You’ve probably heard it before – “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”
Working smarter does not mean doing less work or making someone else do the work for you.
It means working in ways that allow you to get more done, in a better way, with less pain.
Recently, business psychologists from Harvard, UNC, and HEC Paris have published their results from a series of productivity experiments.
In the first experiment they conducted, over 200 adults completed a brain teaser.
A group of them was then asked to immediately complete a second and third brain teaser, while a different group was asked to reflect for five minutes on the first brain teaser. A third group was asked to reflect and then write down their thoughts about the best strategy for completing the brain teaser, as if they were showing someone else how to do it.
The results showed that those who spent time reflecting after the first task did significantly better than the group who did not. It didn’t matter if they wrote down their strategies or not — simply thinking about the work they did, helped them to perform better, rather than just powering through the next task.
This same test was repeated on an entirely different batch of people. This time, the experiment was conducted with students and had very similar results.
After concluding these experiments, the researchers took this experiment into the business world. They found a tech support company in India that agreed to let them look at their new employee training methods.
The researchers split the trainees into three groups titled Control, Reflection, and Sharing. They then let the new employees proceed as they would normally, except for one thing. The Reflection and Sharing groups got to walk out of training for the last 15 minutes every day to sit and think about they had learned. The Sharing group got to write in a journal as if they were teaching someone what they just learned.
At the end of the entire training program, the employees in the Reflection and Sharing groups scored 22.8 percent higher than the Control group that did not get a chance to reflect. Also, there wasn’t much of a difference between the Reflection and Sharing groups.
The psychologists wrote, “Individuals perform significantly better on subsequent tasks when they think about what they learned from the task they completed.”
The take away is simple – taking time to think about your experiences increases learning and supports subsequent performance.
What does this mean for us?
It means that often we wrongly equate working long hours with productivity. However, constantly working is hard work, not smart work.
You now know one quick way to work smarter and better.
The time that we spend to just sit and think is very scarce.
But, science is telling us, that just a few minutes of time to think about what we’re doing will largely increase our performance and our work abilities.
If you just put aside a short 15-20 minutes a day for reflection after some tasks, meetings, deadlines and at the end of each day, you will get a lot more done and do it better, than if you just kept going and going throughout the whole day.
Working smarter isn’t that hard — we just need to change our routines to create some space.