This morning, while in the torture chamber at my dentist, I was asked if I minded to have a student watch over my root canal procedure. Suddenly, my attitude about being tortured took a 180 degree turn and I was excited about being part of this dentistry student learning experience. The lesson for me is one of the smartest things you can do at work or generally in life is to focus less on yourself and more on the bigger world around you. This is way tougher than it sounds and needs much practice.

In my last post, step 1 was “Become a Learning Machine” and in this post I will focus on step 2: Work Smart.   Building on step one of maintaining a learning posture, working smart continues on the same theme. Working smart is all about being present, aware of the moment, sensitive to your surroundings. I know this seems obvious, but start by taking the time to understand what you are trying to accomplish, be crisp clear and specific about your goals. Then develop and adopt an efficient approach to get the job done.  If the objectives are not clear, then be clear about that.

A smart way to succeed at any initiative is to break it down into smaller manageable parts, execute early and create momentum of small successes. This should not be confused with focusing on the short term at the expense of the long term. Never lose sight of the overall mission of your organization. We are always part of a cause bigger than ourselves. Allow me to share with you that when you feel it’s all about you, you are heading in the wrong direction!

When you take on a challenge, don’t take short cuts in understanding your mission, projects or whatever you are trying to accomplish. Invest good time at the start of your project to set the stage for what’s needed. Smartest leaders always involve experts early and have the confidence & courage to engage people smarter than themselves. As you go on, be specific about your days, weeks and even months. On a daily basis, yes daily basis, spend a few moments early in your day to set the stage for that day… If you look after your days, the weeks and months will look after themselves:)

Being innovative does not mean you have to do it yourself.  All too often, the solution is already developed or being developed somewhere else. Always “look outside the box”, work across boundaries and ask for help! Working Smart is about achieving results at a greater value, while enhancing the quality of life of all. Being smart is not to take short cuts, on the contrary, take your time, stay calm, and sharply focused on deliverables.

The popular expression “work smart not hard” is not well understood. For me it meant to say don’t work stupid: don’t work alone, don’t waste your time on small stuff, or in conflict, don’t waste other people’s time with trivia or middle-ages debates. Make your point, then stop and learn. All too often, there is more than one right answer. I know this is uncomfortable, but smart people listen and learn more than they talk.  It’s hard to listen and learn when you are talking; try it!

Balancing thinking, planning and acting is a key to working smart, but they are not necessarily sequential. Some of us spend too much time thinking & planning and not acting, but when they start acting they stop thinking.  Of course, nothing is advanced until you act, so make action central to whatever you are trying to do. Remember No action means No success! But the genius is in thinking while acting & adjusting your action on the move. Everything evolves and those who don’t evolve seldom succeed! Next posting will be on step 3 of the Six Pack, so till then, best of luck, remember smart people never reject a bit of good luck;).