Work Smarter … Not Harder

- June 26, 2012 4 MIN READ


‘You don’t even care do you?’ said an athlete after I busily dismissed his concerns prior to a session. He had said it with a smile in the hopes of winding me up but it was not the first time I had heard such a comment. Recently other athletes had joked with me in the same way. At that moment I realised there must be some truth to this statement. I was devastated.

At that point I was working about 60-70 hours a week and had not had a day off in over three months. I would regularly pull 10 hour days at work and spend hours at night planning and preparing. I was neglecting all of my relationships with family and friends, and my girlfriend at the time mentioned she got the feeling I didn’t want her around when I was working at home.

I took these comments to heart, ‘how could I be working so hard, giving so much and yet be perceived this way?’ I wondered. There had to be a better way than this. The whole reason I had worked so hard to get to this position in my career was because I wanted to help others achieve exceptional results. How could I even consider this if these people didn’t believe I cared for them or their aspirations?

I had fallen into the trap of being ‘busy’, working hard, not smart and moving through life with the blinkers on. Having such a narrow focus on results and ‘getting things done’ I failed to see the bigger picture and as a result was ignorant of the importance of PEOPLE at work and in my personal life. I realised then, that I had become someone I did not like.

I had been trying to be everything for everyone, I wanted to do it all myself because at the time I believed ‘if you want something done right you have to do it yourself’ If I am honest I would also say that I was probably also driven by ego. I wanted to be solely responsible so that when my ‘hard work’ paid off I would be singled out and credited.

In my own experiences and research I noticed that the highest performers are not always those who just work the hardest. In fact it seemed these people were deep thinkers about their craft, and over time found more efficient ways to get better results. They approached their training with an open, inquisitive mind always focused on achieving more with less. This relentless focus on improvement meant that often they came up with small methods to alter the input, which translated to massive improvements in performance (output)

Take David Tabain for instance, David is the world Kettlebell champion who has no peer when it comes to swinging, pressing and jerking these iron balls through, off and around his body. From what I have seen, heard and read there is no one who comes close to achieving the output he is capable of on a lifting platform.

I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with Dave teaching me how to ‘snatch’ the kettlebell overhead using the technique he has refined for competition. He had spent years refining his technique and analysing the movement down to the millimetre, searching for weakness he could address, strengths he could leverage and testing methods aimed at eking more from his body and the equipment.

Dave found that by making a few small but crucial adjustments, he could dramatically decrease fatigue, and increase his speed and endurance. He showed me how not internally rotating the shoulder (think turning off a tap with your left hand) as the kettlebell passes through your legs saves the small stabilizing muscles in the shoulder girdle (Which Dave knew were crucial for battling through fatigue near the end of the test).

He showed me how instead of letting the bell fall from above his head and catching it as it passed through his legs, he actually threw it down. This allowed him to increase the speed of each rep and helped him maintain his power while fatigued. In his sport the person who completes the most repetitions during the set time period is the winner.

Dave also showed me the art of breathing throughout and between each repetition. He had figured out that having tension in the trunk (more tension exists with air in the lungs) during certain stages of a repetition dramatically improves efficiency and decreased fatigue. It was genius. To prove his point he had me breathe ‘normally’, then he showed me his way. The difference was staggering.

Previously I have written about the power of the 80/20 principle. Which basically states that in all systems 80% of results come from 20% of efforts. David Tabain had been unwittingly applying this theory to his craft for years and the results spoke for themselves. His concentration was like that of an artist, constantly critiquing his work, identifying rough edges and working tirelessly to smooth them over in order to create a masterpiece. I realised it might be worthwhile to view my career as a coach from the same perspective.

I had been trying to be everything to everyone and now I had realised I had ended up being nothing to no one. I vowed to make a change and began regularly reviewing my efficiency (or inefficiency) at work. I made a list of everything my job entailed and next to each item I attached a time and energy cost. Then I organised the list in order of their level of significance to my role each day as a coach, and my role within my organisation.

This process led me to two important insights: 1) I could use some help, and 2) I was spending a lot of time and energy on things that weren’t that important. Dan John is a coach whose work I read and respect: he would call this ‘majoring in the minors’. I knew I had to make some changes.

By identifying a problem I now set about finding a solution. How do I lighten my load and spend my time and energy on the more important aspects of my job that I had identified and been neglecting. Things such as building relationships and trust, fostering mutual respect and learning and applying worlds best practice.

I set about looking for small changes I could make which would improve my output and decrease my energy cost in much the same way David Tabain had done. The results thus far have been exceptional. In my next post I will outline some of the methods I have employed to dramatically improve my efficiency and effectiveness at work. And some interesting science to back it up. Stay tuned.