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It’s Not Hard Work – It’s Smart Work

Posted by on November 11, 2013

Time to Work Smart

It’s that time of the year again where the air is permeated with the unrequited efforts of examinees trying their best to cram their minds with a year’s worth of work and a little bit of understanding. Yes, exams bring out the best and the worst in us as we try to accurately regurgitate the many different synonyms for adjectives to properly describe those nouns which we pray to various deities (because really, when you’re desperate, why be picky?) are the key to us passing those epically stressful exams.

I’ve always considered myself a hard worker, but often I have fallen short during exam time. I have looked longingly upon those people who – apparently so easily – flow through the system with not a care in the world. And then I wonder, why the hell am I not performing as easily as those people? And the answer, I have found, is actually quite simple.

Forget hard work. It’s overrated, unrecognised, and generally wastes your time. I know that sounds harsh, and for me it was a bitter pill to swallow considering how much I put into everything I do, but I was missing the point every single time I put my head down and hit the books. The point of putting in effort is to get results, and unfortunately, during exam time especially, those results won’t be realised unless you do it in a particular way; that is, the smart way.

So what exactly is this “smart way”? I hate to say it, but the only way to do things smart is to prioritise and schedule. I’ve always hated the phrase “time management”. Time is a constant, ever progressing element. It isn’t going to change. In fact, you can probably rely on it above all other things. One cannot manage TIME. But, one can manage oneself. The term I prefer is Task Management.

Task management…it’s an active phrase which involves getting your hands dirty. It’s not just about making a schedule – but that is important too. I often find that by “managing my time” I end up giving too little time to those tasks which matter a lot, and too much time on those that have little impact on my current situation. Some would call that bad time management and stipulate that I should work more on my planning. I’ll take the latter, but not the former. It isn’t that I’m not managing my time, it’s that I haven’t properly assessed the tasks at hand. This is why knowing what you need to do is so important. Not just knowing the task, but KNOWING what the task entails.

This is the first step of Task Management, and it allows you to be one step closer to Smart Work. No longer putting in hours of hard work into a task which, really, is only surface based, but instead dedicating the appropriate effort (I say effort and not time, because you don’t need a lot of time for something to make it good). So, evaluation. That is the first thing that needs to be done. Evaluate the tasks at hand and get a good idea of what each one is comprised of.

Then comes a bit of a tricky part: prioritise. I reckon this is where time comes into play. This isn’t about putting the most difficult things first and then leaving the easier things for later or vice versa. Prioritising involves identifying due dates and then analysing the tasks in relation to the dates. You may only have a project due in a month’s time, but during that time you might have a test or another element which is more important. So then, how does one look at this in a clever way? The smart way? Actually, it’s quite simple. You’ve already evaluated each of the tasks. You know your own capabilities. So, knowing your capabilities, assign time frames for each task. Remember that some tasks can’t be done over one day, and may require a broader frame. Don’t use hours – they can be deceiving. Use time FRAMES – frame your day into sections. I like “after breakfast”, “before lunch”, “afternoon”, and “evening”. I know it may sound weird, but this gives room for uncontrollable elements to take place, and then for you to deal with them. Also, you can use this to motivate you to finish within your time frame, for example, I can use the time before lunch to watch an episode of my favourite series.

Prioritising, therefore, involves incorporating your knowledge gained from the evaluation to properly give time frames to each task necessary. But then it doesn’t end there. You’ve seen when things need to be done, and how much needs to be done, and also what needs to be put aside for things to be done. Now you can take the pieces of the puzzle and put them in an order. This is where you need to be absolutely honest with yourself. If you KNOW, for a fact, that you cannot accomplish something when you have another thing on your mind, then don’t fool yourself. For example, I know that I can’t do a small task when I have a big task looming over my head. I rush through the small task resulting in mediocre work of a nature my dog would be disgusted with. This is where you take into account your personal preferences, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. There is no “step by step” or any other such guidance I can offer here; this is up to you.

That being said, I can say that the smart work starts – for real – when you actually start working. When you sit down and begin with that first task, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • you’ve actually got to start. This is, in my view, the most difficult thing. Procrastination is the easiest trap to fall into, and its ugly head holds many forms. In general, throughout any of the work you do (from preparation through to due date handing in), you need to be diligent. To phrase Mad-Eye Moody: “CONSTANT DILIGENCE!”
  • Follow the time frames. You’ve already evaluated each task so you know how much to put in to each part of the task. Do not OVER exert yourself and end up wasting time. Trust me on this, I do it a lot; I try to make absolutely everything perfect. Being conscientious is important, but you need to learn when to switch it on and when to leave the button duct-taped on “off”. This is difficult, I know. I’m a perfectionist of note. But it’s either limit yourself on one thing or end up limiting yourself on everything. It’s one of those moral dilemmas that psychometric tests are always shoving in our faces in order to identify how ethical or moral we are: kill the one we love to save many, or kill many to save the one we love. There is no good answer to this, but there is a smart answer. The same applies for work.
  • I cannot stress this enough: take breaks and celebrate! If you finish a task, bloody well give yourself a hearty pat on the back and some ice-cream (my favourite is toblerone chocolate chip or a classic magnum). If you aren’t into ice-cream, I really don’t care, but do something to reward yourself. A word of warning, though, it isn’t good to celebrate with alcohol unless you aren’t prepared to work the next day – this can severely set you back, sometimes making you have to re-evalutate everything you have left to do. Then also, breaks…now the good thing about time frames is that they give you sessions for breakfast, lunch, and supper. But stopping to eat is not the only purpose of a break. A break is necessary to let your brain rest. It can go into overdrive, start zinging, and then spiral into a blocked mess of pulp not good for even the hungriest carnivore. Your head canNOT take too much information at a time. There is a reason why information overload is such a predominant factor in any theoretical book; it’s true. Leave the mass-storage to the electronic devices. For exams, especially, it’s smart to take a break and then go back and review what you’ve done. This way, you can at least identify whether your study technique is right for you or not. A hint: if you can’t remember anything, try a different method of study; you could be a more linguistic based learner, in which case reading the work over and over won’t help – you need to record the work and listen to it instead.
  • Find a way to do work in a comfortable position and sort it out quickly! There is no reason to wast time on something which should be quite simple to accomplish. Ergonomics are important for more than just their looks; they are also there for health purposes. As an employer, one must (by law) supply labour standards that are in line with health and safety basics to provide an environment which encourages participation and success. YOU are your own EMPLOYER! Therefore, YOU need to provide YOURSELF with that environment. This doesn’t mean it has to be so comfortable that you fall asleep, but it does mean that chairs should be properly aligned with desks, and there should be enough lighting, and various other simple but important things. Often, a person will stop working simply because they cannot concentrate due to small and arbitrary elements which could easily have been remedied before hand. Don’t let this be the reason for your downfall!

I never put much thought into the way I did my work, until I got wind of Smart Work. And, by combining smart work with task management, I was able to have a reasonably relaxed exam period. This isn’t to say the work wasn’t any more hectic than normal, but this time I was able to put effort into those parts which really needed it, and I wasn’t frustrated by the act of writing an exam which I wasn’t ready for. True, results aren’t out just yet, but I can only hope that the results reflect the input: smart marks for smart work.

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WonderWhiteRabbit hopping off

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