Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four sharpening the axe”.
There’s debate about whether Lincoln even said this. But it certainly does say a lot. Regardless of its origins I love this quote because it emphasises the need to plan and think about your tasks before you actually get going. I am not sure I always follow this rule, there is part of me that thinks just do it, and do it now. The impatient part of me.
The main issue is, this quote captures the kind of thinking that separates the haves from the have-nots. The successful from the unsuccessful. The people who prosper and the people who just get by. Because it is saying that it’s better to work smarter and not harder. But how do we do that, how can we work smarter to achieve success.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four sharpening the axe Abraham Lincoln
Working smarter not harder means different priorities for different people, you need to find a way that helps you work smart. A simple way to start figure out what your strengths are and use these as a framework to improve your own personal development. Here are a few tips I try and follow to ensure I stay smart workwise:
Avoid the Blank Page Don’t start from scratch, don’t reinvent the wheel. See if you have done something similar before, do you have a template? A document or an example you can amend that meets your aims. Research for examples to use and then create your own. Avoid starting with a white canvas at all costs and use an example to improve your own thinking.
Stay on track It’s so easy to get interrupted but it happens to all of us. So stay on track with reminders, notes, to do lists – whatever works for you and your work style. Assign limits to a task, so if you love surfing the net for hours on end then give yourself 30 minutes and that’s it. Give yourself time to be distracted or brain space to be creative.
Set your goals Goals are so important, use them as your personal GPS (think goal, purpose, scope). There is a theory that taking this approach helps you transform chaos to calm and helps you work smarter. Imagine the finished product, what will the work look like when finished? Understand the why, the purpose of what you are trying to achieve, the timescales, the people involved and the milestones to make sure you are on track to deliver. Don’t set goals that are unrealistic, you will only end up feeling frustrated and demotivated when you don’t achieve them. Similarly don’t set goals that are too easy, try to challenge yourself and provide space to learn.
Time Free your mind to focus on the tasks that are the real priority, the tasks that will have impact. Some call this time theming, for me its strategic thinking. Used correctly it can help you achieve work-life balance. For example you could set a day or afternoon for networking, or research. Don’t dismiss this as idea by saying you don’t have time – that is part of the problem. You need to change your mindset and make sure you are investing in yourself. Use this time to talk to others in your field or read those newsletters filling up your inbox. I have written previously about how to use your time effectively.
Email strategy I have written about this so many times and its a recurring theme. Manage your email properly, don’t let it manage you. Its a major productivity killer and can lead to reactive work patterns rather than proactive work planning. I check email three times a day, then switch it off and remove notifications. Check them first thing to see if anything urgent has come in overnight. Again lunchtime quickly to see if anything needs a response before the close of day. Lastly, the end of your working day as you plan your work for tomorrow or Monday. And yes, don’t check work emails at weekends.
So a few ideas to help you work smarter not harder. Common sense rules that we need to remind ourselves of repeatedly. What we are talking about here is what Lincoln would’ve avoided.
And remember Lincoln’s sage advice and avoid mindlessly swinging a blunt axe at a tree. Instead, make sure you work smarter and see results.