Working Smarter: The Ultimate Approach

work-smarter-on-folder-bill-jensenJust two tips cover EVERYTHING!

There’s an amazing community of Work Smarter authors and “How To” experts across the globe. But we’re usually never in the same place at the same time. David Burkus, author of Under New Management, just did something no company or conference has ever achieved.

He just convened The Work Smarter Summit, where he interviewed 40+ top Work Smarter experts in one virtual summit, many of whom I’m thrilled to call friends. I’ve synthesized and simplified all the amazing takeaways down to just two tips that cover the ultimate approach to working smarter, with a sampling of insights from the summit gurus.

Working Smarter is NOT About Tech!

While every expert was asked about the tools they used — ( among the most popular: Zoom for video chats; Slack for workflow conversations; G Suite for docs/calendaring/email ) — NOT ONE EXPERT saw working smarter as driven by tools and technology. Is having a sweet suite of tools critical to support you in working smarter? Absolutely! Does that create your ability to work smarter? No. No. No!

Working Smarter is All About You.

Your filters, your biases, your choices, your behaviors, your habits, your ability to learn and unlearn, and your relationships with others.

Checklists, and the best apps, and finding the best ways to be super efficient are important. But far more important is who you are. Within the summit, the experts examined that in 40 different ways. Here are the top patterns I observed across all of the advice.

Know Thyself. Be You… Consistently

This was the most consistent view of all: Working smarter begins with deep inner knowingness, and applying that in every daily activity.

Know Yourself, Deeply: Mary Busch, executive coach: “The single biggest factor in success over the long-term is being self-aware and grounded. Getting yourself right is so important. To be a great leader, it’s crucial to continually work on three areas: how you work with people; how you work on the business; how you work on yourself. The things that are our biggest obstacles are most often generated by ourselves. Successful leaders focus on their strengths and also continuously examine what’s holding them back.”

Know What Motivates You: Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: “Science says that people are always motivated. By our nature, we want to thrive. What you need to look at is what motivates you. Once you understand that, then you can manage your motivations.

“Science says it all boils down to three psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. When those three are satisfied, we thrive. When those psychological needs are eroded or undermined, then we sub-optimize our motivation. Autonomy is our belief that we have some control over what is happening to us, and that we have choices in what happens to us. Relatedness means we actually care about what we’re doing, and that we are cared about. It builds upon purpose and meaning to achieve a sense of belonging. Competence is not just mastery of some skill or challenge, it’s really about the process of learning and growing.”

Know Your Productivity Personality Type: Carson Tate, author of Work Simply: “We each need to have productivity tools that are aligned to how we think, and how we learn — personalizing productivity.

“Productivity Personality Types:

  • Planner: Very organized, sequential, planned. Loves details. Doesn’t like chaos, rambling, meetings without agendas, and change. Lives by their calendar.
  • Prioritizer: Analytical, linear, data-oriented. Very focused on the goal and desired outcomes. Not as focused on step-by-step plans. Able to adjust to changes fairly easily. Writes short emails, gets frustrated with tangents. Lives by their To Do list.
  • Arranger: Intuitive, communicative, natural facilitators. Goes by gut feelings. Creates customized productivity systems, using bits and pieces from lots of different sources.
  • Visualizer: Risk-takers. Idea-focused. Connects and integrates unconnected parts. Always pushing the envelope and asking what’s next. Focused on the big picture, big ideas. Highly visual, creating idea maps, illustrations, metaphors.

“High performing teams have all four productivity styles represented and participating. Each of those styles has a central question they want answered.

  • Prioritizers: What?
  • Planners: How?
  • Arrangers: Who?
  • Visualizers: Why?”

Know What Makes You Courageous and Future Strong

My own findings echo all of the above. Thousands of interviews and surveys for my last three books — Disrupt!, The Courage Within Us, and Future Strong— found that knowing yourself is one of the most important drivers of your success, productivity, and leadership in very disruptive times. From those findings, we created a powerful new future readiness tool. (Sample, below.) Email me for details about the Future Strong Assessment for individuals, teams, and organizations.
Know Your One Thing

Geoff Woods, vice president of KellerInk, the company behind the best-selling book The ONE Thing: “Every one of us has a lot of things we could do every day. You need to narrow your focus down to the one thing that you could do, so that everything else is easier or unnecessary. If you bring that level of purpose, priority, and focus into your life, something unlocks, and really amazing things start to happen for you!

“Most of us take action on multiple priorities simultaneously. You’ve got to do the one thing first. All the others depend on succeeding at that one thing.

“It’s not that you have just one thing in your life and that’s it. You have a One Thing in each of seven areas of your life:

  • Spirituality
  • Physical Health
  • Personal Wellbeing
  • Relationships
  • Your Job
  • Your Business
  • Your Finances

“You’ve got to be the kind of person who acts according to your one thing — that it’s in your bones.”

Listen Deeply, and Ask More Beautiful Questions

Listen from the Other Person’s Perspective: Bob Burg, author of The Go-Giver: “Value is always in the eyes of the beholder. Shift your focus from getting [something from that person] to giving [your full attention and presence].”

Ask More and Better Questions: Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question: “We don’t do enough thoughtful questioning about the world around us. Einstein viewed questions and problems as the same thing. So when an executive says, ‘Don’t bring me problems or questions, bring me solutions,’ that is a mistaken approach. Because the problem, and questions about it, are where the opportunity lies. In effect, execs are saying, ‘Don’t bring me opportunities.’ Of course they don’t see it that way, but opportunities are most often in the questions we ask, [not in pre-determined solutions.]

