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When working hard isn’t smart

Step off the treadmill to get ahead

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in Workplace Communication

You work so hard that you barely stop to stretch, much less eat. You put in long hours because you’re determined to succeed. You’re a hero, right?

Not necessarily. While there’s nothing wrong with a great work ethic, it can bite you if you don’t stop, review your options and strategize.

Some signs that you may be working hard but not smart:

You’re too busy to listen. A farmer was wearing himself out chopping wood with a blunt ax. A friend suggested, “Why don’t you stop and sharpen that ax?” The farmer replied, “I don’t have time. I’ve got to get this wood chopped by nightfall.”

If you refuse to consider a better way, you’re doomed. The next time a colleague proposes a time- or labor-saving idea, be willing to experiment.

You refuse to budge. Driven, task-oriented workers assume that because they’re slaving away, they’ve got an all-purpose excuse not to take on more work. So they wave off any assignments that intrude on the job at hand.

If a boss asks you to stop what you’re doing to tackle something else, agree. Don’t look pained or insist that what you’re doing comes first. Remember: You’re not always the best judge of how to deploy your talents.

You’re too comfortable. Some people who work incredibly hard actually find it easier to burn the midnight oil than to think through each hour of their time to improve productivity. In fact, workaholics often tell us they would much rather work the long hours than try to discipline themselves to get more done in less time.

It can take more willpower to engage in the “3 Ps” of working smart—plan, prepare and prioritize—than to trudge away. If you’ve settled into a predictable routine of 12-hour days, challenge yourself to cut back without sacrificing results.

You neglect red flags. If you’re slogging away at the job but not earning raises or promotions, step back and analyze the situation. There may be a disconnect between your approach and your company’s needs. Ask your boss how you can add to the bottom line.

You’re in a duel. You figure you must outlast a rival who shows up earlier and stays later. That’s a contest you may not want to win. Work long but reasonable hours; trounce others with your superior work product.

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