Work smarter not harder

It’s one of the cliches which has been bandied about by management gurus for as long as I can remember: work smarter not harder.  The same idea is also expressed as “don’t reinvent the wheel” and “a stitch in time saves nine” – all good conventional wisdom. 

These are excellent ideas, but some people find abstract ideas hard to contextualise.  Today I saw a perfect example of the concept in action from both sides: one person trying to do the right thing, and another (hopefully unintentionally) thwarting her at every step. 

So consider this very simple situaltion which, I am sure, is played out every day in offices worldwide:

Mr X wants to do something for which there are instructions made available. However, Mr X is too busy (or too important or too arrogant or too whatever) to waste his time reading instructions, so every time he gets stuck he calls Mr Y for help.

Most people want to get their point across; but whilst some are fabulous communicators, and others would make a game of “snap” sound complicated.  Some people will figure out what they should be doing even with a little ambiguity and others have developed the habit of failing to read even the simplest instruction (probably a learned behavioural trait). Sadly, members of the latter group won’t read this blog post. 

Mr Y wanted to explain to everyone how to do the action and wrote the guidance.  Write once, file once, and point people at the file.  Mr Y works smart and doesn’t repeat his effort. The same cannot be said for Mr X who is consuming two people’s time in every call to Mr Y.

It’s a no-win situation for Mr Y: refuse to help on the grounds that the information is available and he’s not a team player, but help and he’ll get everyone calling in the future.  And all because Mr X undermined the “smarter” ethic.

I’m reminded of a rather more blunt response prevalent in the IT community years ago: RTFM (google it if you don’t like my link).

So how will you work smarter today – and help others who are doing the same?