10 Simple Ideas to Help You Work Smarter

Let’s jump straight in!

1.  Cyril Northcote Parkinson:  Parkinson’s Law

“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”

Your to-do list will expand or shrink according to the amount of time you allow.  We’ve all experienced this when we procrastinated for a month in school and then “magically” completed an assignment in the final week.

The law gives us a great opportunity for self-discipline.  Try giving yourself shorter deadlines, or schedule one task right up against another so that you have no choice but to complete your task before the other begins.

2.  Eric Ries:  Validated Learning

Imagine spending five years building a product that nobody ends up buying.  Validated learning means implementing regular check-points to make sure you’re on the right track.

A good example is the startup of Zappos, the online store.  The founder asked local shoe stores if he could take photos of their stock and post them online; if people bought them, he’d return and buy them at full price.  It cost him next to nothing, but it was crucial validation that he was onto something.

Ries explains, “The key take-away of validated learning is to treat everything as a scientific experiment to figure out if we’re actually on the path of sustainable business.”

Ries gives 3 Learning Milestones:

1. Establish the baseline: what are the minimum building blocks to get you started?

2. Tuning the engine: once you establishing a viable product, improve on it.

3. Pivot or persevere: are the returns great enough to continue to production?

3.  David Allen:  2-Minute Rule

We often procrastinate longer than it takes to do the task.  Allen’s 2-minute rule is: if a task can be done in less than two minutes, don’t even think about it, just get it done.  The 2-minute rule is an exercise for your productivity muscles.  Try expanding the rule to 4 or 5 minute tasks, or clump multiple small tasks into a 30-minute window.

4.  Amy Cuddy:  Power Poses

The mind→body connection is common knowledge, but less known is the body→mind connection.  Cuddy’s research is all about how your body affects your mind—even if you’re unhappy and you force a smile, your brain will produce positive brain chemicals.

Participants in her study were told to hold a “high power-pose” for two minutes, and a “low power-pose” for two minutes.  High power-poses caused an increase in testosterone (confidence, assertiveness, energy) and a decrease in cortisol (stress, anxiety, nervousness). Low power-poses had adverse effects.

Before you engage in any activity, give some of these power poses a try.

5.  Darren Hardy:  The Compound Effect

If you were given the choice between taking $3 million in cash right now, and a single penny that doubles in value every day for 31 days, which would you choose?

Most would take the $3 million right now.  But if you chose the penny, by day 31 you would have $10,737,418.24.

The compound effect means reaping big rewards from a series of small choices.  But the idea is overlooked because what is simple to do is also simple not to do.

Start writing down your negative compound behaviors—the small time-wasters or habits that are killing your goals.  The act of elimination your negative behaviors is simultaneously helping you build positive behaviors.

Eliminate instant gratification from your mindset and see the connection between your small tasks and the bigger reward.  Keep a big calendar on the wall and mark each day you complete your goals with red pen.  Visually seeing all of your small wins will help.

6.  Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi:  Flow Channels

When you are totally immersed in an activity that you lose track of time and awareness of anything else—that is flow.  Athletes get it when they are “in the zone.”

To find your flow channel, there’s a crucial sweet spot: if you have too much skill for your task, then you fall into a “boredom” zone.  On the other hand, if you don’t have enough skill, you go into an “anxiety” zone.  Your goal or task needs to stretch you just beyond your skill level, but not break you by pushing you too far beyond your skill level.

7.  Malcolm Gladwell:  Priming

Priming happens when subtle triggers influence your behavior without your awareness.  In Gladwell’s book Blink, participants read through a list of “old” themed words: Florida, bingo, shuffleboard, golf etc.  The result— they walked out of the study slower than when they entered.  In a similar study, students who read “impolite” themed words were quicker to interrupted a professor than students who read “polite” themed words.

When can priming be used to your advantage?  With positive self-talk—rewriting your internal dialogue with words that produce positive physiological effects.

Write out a list of empowering words and read them aloud to yourself in the morning.

8.  Shawn Achor:  The Happiness Advantage

According to Achor, society’s formula for happiness and success is fundamentally flawed: if I work harder, then I’ll be more successful and happy.  But if we put happiness on the other side of success, we’ll never get there because our idea of success is always changing.

Achor’s studies show that making happiness the starting point rather than the arrival has incredible effects.  People who start the day with gratitude and happiness end up being more productive and achieving more than people who do not.  Not the other way around.

Begin your day with writing down 3 things you are grateful for.

9.  Tim Ferriss: DiSSS

This is Ferriss’ accelerated model for learning anything:

Deconstruct: Reverse Engineer—start with the end in mind break down the task.

Selection: What actions will be the difference makers?  It’s the 80/20 Rule—what is the 20% that will have an 80% impact? In most languages, 20% of words find their way into 80% of sentences.  When learning guitar, a core number of chords are used in most song.  Learn the 20%.

Sequencing: Don’t feel bound to linear progressions of learning, e.g.. Step 1,2,3.  When Ferriss was learning how to dance, he learned the female role first in order to give him a better understanding of the male role.

Stakes:  Apply pressure on yourself to get the task done.  Give yourself a negative consequence for not completing a task.  You might commit giving money to a charity you hate.

10.  Tony Robbins: RPM Plan

Tony’s “RPM” plan is simple:  have clear goals, have a powerful “why,” take massive action.  He often talks about the brain’s reticular activation system (RAS) which helps you focus on what you decide is important.  When you decided to buy a certain car, you started noticing it everywhere—this is your brain’s RAS at work.  Utilize your RAS for your goals.  Clarity is power.

Results:  Know your destination.  When you decide what is most important to you, your RAS will direct your focus and efforts toward achieving it.

Purpose:  Know your “Why.”  Reasons fuel actions.

Massive action:  If you want to take the island, burn the boat.  Big actions lead to big results.