Achieving Much More With the Same Effort
"Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I can move the Earth." – Archimedes
To lift a heavy object, you have a choice: use leverage or not. You can try to lift the object directly – risking injury – or you can use a lever, such as a jack or a long plank of wood, to transfer some of the weight, and then lift the object that way.
Which approach is wiser? Will you succeed without using leverage? Maybe. But you can lift so much more with leverage, and do it so much more easily!
So what does this have to do with your life and career? The answer is "plenty." By applying the concept of leverage to business and career success, you can, with a little thought, accomplish very much more than you can without it. Without leverage, you may work very hard, but your rewards are limited by the hours you put in. With leverage, you can break this connection and, in time, achieve very much more.
We're not referring to financial leverage here. Financial leverage – using "other people's money" to grow your business – can be a successful growth strategy. However, it's outside the scope of this article.
Levers of Success
So how can you apply leverage to your career? And how can you achieve much more, while – if you choose to – reducing the number of hours that you work?
To do this, you'll need to learn how to use the leverage of:
- Time (yours and that of other people).
- Knowledge and education.
Using the leverage of time is the most fundamental strategy for success. There are only so many hours in a day that you can work. If you use only your own time, you can achieve only so much. If you leverage other people's time, you can increase productivity to an extraordinary extent.
To leverage YOUR OWN time:
- Practice effective time management. Eliminate unnecessary activities, and focus your effort on the things that really matter.
- As part of this, learn how to prioritize, so that you focus your energy on the activities that give the greatest return for the time invested.
- Use goal setting to think about what matters to you in the long term, set clear targets, and motivate yourself to achieve those targets.
To leverage other people's time:
- Learn how to delegate work to other people.
- Train and empower others (through team building).
- Bring in experts and consultants to cover skill or knowledge gaps.
- Outsource non-core tasks to people with the experience to do them more efficiently.
Providing that you do things properly, the time and money that you invest in leveraging other people's time is usually well spent. Remember, though, that you'll almost always have to "pay" up front in some way in order to reap the longer-term benefits of using leverage.
This is why delegation is such an important skill: if you can't delegate effectively, you can never expand your productivity beyond the work that you can personally deliver. This means that your career will quickly stall, and while you may be appreciated for your hard work, you'll never be truly successful. Use these skill-builder resources to learn to delegate: Successful Delegation, The Delegation Dilemma, and Bite-Sized Training: Delegation.
It's also one of the reasons that micromanagement is such a vice: you spend so much time managing a few people that you constrain the amount of leverage you can exert. See our Avoiding Micromanagement article for more on this.
As you learn to use the leverage these things give you, you'll find that using them involves some up-front costs, such as the investment of time and resources you'll need to make to get someone started with a job that you'd otherwise need to do.
While it's natural to want to conserve these resources ("I don't have time to train him – it's got to be done by next Tuesday!"), if you don't make these investments, you'll lock yourself into the old way of doing things – and this will limit you to achieving only those things that you can do by yourself.
You can also exert leverage by getting the most from your assets, and taking full advantage of your personal strengths.
You have a wide range of skills, talents, experiences, thoughts, and ideas. These can, and should, be used in the best combination. What relevant skills and strengths do you have that others don't? How can you use these to best effect, and how can you improve them so that they're truly remarkable? What relevant assets do you have that others don't? Can you use these to create leverage? Do you have connections that others don't have? Or financial resources? Or some other asset that you can use to greater effect?
A good way of thinking about this is to conduct a personal SWOT analysis, focusing on identifying strengths and assets, and expanding from these to identify the opportunities they give you. (An advantage of SWOT is that it also helps you spot critical weaknesses that need to be covered.)
As you do this, think about how you can help others with your strengths and resources. Remember, when you can give to others, the more you're likely to get in return. (Just make sure that you're clear as to how you will be rewarded!)
Knowledge and Education Leverage
Another significant lever of success is applied knowledge. Combined with education and action, this can generate tremendous leverage.
