People often fail to make the distinction between working hard and working smart–and it’s costing them a lot. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, they’ve come to mean completely different things.
Working hard simply means, well, working hard; whereas working smart, means concentrating your effort on the tasks that matter. Although there’s nothing wrong with the former, it is oftentimes a waste of valuable time and energy, not to mention the opportunity cost. You only have eight to ten hours in a day, it’s best you use them on the things that truly have impact, especially the things you’re good at.
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Many of today’s productivity gurus use the Pareto Principle (also called the 80/20 rule or the principle of factor sparsity) as a mantra for productivity. Vilfredo Pareto, the eponymous author of the principle, suggested that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes, and that, inversely, the remaining 20% of effects come from the remaining 80% of causes. This, he observed by studying peapods and the land distribution in Italy–two completely unrelated phenomena but both exhibiting the same 80/20 distribution. Pareto found that roughly 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, and that 80% of the peas in his garden were produced by only 20% of the peapods. As the study evolved through the years, more and more examples were added to the list.
In 1941, the esteemed management consultant Joseph M. Juran took Pareto’s study and applied it to corporate management. He argued that managers and employees ought to concentrate their effort on the 20% of work that produce 80% of the results. All else should be delegated and outsourced.
In a way, Juran’s assumptions reflect the economic principle of specialization, which states that each individual and body should focus on their respective competitive advantages in order to produce the most efficient outcome. Simply put: everyone should be able to do what they’re good at without having to worry about the other stuff.
How Can I Apply The Pareto Principle At Work?
Juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities can be overwhelming, suffocating even. If you’re feeling bogged down at work, it’s time to take a good, long look at your to-do list and figure out which tasks you should do and which tasks you can delegate to someone *or something* more proficient (like used printing equipment from JJ Bender).
Unlike our parents and grandparents, we have technology at our fingertips. Nearly everything you can think of from organizing workflows, streamlining emails, organizing files, communicating with offshore partners, outsourcing to freelancers, and so much more can be done at the click of a button. In other words, it isn’t all that difficult to find people and software to do certain tasks for you.
Work shouldn’t be about completing as many tasks as possible. Instead, it should be about creating value and doing what’s important. Rather than work hard, you should work smart to be more successful. Not only will you feel better about your work, you’ll also have more time for other things like, you know, life.