter how hard we might want to focus on the future, there is always someone or something insisting on the importance of the past.
There is the family who knows the exact incident to drudge up from the past, so they can put us in our place, and let us know the future we dream of is impossible.
There is the friend who freezes us in time, resisting our every attempt to change and move forward into the future.
There is our company who insists on staying the course based on the success of the past, even when the present makes clear the future will not be bright.
We can blame our family, our friends, or our employers, when we feel our lives have stagnated. There is another alternative. We can take responsibility for our own lives, embrace risk, and leave the past behind so we can live our future.
Steve Jobs did the latter. When asked about holding a 30 year anniversary celebration for Apple. Here was his answer.
“Apple is focused on the future, not the past.”
Read the whole story here.
Note: You can find the featured tee shirt here.
Focus is one of my constant pursuits. Fortune Magazine published “Why saying no gets you ahead,” which is an excellent article on focus and the art of saying no.
Focus is incredibly difficult. The ability to say no is an essential component of focus. There are six questions I asked myself after reading this article, and taken together each one has helped me improve my ability to say no and focus.
- Why is saying no so difficult?
- Why are boundaries and good fences important?
- Why should we pause 24 hours before saying yes?
- How can I say no without making enemies?
- How can simplicity prevent the conflict over saying no?
- Why should we develop good boundaries and confidently stick to them?
Focus was the first word to enter my mind when Douglas Hommert sent me this picture. Doug is a phenomenal photographer and knowing my love of hawks he sends me incredible pictures. I named the hawk pictured below Focus. He helps me remember.
I am in constant pursuit of focus. Focus produces simplicity which increases productivity. Basketball players might use the word efficiency instead of productivity. What they mean is there is no wasted motion. Productivity means there is no wasted life. When my life is productive or efficient I am able to build my family and career. My life will have balance. This is why I consider focus and simplicity of utmost importance.
A Hommert Original
What are two things we can do to develop the focus and simplicity necessary for a balanced life?
Focus is saying No
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Steve Jobs, (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)
The first step toward focus is developing the courage to say no. Focus will be elusive and simplicity impossible until we learn to say no.
Another Hommert Original
Simplicity is Hard Work
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Steve Jobs, Businessweek, May 25, 1998
Once we learn to say no and become focused we must eliminate the idea that simple is easy.
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Warren Buffett is credited with this quote…”The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” There are five leadership insights embedded in this quote and his thinking.