“People who are problem-solvers immediately want to jump to ‘How?’ because it’s often the toughest issue in the business world. You do need to answer that… eventually. But most people jump to ‘How?’ too quickly. First, we need to spend more time on ‘Why?’ and ‘What if…?’

Create More Meaning, Discover Purpose: Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work: “Finding meaning and finding your calling is not something that you plan for… it’s a path that you discover. It’s often what’s left when your plans go horribly wrong. It’s your mindset that will reveal that path — ‘I’m going to take whatever life throws at me, and I’m going to use it for purpose and meaning.’ And clarity comes from action. You can’t wait for it to come to you. You listen to your life telling you who you are, and then take the first step, acting out of that sense of identity.”

Say “No.” A Lot More.

Steve Jobs once said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” And, “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: “Everything we do is a choice. Rather than say ‘I don’t have time,’ say ‘I won’t do X, Y or Z because it’s not a priority.’ Using that phrase allows us to own those choices. Most people don’t realize how often they let work distract them from their personal time. Track how you’re actually using your time for at least one week. Then compare what you find to your personal goals. Discover what surprises you. Most everyone redeploy their time and change their priorities by using this method.”

(“No” continues below…)

Prioritize. Focus. Prioritize. Focus. Repeat ad infinitim.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: “Deep work is a very specific activity, when you’re focusing without distraction for a long period of time, on a cognitively-demanding task.

“Focus your deep work time on your expertise and strengths — what others would not be able to replicate… Applying your hard-won craftsmanship to producing things that are rare and valuable.

“Diligence is about consistency saying ‘No’ to everything else. Leveraging the type of craftsmanship that creates real value, and that gives you satisfaction and control, is incredibly difficult. You have to have the diligence and willingness to say ‘I’m not going to do that, and I don’t care if I miss out, because I want to cash in on what I do that’s great.’

“I go four to five weeks ahead of each day’s work and claim deep work time on my calendar in advance. I protect whole days for my deep work. Block off whatever deep work time you can as soon as you can.”

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: “To win, you have to ask the question, ‘What’s Important Now?’ That’s a disciplined approach to doing less, answering ‘Of all the things I could do, how can I save the space to explore what is essential, eliminate what’s not, so that in this moment I’m focused on the most important thing.’”

Relationships Matter

Your social skills are among your most crucial assets. You’ve surely heard this a gazillion times in the past few years. Here’s one more time… Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Leadership BS: “Organizational life is really about relationships. If you have a good relationship with your boss, you’ll succeed. And if you have a bad relationship with your boss, it doesn’t matter how good your performance is.”

You Still Have to Work Hard to Work Smarter

Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Operations for Walt Disney World“People usually put off the hard things. When you do the hard things — exercise, saving for retirement, having a tough conversation with someone at work about their performance, firing someone — life gets easier. If you focus too much on the easy things, life gets harder. Great planning includes doing the hard things up front. If you don’t plan the life you want, you’ll live the life you don’t want. Everyone is just one decision away from a whole different life.”

More Virtual Work = Greater Personal Discipline

Chris Taylor, founder of “In running a totally virtual company: The whole point of online tools is to allow people to do what needs to be done, faster, and easier, so we increase profit margins, so we can put those savings into connecting people live, as much as possible. When we do get together, we try to make it as little about information sharing as possible. For our in-person get togethers, we follow Khan Academy’s inverting learning model, where you consume all the information ahead of time, and then discuss and apply whenever you’re together. When we do get together, we limit working time to six hours per day, so everyone can truly connect emotionally and socially.”

Gini Dietrich, CEO of marketing communication firm, Arment Dietrich: “When the economy crashed, we had to find ways to reduce expenses. And $11,000/month rent was one of those. We went virtual in 2011 with the idea that we’d just do it for a year. It’s been freakin’ amazing! As a business owner, I can now put more into salary and benefits — I can find the best person in the world for the job. As we’re now across the globe, coordinating across time zones and having staff with English as a second language are sometimes difficult, but we work it out through trial and error.”

Summit Experts: Dan Ariely, Mark Babbitt, Warren Berger, Jenny Blake, CK Bray, Jeff Brown, Michael Bungay Stanier, Bob Burg, Oliver Burkeman, May Busch, Dorie Clark, Lee Cockerell, Gini Dietrich, Susan Fowler, Jeff Goins, Todd Henry, Herminia Ibarra, Mitch Joel, Whitney Johnson, Kevin Kermes, Greg McKeown, Max McKeown, Shawn Murphy, Cal Newport, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Kelly Riggs, Robby Riggs, John Ruhlin, Stephen Shapiro, Nick Skillicorn, Michael Skiwinski, Joshua Spodek, Carson Tate, Chris Taylor, Rory Vaden, Mike Vardy, Laura Vanderkam, Carrie Wilkerson, Chris Winfield, Liz Wiseman, Geoff Woods.

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen is the foremost thought-leader on workplace simplicity, an IBM Futurist, and author of eight best-selling books. He has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal. As Mr. Simplicity, his mission is to make it easier to do great work and to hack stupid work. His research includes interviews and surveys with over one million people around the globe. He is CEO of the change consulting firm, The Jensen Group. You can contact Bill through email ( or his website.

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