You Can’t Really “Work Smarter, Not Harder”

I’ve been mulling over a couple aphorisms/ideas that are floating around in the culture:

  • “Work smarter, not harder.”
  • You need to make all your decisions early in the day, because you have a limited amount of decision-making capacity.

That second idea is repeated by Mark Zuckerberg, but I’ve seen it in articles about management, and also, in Scientific American. I also find it’s true.

Decisions are a finite resource that’s replenished by sleeping at night.

“Working smarter” usually means developing processes to improve productivity. The problem with working smarter: you need to consume your decision-making resources, quickly.

If you’re trying to “work smarter” late in the day,  you may end up making stupid decisions.

So you can’t really “work smarter” all day long.  Sometimes, you need to “work harder.”

If you “work smarter” in the morning, things will go fine, but if your entire day requires making decisions once you’ve depleted your decision-making resource, you’re going to make bad decisions.

So, you need to structure your workday so decisions are made early in the work day, and all the routine tasks are performed later.

Late in the day, you can just “work harder”.  Do the routine work, and try to do it as quickly, and correctly, as possible.  Practice and repetition.

Moreover, if you have too few routine tasks, you need to “work smarter” and figure out how to turn some of the decision-based work into routine work:

  • Instead of writing yet another email, find the most common type of email, and make it into a template.
  • Instead of merely doing a task, do the task and make a checklist for it.
  • If you know how to program,  you can automate a process, and turn it into a later-in-the-day one-click operation.

If you’re working at a  job that demands that you make few decisions all day long, your natural capacities are being underutilized.

  • You may want to change your schedule to wake up earlier, and then do something personally fulfilling, that requires decision-making, early in the morning.

Then you can go to work and not feel trapped by the stupid job.


Author: John

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