Work smart: The two best-kept secrets to do less and achieve more.

This article came about from research I undertook in order to better understand why so many employees, despite working hard and being known and recognised as having a strong working ethic, struggled to get a promotion or move up within their company.

While there may be reasons related to company culture, beliefs or even behaviours at the core of the decision making mechanisms preventing certain individuals from moving up the career ladder (and I will examine those in another article), it is always good practice to take a close look at ourselves first and examine what it is we do and how we do it at work, in order to evaluate whether there is a better, more efficient way of doing things that might help us get to where we want to.

As I began to unpack what it means to ‘work hard’ and how it translates into actually accomplishing results at work, I came across two life-changing secrets or hacks that everyone should know about to help us fast track in life, not just professionally but personally too.

#1- The 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle

 The Pareto principle, best known as the 80/20 rule, was introduced by Italian economist Wilfredo Pareto in 1895. He noticed that all the wealth of Italy seemed to be divided unequally between the 20% ‘vital few’ and the 80% ‘trivial many’. Although the ratio may vary at times (85/15, 90/10, 95/5 or even 99.5/0.5), the essence remains the same: there is a disproportionate relationship between the wealth of a country and those who own it; or put it another way, between the number of office workers in a given company and the number of managers, or between the number of staff who stay in the same position their entire lives and those who achieve career advancement.

So, what sets those 20% workers apart? Well, the rule also works the other way around: 20% of employees account for 80% of the revenue/productivity. And, 20% of your presence at work accounts for 80% of the impression you make on colleagues and clients. So, if you’re not getting the promotions you feel you deserve, as harsh as this may sound, it’s probably because you are not one of the ‘vital few’ but rather one of the ‘trivial many’. The question is, how can you become part of the 20%?

The only way to leverage the 80/20 rule is to stop working hard and start working smart. Before starting any work, ask yourself, is this task in the top 20% of my activities or is it in the bottom 80%? Resist the temptation to get involved with low value tasks -little things that keep you busy but bring you nothing- such as replying to every email and other menial tasks. Focus on your top priority at work for that day or that week. Ask yourself- what’s the single most important activity I need to do? Focus on your one goal and see how quickly your managers notice an increase in your productivity. You might no longer be known as ‘a very hard-working person’ but you will likely start to be known as that ‘reliable person who always gets results’.

The 80/20 rule also applies to thoughts and feelings. 20% of negative thoughts can create 80% of our negative feelings. Only you have the power to change the way your think about yourself and create a more positive reality for yourself.

#2- Parkinson’s Law

In 1955, British historian and civil servant, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, observed that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. He noticed that as bureaucracies expanded, they also became less efficient. He pointed out that even the simplest tasks became complex as they expanded to fill the time allocated to them.

Parkinson’s Law is likely a by-product of our traditional cultural approach to working that says that one must ‘work hard’ for one’s efforts to be recognised. Thus, working hard has become synonym with working long hours or, in other words, allocating a long time to completing tasks that could otherwise be completed much more quickly.

Think back to your university days, or to a recent project you have been involved in. If you are a born procrastinator, you will have noticed that you can accomplish in one day what takes many a good couple of weeks to complete. That is Parkinson’s Law at work. But I’m not advocating that you become a procrastinator at work and leave everything to the last minute. On the contrary.

The best way to leverage Parkinson’s law to your advantage is by self-imposing shorter deadlines and getting your work done before others have even started. Why? Because we all know too well that leaving things to the last minute brings added stress. It’s always at the last minute that we fall sick, that our car breaks down or that this really important document we saved last night has mysteriously disappeared.

Acting as if you had a tighter deadline can still motivate you to get the work done ahead of time plus it has the added advantage of giving you extra time to impress your boss by running your project by them ahead of time for feedback, which will only make your work look even better. You can then get on with your next project or even enjoy some free time!

This is a very simple but profound concept that can give you competitive advantage over the rest of your colleagues. Does that sound like something you’d like to try? Go and get that promotion you deserve!

Why not put the 80/20 rule and Parkinson’s Law to the test for 30 days and let me know how they worked for you in the comments section? I look forwards to seeing how working smart has changed your work experience.

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