If you've ever wondered why some people perform better at work than others, the answer lies in how they spend their time, says Morten Hansen, author of the book "Great at Work."
Though we've all heard the phrase "work smarter not harder," Hansen conducted a five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees to determine exactly how top workers maximize both their time and performance.
His research yielded seven "work smarter practices" that will help you become more successful while also doing less:
When you work smart, you select a small set of priorities and hone in on those chosen areas, writes Hansen. Then, you must obsess over those tasks in order to produce high-caliber work.
Hansen found in his research that top performers do less volume of activities but with a more concentrated effort. He adds that this insight overturns conventional thinking, which focuses solely on doing less.
"Choice is only half of the equation," writes Hansen. "You also need to obsess."
We're often told to do what we love. Sure enough, Hansen found that people who are passionate about their jobs generally perform better. However, he also came across people whose passions led them astray, which is why he says the advice "follow your passion" can be dangerous.
Hansen suggests taking a different approach: Find roles that contribute value to your organization and society. By doing so, he says that you will match your passion with a sense of purpose.
"The matching of passion and purpose, and not passion alone, produced the best results," writes Hansen.
Experts advise people to break down "silos" within an organization, build larger professional networks, collaborate more and use digital tools to communicate more effectively and get work done. "Well, my research shows that convention to be dead wrong," writes Hansen.
In fact, top performers collaborate less. "They carefully choose which projects and tasks to join and which to flee," he writes. "They channel their efforts and resources to excel in the few chosen one [and] they discipline their collaboration."
Hansen adds that to be a top performer, you must deliberately choose which "cross-unit projects" to get involved in, and say no to less productive ones.
High-performing employees and managers follow what Hansen calls a "learning loop." These workers use activities like meetings or presentations as learning opportunities. They also rely on "informal, rapid feedback from peers, direct reports, and bosses," Hansen writes.
The researcher notes that the top learners in his study didn't master their skills by working "crazy hard" and repeating the same habits over and over. "Instead, they worked smart by focusing on the quality of each of the loops when learning at work," says Hansen.
"Getting our work done hinges on our ability to gain support from others, including bosses, subordinates, peers, colleagues in other departments and partners," writes Hansen. These people control the resources that we need such as information, expertise or money.
To get access to these resources, you must be able to advocate for your goals and be adept at working with people from various departments, says Hansen. "Just explain the merits of the case using logic and data, and others will rise up in support," he writes.
While team meetings are a crucial part of teamwork, most of them are ineffective, writes Hansen. An ineffective meeting or a poor meeting is one that doesn't resolve key issues and it rarely has final results.
"One perverse consequence of all those ineffective meetings is that they lead to even more meetings," writes Hansen, which creates a cycle of wasteful meetings. Hansen suggests utilizing smarter team meetings "where people debate rigorously and commit to decisions."
A redesign is about changing how you work, but Hansen warns that not all redesigns generate better results. When redesigning your workflow, he advises that you focus on one that delivers more value for the same amount of work done.
To evaluate the value of your work, you must measure how much others benefit from it. "Others" can refer to your boss, your office, your customers or your department, explains Hansen. The benefits can take on various forms such as helping to create new products or devising a better method for getting things done.
"To produce great value at work is to create outputs that benefit others tremendously and that is done efficiently and with high quality," writes Hansen.
— Video produced by Jonathan Fazio
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