Work hard. Turn up and start on time. Timely breaks (you are a minute past your allocated break time, get back to work!). Get the job done without complaining whilst working in any number of tough environmental conditions, mostly cold, rain and mud. Repeat over and over.
I picked a lot of my work ethic by situational osmosis working with my farther.
Cutting mountains of firewood by axe, dagging sheep and pressing wool bales of fleeces, building fences on the side of ridiculously steep hills. There was always something else that needed to be done around the farm he would tell me. Cleaning of equipment, servicing of machines, housekeeping in general. No time for rest. Plenty of time in the box later.
Not surprisingly in the years that followed these early impressions manifested in my own adventures into the workforce. In various jobs I would push hard to get the job done and then finding myself with nothing to do pick up a broom or start cleaning things up. I like to keep busy, it is ingrained in my genetics it seems. Being bored is dangerous for me, mentally corrosive.
At times I noticed that some of my other work colleagues did not necessarily reflect my own values and frequently I found myself being told to ‘slow down’ or ‘you’re making us look bad’.
That was my early introduction to workplace social intelligence.
Some lengthy research into various business related books ensued (stemming from my inherent general lack of money at the time – age 16). I began with Rich Dad Poor Dad by Kiyosaki and driven by my insatiable appetite for collecting money it became clear that there was a real difference between working harder (efficiently) vs. working smarter (effectively). I decided quickly I preferred the later as I had seen firsthand the slow damage building from years of backbreaking labour gradually impacting my father. The aches and pains and a distinct limp at night caused by plantar fasciitis (not diagnosed of course as that would require actually going to a doctor).
I also observed during my teenage years that my father had a real issue in actually stopping work, I’m talking having a sequential number of days off. There were a couple of Christmas days where he was actually out in the paddock cutting firewood post Christmas lunch.
The commitment and dedication my father showed to any work task was truly epic but I knew I needed a smarter way to survive working into old age.
Eventually I moved on to university post high school to learn how to get more done with less effort.
So I did what seemed logical at the time, I barely went to lectures much to the confusion of some of my fellow classmates. I am sure many thought I was destined to go absolutely nowhere and drop out. Little did they knew that my love of money (at this time of my life) and the fact I was paying for my education myself made for compelling motivation to ensure I did not fail.
From Math (my best subject during high school) I switched to an Information Systems degree and went about dissecting how the university system functioned and what was critical content in order to pass. I discovered my own unique version of the Perato Principle (commonly known as the 80/20 rule) before I came to know the name.
I would download lecture notes from the university system and gloss over an entire 2 or 3 hour lecture in about 10 minutes in the comfort of my room with a beer in hand. I made it a point to write down any key points or concepts from the presentation slides I didn’t fully understand. After that I would locate these points in the companion text book (if I had bothered to buy it) to attempt to understand further.
After this, the critical action was to go to every tutorial for all subjects I was taking that semester. This was a far more effective use of my time in my view, a concentrated one hour block of time in a small group setting vs three hours in a crowded lecture hall where often I struggled to hear. By asking relevant questions of the tutor and actively participating in these sessions (key point there) I actually got way more out of those tutorials than any of the lectures.
It was apparent to me I learned far more effectively this way.
Combining the above strategy with relevant revision of previous semesters / years exam papers and scans of the subject message boards for hidden exam, project or essay clues I was able to have an accurate estimate of what I needed to do in order to pass with above average marks while greatly reducing time input.
The result was in less than 3 years, I achieved a business degree with a double major and a good overall average.
Interestingly I haven’t actually worked in any capacity as a systems or business analyst (one of my majors) or in fact utilised probably 70% of what I studied during that time. What I have noticed over time however is that the concepts taught on the methods to find and analyse information and seek ways to improve processes has stuck with me. I have used these over and over again in successive roles to both make my job at the time easier and generate results for the business also.
There is a marked difference between being efficient, that is quick at performing a particular task vs being effective, that is achieving the same task outcome in a smarter way pocketing the difference in time, money or other intangible value for application elsewhere.
Efficient vs. effective, an example of changing one to the other:
During one job I had a non negotiable task to complete every day involving sending advanced information notices to the local port terminal to notify that a particular container was going to be delivered for a particular vessel. Exciting stuff right? Not really, a bunch of data to be entered in the same format over and over again. During busy times we could send 100 containers down to the port in a day. Every container needed one of these notices. Bulk data entry, the scourge of many to be sure.
Anyway, there was however a design limit for the system which was the ceiling of only being able to send only one of these messages per minute. It would bundle the data up as comma delineated .csv (text) file and send it off via the email client and then store the .csv file on the computer hard drive. I got so efficient with the database user interface that I could enter and check order details were correct for 3 containers in a minute. This meant a lot of time over hundreds of containers waiting just to click a button (or repeatedly clicking the button) in order to send the details. At throughput of 300 containers per week would mean 300 minutes or 5 whole hours just to send the details to the container terminal, a major system design flaw in my opinion, particularly when I wanted to go home after 5pm and was stuck waiting on a button.
Eventually I got sick of this and having completed some database programming at university (and after doing the necessary research to ensure safety of data – backup) I modified the source code and the logical test involving the time so if there was an existing .csv file it would write another one to a new hard drive location and allow me to send as many as I liked in a minute. Very simple fix really. Now sending 3 every minute 300 containers would only take 100 minutes per week saving 3.33 hours per week or 173 hours per year.
This solution freed me up to get on with other tasks with my newly found saved time. That is effective.
I repeated this process for other tasks with nifty little macros and any other form of automation or semi-automation I could think of. Much of this aspect of things was self-taught. Sometimes I only knew what I wanted a program to do and I would spend time searching on Google finding out how to do it. I spent a fair amount of time learning some of this, at work of course, but the benefits always outweighed the time invested.
In fact management did not truly understand the value of my process improvements even after explaining them. They subsequently locked all access to the database (which by all rights should have been locked off from the start). A free lesson in IT security right there…
These learned skills, techniques, concepts I have carried forward with me to subsequent jobs. One of my early role models was Einstein who became so good at his job in the patent office he freed up hours each day to work on his own creative pursuits. According to Robert Greene in his book “Mastery” Einstein created a significant amount of his famous ‘Theory of Relativity while supposedly at work!’
What is it that you can do to get more work done in less time? Warning: Deep thinking might be required so see where real effective gains in your work processes might be possible.
Find it. Do it. Repeat.
Smash your work deadlines.
Get out of the office on time, all the time,
and create the life you really want…
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy or Homer something something – take your pick.