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‘Work Smarter not Harder’: Economy of Effort- The Five Fs

Here's a piece I wrote a few years ago. I think it is still useful so I am breathing life into it once more.

As part of the pre-work for the Leadership 3D, which is know variously as the Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) and the Executive Development Intensive (EDI), a question about ‘economy of effort’ had most people puzzled. What does it mean?

As the phrase suggests, we achieve our desired outcomes with minimum effort. It’s a lot like the common phrase ‘work smarter not harder'. I think when we are using economy of effort, we are doing things with ease.

What does it look like in action? What steps can I take? So here's Five Fs for how to work with economy of effort:

1. Focus

When our energy is focused and directed, we can achieve a great deal. When our energy is unfocused, we experience working very hard but not get anywhere- we end up working harder and harder with less and less tangible results. To be focused is to be totally present and totally attentive to the subject/ task in hand. Cal Newport expresses this in more detail in Deep Work

2. Flexibility

Focused while staying open to the moment to moment unfolding. This ability to be open and attuned to the shifts in the environment is hard to achieve- particularly in the business world. It is common for business executives to be focused and goal-oriented and for most part, it is the ability to drive results that make executives rise to the top. However, this ‘lock-on’ type of focusing also means that shifts in a situation are ‘locked-out’ leading to a diminished ability for executives to respond appropriately to changing circumstances. As a result, more effort is used than necessary.

3. Failure as point of excitement

Though we read about how to embrace failture particularly if we are interested in creativity and innovation, few of us enjoy failure—but this is exactly what is needed if we are interested in efficiency of effort. Feeling bad because we made a mistake is a natural human reaction but beyond that, any additional time we spend beating ourselves up without it leading us to thinking and doing things differently is time and energy wasted.

4. Following 'TOV' as a daily practice

When we are in our TOV, time flows and we flow. This is for sure a sign that we are in our ‘zone’. But our TOV needs to be nurtured and developed with discipline and practice. What comes to mind is years as a dancer and musician when I was younger. In both art forms I hated practising barr work and scales- I just saw them as getting in the way of the actual thing itself. As I am older and look back to those practise sessions, I have a renewed appreciation of how crucial those sessions were in enabling me to actually enjoy the dance and the music—anyone who has been through this or who has children learning an instrument will relate to this for sure! Training and the daily practice of looking at how to do what we love or what we are good at in better and new ways is essential in improving enabling us to do that thing we love with greater ease. Alternatively, giving time to what we love every day- no matter how short- is a great way to resource and refresh ourselves so we are in a better state when we return to our tasks.

5. Flag up early when things are not ‘right’

We all have an intrinsic ‘knowing’. It seems the more we are educated and trained, the less we trust our own internal voice of wisdom. When things are not quite ‘right’ we usually know but few of us trust this voice. Instead, we reason this voice away. We tell ourselves all the reasons why ‘everything is ok’ or ‘everything will be ok’ if I try harder. How do we work smarter rather than word harder? The first thing we need to do is to accept that something is not ‘right’. By admitting to yourself, by talking your colleagues, by talking about this with your partner/ spouse is a way to take heed of our internal early warning sign. Flagging things up early will save a lot of effort later because in my experience of executive and organisation coaching, slightly 'off' things tend to turn to bad things which tend to turn worse unless individuals can step back and do something differently earlier on.

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