man buried in paperwork

So you think you can work?

Most people are committed to their role and want to do a good job. They are neither lazy nor un-willing, but they are not working efficiently – they work hard but not always smart.

Most of us have never been taught how to work.

What a bold statement to start with. However in our view, this is one of the most important reasons for lack of execution and lower than expected performance. Most people are committed to their role and want to do a good job. They are neither lazy nor un-willing, but they are not working efficiently – they work hard but not always smart.

It normally surprises people when we say this, but we believe most people have never been taught how to work. We go to school, university and gain a qualification. We train and qualify as doctors, accountants or engineers, and one day we start working.

We get a desk and before we know it we have to handle many paper documents. We get a computer and we get bombarded with emails. We get a job description and we suddenly are swamped by tasks and ‘to do’ lists.

“In 45 years of work as a consultant (..) I have not come across a single natural, an executive who was born effective. All the effective ones have had to learn to be effective. And all of them had to practise effectiveness until it became a habit.” Peter Drucker, one of the founding fathers of effective organisational management.

We are not born naturally effective. We have to learn the principles and practice them until they become habits.

The impact of our lack of efficiency and effectiveness does not stop in the workplace. When we ask our clients what they would like to do if they were more in control of their work and time, we often get:

  • “Come home earlier to see my kids”
  • “Have more time to go to the gym and look after my health”
  • “Avoid bringing my work stress home”
  • “Avoid waking up at night thinking about what I forgot to do”

Inefficiency impacts us both at work and at home. So much time, energy and money is wasted because of poor execution.

Here are a few very simple suggestions to work smarter and gain more control at work.

Think quarterly

The first characteristic of highly successful people is that they are very clear on the goals they want to achieve and what they need to do to achieve them. By deciding what to achieve, you need to decide not only on what to focus on, but also on what you will not do.

As the leadership expert Peter Drucker put it ‘the key of strategy is omission’. That is, the key is not only to decide what you want to do but, as importantly, what you will not do. Too many people take too much on, and struggle to do anything well.

Once a quarter, block off an hour and ask yourself a simple question: ‘What are the two or three things that, if I did them extremely well over the next three months, will have a significant long-term impact on my performance?’

Stick to two or three, no more. Yes, that’s hard. We always want to do too much. Be clear on, what I call, your high impact activities, write them down and pursue them.

Plan weekly

Once a week, review your three high-impact activities for the quarter and organise your coming week. These activities have to become a must, a priority.

Book meetings with yourself in your diary to advance your three activities. Organise your calendar so that 60–80 percent of your time is spent on them.

Easy to understand, harder to do. Very often the people I coach argue that they have a lot of urgent crises to attend to before having the time for these high impact activities. Guess what, last minute crises will always happen. If you wait for a perfect time you might wait a long time.

Your high impact activities need to become a must. Thefirst thing in your diary. The rest will have to fit around.

Act daily – focus

On a daily basis, be disciplined. If you have booked a meeting with yourself to spend two hours on one of your high impact activities, be 100 percent focused on this topic. No distraction, no interruption, no starting late, having a break or checking a few emails mid-stream.

Ask yourself a simple question: why would you have less respect for meeting with yourself than with someone else?

If you have a meeting with a very important client, it’s likely you will arrive on time and well prepared. You would not dream of making a few phone calls, allowing interruptions from colleagues or checking your emails during the meeting. So why would you want this to happen to yourself?

When you have a meeting with yourself to progress one of your high impact activities, start on time, focus 100 percent, don’t allow interruptions and distractions.

 

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