The first two Summers that I was in college, I worked doing data entry and analysis for a local school corporation. As far as Summer, part-time jobs go, this was not a bad gig. I made more than minimum wage, was in an air-conditioned office, and worked independently so there were no office politics to worry about. As lucky as I was to have this job though, it was the most tedious, mind-numbing work you can imagine. I first was supposed to enter all of the standardized test scores for every student for the last decade into a spreadsheet. Once I had gotten all of the information into the database, I was to analyze and summarize the data into easily interpreted charts and graphs for the school board. While I knew inputting all of the test scores was going to be boring as hell, I was excited to actually get to apply my statistical training to some real world data, so I put on my headphones and got to work.
After several weeks of methodically inputting all of the test scores, I finally got it all in, and it was time to summarize the data for the board. It only took me an hour or two to realize that by “analyze,” they meant create bar graphs and pie charts, and due to the enormous amount of data and the large number of variables they wanted to analyze, I was going to have to create hundreds of graphs. It took me about a half hour to make one graph, and each graph was made in the exact same way with different data, which meant that I was going to spend several weeks doing the same thing over and over. Fearing for my sanity at the idea of weeks of doing this, I thought to myself that there had to be a better way to accomplish my task. So, I tried several things like using keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys, using multiple computers at once, and rearranging the data, but none of these ideas really helped speed things up. As I was nearing my wits end, and I was almost ready to raise the white flag and just do it by hand, I had an epiphany.
I realized that all of the ways I had tried to expedite this process were designed to speed things up by working harder (like by operating multiple computers). My entire life though, I had not found success by working harder, but by applying my mind and finding creative solutions. What if instead of working harder, I worked smarter? I took a step back and started thinking about alternative ways to get this done. I had been teaching myself programming for years, and I quickly realized that I could probably write a small program that would allow me to automate this whole process. After only two days of coding, I had written a program that could spit out about 100 beautiful graphs in under a minute. I got all of the data summarized in a week this way, where it would have taken me months by hand. I had thought outside the box and found a way to apply the mental skills I possessed, instead of putting in more brute force type effort. I had thought creatively to come up with a solution. I had worked smarter, not harder.
The short, yet powerful, four word phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” has become one of those sayings that I am constantly saying to myself as I go about my life. It helps me remember to look for creative, alternative solutions and apply my talents and abilities to whatever problem I am facing. Additionally, it reminds me that how hard you work and whether you succeed are not necessarily correlated, and that you can save a lot of time and effort by taking the time to think things through. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this fact and champion this phrase, because looking back over my life, I had been applying this idea to various problems for years. I never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the pack, I guess.
One of the areas of my life that I am frequently finding ways to “work smarter, not harder” is my struggle to gain weight. Ever since my trache surgery in 2001, I have been trying to put on weight. I know that most of you are reading this thinking, “A problem gaining weight? I wish I had that problem.” I assure you though, while eating whatever you want as much as you want sounds great on paper, when you have next to no muscle and a tube in your throat, it isn’t. For starters, my stomach is not very big and has been damaged by ulcers, so I get full very quickly. On top of that, swallowing is not easy for me due to all of the scar tissue and hardware in my neck, so I have to take small bites. Lastly, having almost no muscle in my jaw means my mouth gets tired of chewing, which limits how much I can eat at one time. I always tell people that as hard as it is for you to lose 10 pounds, that is how hard it is for me to gain 10 pounds. This battle to put on weight is something that I will have to devote effort to my entire life, so it is in my best interests to find alternative ways to put on some pounds.
When I first started trying to gain weight as a teenager, I tried things like eating every couple of hours, eating as much as I could at once, and eating right before sleeping. Despite working harder and applying these solutions, I had minimal success to show for my effort. After years of failing to gain much weight by working harder, I finally decided that if I was ever going to fatten myself up like a Thanksgiving turkey, I was going to have to find a creative solution. So I used my mind and did some research on nutrition and dieting, and I started trying to come up with some alternative ways to consume more calories. I found that by changing what I eat and using dietary supplements, that I could maximize the effort I put into eating. By looking to get more calories per bite, instead of eating more bites, I have been able to put on almost 10 pounds in the last six months, and I am at a healthy weight for the first time in years. I have been able to achieve this goal after years of failures by “working smarter, not harder.”
The idea of “working smarter, not harder” can be applied to any problem or difficult situation in your life. The whole concept is based around the idea of maximum efficiency. Instead of putting in more time and energy to achieve your objective, you find ways to use whatever resources you have to get more return on your effort. You can think of it as getting more “bang for your buck.” You will be amazed at how much easier your life can become, if you take the time to look for alternative ways to get things done. You have to remember that just because you have done something a certain way for years, doesn’t mean it is the best method. What jobs do you find yourself devoting a lot of effort to? When was the last time you thought about new ways to accomplish this task? Step back and take the time to consider creative solutions and apply your unique skills and abilities to become more efficient. By maximizing your efficiency on just a few tasks, and “working smarter, not harder,” you will have more time and energy to enjoy and experience life. You will find that you not only have to work less, but that you are happier and love life more.