How to Work Smarter, Faster and Better

May 11, 2016
8 Min Read
How to Work Smarter, Faster and Better

How to Work Smarter, Faster and BetterFor a while now, you’ve noticed that you are falling more and more behind at work, even though you’re exhausted at the end of the day because you’ve been so busy. It’s not like you’re goofing off – you just have too much to do!

So, you figure maybe a couple of the new apps you’ve heard about will do the trick as they’re designed to make you more productive, organized and efficient.

But at the end of the week, you’re still not caught up at work – you think you might even be more behind. To top it off, you’re even more exhausted and stressed because you can’t seem to get a handle on your workload and balance it with your personal life.

It might help to realize you’re not alone, which is why there is such a surge in the popularity and number of productivity self-help books. One of those, “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” has landed author Charles Duhigg on the bestseller lists.

“I think we are living through a period of economic change on par with the Industrial Revolution,” says Duhigg, a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter for The New York Times. “There is a certain amount of anxiety generated by such a big change. It’s exciting – but it’s not easy.”

What most of us have discovered, he says, is that while technology is wonderful, “it doesn’t solve all of our problems.”

That’s because we may believe that if we use technology to work longer days, to perform more tasks and to be more connected than ever before, we will find success and satisfaction. But the truth is that only when we use technology and data to meet our specific needs is it helpful.

“Sometimes the best thing you can do is slow down and make sense of the data coming at you – and not get overwhelmed by it,” Duhigg says.

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In addition, leaders can help teams be more productive by allowing them to “interact” with data in ways that will help them retain the information better. For example, medical schools have the “see one, do one, teach one” philosophy because they know that allowing students to interact with patients is the way to help them best learn – and then further cement that information by teaching it to others, he says.

“It’s not always because you want to teach someone else, but it does help it (information or process) to sink in,” he says.

Further, technology can be helpful and improve your daily work only when you can see the data embedded in those decisions and then use it somehow to learn from it, he says.

In his research of how companies and individuals get more done, Duhigg finds:

  1. Speaking freely matters. Teams are more effective when members feel it’s safe to say what they think and everyone gets equal air time. It’s also important that team members are sensitive to the feelings of others. Leaders have to be careful that they don’t reward the loudest in the group or fail to answer questions. By showing consideration and thoughtfulness to team members, it’s more likely that a leader’s example will be followed.
  2. Making better decisions takes time. Don’t rush to make a decision if you can give yourself more time to think about different scenarios, even if they’re contradictory. Seek out different experiences, perspectives or ideas so that you can make wiser decisions. At the end of each day, think about the decisions you’ve made, about what’s in your control, and what you can do better.
  3. Being close to a problem is an advantage. Toyota’s “lean manufacturing” system relies on pushing decision making to the lowest possible level. In other words, the front-line worker is the one often experiencing glitches in the manufacturing process first, and so should be the one with the greatest authority to find the solution. “Very often, the people who are managers feel they’re expected to take control and tell people what to do. But lean leadership tells us the opposite. You empower people to solve the problems around them,” he says. “It encourages people to be more innovative because you’re telling them to solve the problem and you’ll support them.”
  4. Reinventing the mousetrap isn’t necessary. Creativity often comes about when old ideas are combined in new ways. You can become an “innovation broker” for your organization by thinking about how things make you think and feel, which is “how we distinguish clichés from real insights,” he says. Be open to assessments of your idea from different perspectives as it helps you see things in a clearer way.
  5. Stress isn’t always bad. Don’t worry if you get anxious while trying to come up with new ideas or solutions as that anxiety is what pushes you to see old ideas in new ways. 

Duhigg stresses that productivity is really about understanding your own life, how you make decisions for yourself and with others and how far you’re willing to push yourself.

“You know, it’s a myth that those who go to the best schools will get the best jobs and do well,” he says. “The most productive people come out of hardship, because they think more deeply about the choices they make.”

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