How to Work Smarter Rather Than Harder

Michael Loren

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We had 1,600 feet of cinderblock fence to paint. I was ready to get started on what I had decided would be our epic new project. My husband was hesitant.

“Let’s just hire someone,” he suggested.

I would have none of that. This whole fence painting project would be a bonding experience for our relationship as well as an effective upper body workout. I pled my case and my husband agreed to try it my way. “Try” was the operative word.

After one hour of brushing the dark grey paint on the porous outdoor surface, we had made very little progress. I was in massive project hog heaven and began to imagine the months of hard work that would result in our new fence.

In my manual labor bliss, I didn’t notice that my husband disappeared. It didn't matter. I painted happily while thinking of the hours and hours it would take to complete our project. My husband returned from the house about ten minutes later.

“George is on his way to drop off a paint gun.” George is our handyman.

So much for my epic project. The paint gun arrived and we had completed one-third of the fence in less than two hours.

I love a good project. Like my fence painting experience, though, I often dive in and mindlessly start grinding without first assessing the situation. I would have painted that fence for weeks without considering a more efficient option. Similarly, I regularly say yes to opportunities without first taking the time to really look at what they will require.

While I see this willingness to work hard as one of my positive traits, I also realize it can often get in the way of spending my time doing meaningful work.

How often do we scale mountains without first noticing that there is a valley path around the mountain that would take much less time and effort?

Working hard on a project is great for us — both mentally and physically, but working hard without first weighing your options and purposefully choosing your route is not. If I really think about it, I always want to give myself the information to choose to take the circuitous route or the shortcut.

We spend so much time talking about productivity, trying to find productivity hacks, and optimizing our workload, but what happens when we're not working on the right things? What happens when we choose to hike up a mountain that leads us to a place we don't want to go?

The fact of the matter is that the straightest distance between two points is a straight line, so we will get to where we want to go if we carefully choose our route before we start working. I realize that I need to start looking before I leap. And assessing the situation before I start working on a solution.

In short, I want to be purposeful about the way I spend my time in my life. My guess is that you might want this as well.

It’s highly likely that you are much more mindful than I am when you are taking on a new project or committing to something new. However, if you happen to be like me and you often say “yes” without thinking or jump into things without assessing the situation first, I encourage you to take heed of my fence painting experience.

In life, you can pick the paintbrush or the paint gun. Both get the job done, but the freedom comes in recognizing them both as your options from which to choose.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA
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