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Working Smart

by Dr. John C. Maxwell

Being successful is not about how hard you work – it’s about how smart you work. Michael LeBoef said, “Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing.”

In a leader’s life, there’s a big difference between activity and accomplishment. Activity is being busy, but as Henry David Thoreau once said, “It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are [you] busy about?”

Generally speaking, there are five ways that people spend their working hours. Read through the following list and determine which one best describes how you spend your time:

1. Urgent – Loud things first. You’ve no doubt heard the saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Well, that shouldn’t always be the case in leadership.

As a leader, you will probably encounter a lot of “squeaky wheels” in the form of complaints or requests or suggestions from the people in your organization. Some of them will be valid and will merit spending your time on them. Often, however, oiling the squeaky wheels in your organization isn’t the best use of your time. Writer Shelby Friedman once said, “[The] person with an hour to kill usually spends it with someone who can’t spare a minute.”

Though it’s tempting–especially if you’re a people pleaser–you have to learn to discern what wheels really need grease, what ones can be greased by others and what ones will squeak no matter how much oil they have on them.

2. Unpleasant – Hard things first. Many of us are taught this concept when we’re young. It’s the “dinner before desert” mentality, and there can be some value in it. However just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be at the top of your to-do list.

Henry Kissenger once joked, “Next week there can’t be any crisis. My schedule is already full.” As a leader, you have to check your motives constantly. If you have a strong work ethic, you may naturally want to get the harder things done first. Don’t just start in on the hard stuff before determining the value of your actions, though. If doing something easier is a better use of your time, do that before you tackle the difficult tasks.

3. Unfinished – Last things first. If you’re like most leaders, you work on a day-to-day schedule. Many times your to-do list is left a little undone at the end of the day. If you have only completed eight of the ten items on your list, the tendency is to automatically place the remaining two items at the top of your list for the following day. That’s not always the best use of your time, however. As Johann Wolfgang Goethe once said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Chances are, if the two items you didn’t finish a day earlier were on bottom of your list, they weren’t top priorities in the first place, and they probably won’t be top priorities the next day either. Before you spend time completing an unfinished task from the day before, take time to evaluate it in comparison to the other things you need to accomplish. If finishing the task is still not a top priority, place it at the bottom of your list again, and work on it after you finish the more important items.

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