Friday, March 8, 2013

Hard Work, Smart work, Inspired Work - Part II

In Part I of this article we examined the characteristics of Hard work and Smart work. Let us take a look at how to up the ante and level up to inspired work.
A great quote I found in Jeff Haden's article says "Great employees follow process. Remarkable employees find ways of making those processes better, not because they are expected to, but because they just can't help it."
While hard work and smart work have their measures of productivity, is it really possible to accurately measure the hours that went into creating a vision or idea? Inspirational works of art, music, drama seem to come into being as though by sheer magical. The aura and influence that truly inspirational ideas create are indeed described in terms like 'out of this world'. However, there is much truth behind Edison's words and these geniuses and inspired masters indeed are often toiling away and burning the candle at both ends before revealing the fruits of their labor onto a mesmerized world. There would be tons of reading and calculations which would have gone into creating the Eureka moment. What sets the genius apart from the hard worker and smart worker which enables him to perform inspired work? 
Jeff Sutherland states in his blog that one can actually be more productive by working less! He quotes a Florida State University study which found that our bodies work in short sprints of 90 minutes. The study concluded from observing "elite musicians, artists and chess players that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take breaks in between sessions, and rarely work more than four and half hours in any given day."  
Applied to the work place, this can be used to maximize productivity, creativity and innovation. In any typical day, whether you spend 8 hours at office or 16 hours, your actual productive hours will be rarely more than 5-6 hours when you get some work done. Point to note here is that checking your mails, attending calls, planning your holiday, catching up on your reading and filing reports to your boss does not count as work, just because you do it at your office desk. Work is what adds value to the organization in achieving its key goals. After removing these non-work activities if you still find yourself doing 5-6 hours of 'work work' in a day, you are a truly remarkable gem and a rarity indeed.
For those engaged in thought leadership or creative or strategic fields, the 90 minute sprint makes great sense. I find it effective to file away this category of work into my subconscious (and of course my notepad :)) and let it mull over while I get going with the routine. When the time comes, I find a lot of ideas accumulated on the subject and one just needs to sort them out, find the logical order and communicate them in a comprehensible manner. This can be often be achieved in the less than 90 minute sprint. On the contrary, working long hours on deadlines constantly, leads to sub-optimal work produced. We end up ignoring the mind's state of alertness or fatigue and relentlessly keep going against a dead end. The shorter sprint also brings focus in your work. The curse of creativity is that there are always too many ideas floating around your mind and you don't know which one to work on. The short period forces you to focus on what you can do now and here and this way you accomplish more with less. 
This series of the blog was written in less than 90 minute work periods. :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hard Work, Smart Work, Inspired Work - Part I

One will find hard work and smart work very prevalent in most organizations. There will be cases indeed where smart work will replace hard work, thus bringing in productivity, efficiency and all the gains of not doing unnecessary and non-value add tasks.

Hard work does not distinguish the value of the work. It is mostly concerned with the volume of work. If something needs doing, it will be done by sheer brute force, if need be. Manual labour, data entry, accounting and audit related record keeping are instances where hard work thrives and is rewarded. Hard work recognizes heroics of individual persistence. You will find energetic hard workers jump in to help their over-whelmed colleagues regardless of their role. Motivation for hard workers can be external or internal. Carrot and stick routines of motivation work best when one intends to extract hard work. Qualities that are appreciated in hard workers are punctuality, reliability, stamina for slogging into late hours. Vision or direction is usually left to managers and supervisors while work is left to workers. This leads to a thriving command and control structure. Edison's quote - "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration" is often the guiding mantra for hard workers. Edison indeed practiced what he preached, working more than 20 hours a day on his inventions, his 1093 patents a testimony to his efforts.

There is a different school of thought on the other hand that tends to side with Oscar Wilde who said "Hard work is the refuge of people who have nothing to do". It is a well established fact that work expands to fill the time available. Time can also be replaced with resources including finances available as can be seen from the spend of many governments who are able to boost economic activity by pumping quantum heaps of monetary instruments into the system.

Smart work starts with prioritizing and time management. Important tasks are actively sought while trying to minimize urgent tasks. Smart work seeks out inefficient processes and continuously tweaks them to weed out non-value add steps. Automation is often the simplest of strategies for doing work smartly, but it doesn't stop at that. There is a recognition that all automation is not smart and even automated processes can stimulate hard work syndrome. Creativity and flexibility are the hall marks of smart work. Motivation for smart work comes from the feeling of satisfaction in making something better than it was. Smart work aligns itself to the organization's goals. People in this category are eager to learn, asking questions and challenging the status quo. Organizations where smart work thrives generally have flat hierarchies and open cultures which encourage not just following the process but questioning the process as well. Risk taking is generally higher and it is considered ok to fail sometimes in the quest for smarter solutions. Work life balance is also an important consideration and the goal is to ensure getting more benefits out of less efforts. Thus instead of a hard working 16 hours, a smart output of 8 hours is considered to have generated higher value for the organization.

... To be concluded in Part II (Inspired Work)