Learning by experience is slow and painful. If you can find more formal ways of learning, you'll progress much more quickly. What's more, if you select a good course, you'll have a solid foundation to your knowledge, and one that doesn't have high-risk gaps. This is why people working in life-or-death areas (such as architects, airline pilots, medical doctors and suchlike) need long and thorough training. After all, would you want to be operated on by an unqualified surgeon?
While few of us operate in quite such immediately critical areas, by determining what you need to know, and then acquiring that knowledge, you can avoid many years of slow, painful trial and error learning.
In the same way, it's inefficient if many people in an organization have to learn how to do their work by trial and error. A much better way is for organizations to capture the knowledge gained by the first few in some way and pass it on to others. This is the core of "knowledge management." There's more about this in our article and Book Insight on the subject.
The keys to successfully leveraging knowledge and education are: firstly, knowing what you need to learn; secondly knowing to what level you need to learn it; thirdly, being very focused and selective in your choices; and fourthly, in taking the time to earn the qualifications you need.
Even then, having more education or more knowledge isn't necessarily a point of leverage. These become advantages only when they can be directly applied to your career goals and aspirations--and when they're used actively and intelligently to do something useful.
By hiring, consulting with, and outsourcing to other people, you gain the leverage of their knowledge and education as well as their resources. This only works if you choose the right people – the wrong ones can slow you and drag you down. Don't let this happen!
Finding technology leverage is all about thinking about how you work, and using technology to automate as much of this as you can.
At a simple level, you might find that all you need to keep you in touch with home and work is a laptop computer. Alternatively, a personal digital assistant (PDA) can help you maintain a single, convenient, properly-backed-up time management system. Cell phones that access email and browse the web are handy tools for making the best of your downtime during working hours or while traveling. If you're a slow typist, voice recognition software can help you dictate documents and save time.
At a more sophisticated level, you may find that you can use simple desktop databases like Microsoft Access to automate simple work processes. If you do a lot of routine data processing (for example, if you run many similar projects) you can find that this saves you a great deal of time. More than this, you only need to set up a process once with a tool like this – afterwards the process will be executed the same way each time, by whomever initiates the process (this reduces training, meaning that new team members can become productive much more quickly, meaning that you can scale your operations-and your success-more quickly.)
Businesses can choose from a wide array of software solutions. Some of these can automate or simplify tasks that are otherwise very time-consuming. Customer relationship management (CRM) databases can bring tremendous benefits for sales and customer service organizations, as can point-of-sale (PoS) inventory systems for organizations that need to track and manage inventory. Websites and web-based catalogs can give clients easy access to up-to-date product information, and help them place orders simply and easily. And blogs and email-based newsletters help people stay in contact with thousands of people quickly and easily. All of these use technology to provide tremendous leverage.
Using leverage is the art and science of getting much more done with the same, or less, effort. At a simple level, this can free up your time to concentrate on things with the highest priority. At a more sophisticated level, it helps you achieve at a much higher level.
When you invest time and resources to leverage technology – as well as to leverage time, resources, and knowledge (both your own, and that of other people) – you have a recipe for unprecedented success. Use what you and others have to your advantage, and see how far it will take you.
Apply This to Your Life
- Complete a personal SWOT analysis. This will help give you a real sense of what you're good at and what activities might benefit from some outside help. From there, you can start to build a leveraging strategy to maximize your productivity and performance.
- Look for a mentor who understands and uses leverage, and learn from his or her experiences. This is an example of using leverage to learn more about leveraging – so that exponential factor kicks in again.
- Increase your personal expectations. Take a look at your current goals, and ask yourself how much further you could push those goals by using leverage on a consistent basis. You may far surpass your pre-leverage goals once you commit to "working smart."
- Surround yourself with a network of great people who have skills, knowledge, and expertise that you don't possess. Look for opportunities to create synergy, and leverage the talents of everyone involved. When you work together, you can accomplish so much more than going it alone.
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