Working smarter not harder is a phrase we hear a lot, it sounds good particularly with the busyness of many people's lives — but how is it achieved? The key, say Frances and Max Harre of Forte Career and Business Designs, is in focusing on effectiveness.

This means doing the things that move you forward, being able to prioritise and asking yourself what's at stake, what really matters?

Max and Frances Harre, who recently co-authored the book Work Passion Power: Strategies for a working life you will love, say there are many different ways of looking at this issue. "Often people think a tips and tricks approach will do it. Well, it will — a little bit — but if you really want to address your stress and effectiveness you need to take a more systematic approach to extending your self-management skill set."

Soft skills are vital for working effectively; they include people skills, critical thinking skills, self-management, creativity and more.

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Max says the more traditional industrial mindset has been about how to work harder in a linear way.

"Working smarter is not so much about quantity as quality. This isn't about tricks and tips."

If you really want to take on working smarter not harder, you have to take a systematic approach to your skill set and decide on what you're wanting to achieve.

It takes sustained effort and a systemic approach to make sure you're achieving.

Compare this to people who diet for a few days and then go back to old habits — it takes some degree of focus to be able to find a way of doing things that can be sustained in the long term.

"Ask yourself constantly 'am I on track, am I doing the right thing, am I doing the work that's needed here to achieve the results required'.

Max says a lot of people stay in busyness and feel like they're achieving something, but all they're actually doing is achieving being busy.

"It's really about effectiveness — the term working smarter is about effectiveness. Busyness is not effectiveness. So it's about what's at stake and am I taking a broad enough approach to what's important? How am I adding value to my company or clients? This is really important — it's about finding the outcomes that matter most."

People often end up running faster and faster, but in the wrong direction, they get frustrated and sometimes even neglect family and friends — people who are important to them.

"When you get clear that it's really about your clients that you're responsible to — how you treat them is really important. Clients include your employer, in fact that's your number one client," says Max.

It's good to look at the habits we get into and how we shake ourselves out of old ones. Do a little audit on what's working and what's not working. How would life be revolutionised through being more effective?

Frances says: "If you're working effectively, you'll feel highly energised. It's very motivational."

The Harres say the usual two drivers of smarter work are firstly being motivated by productivity improvement, which usually means better technology, using smarter tools such as better spreadsheets or bookkeeping packages and secondly being motivated by wanting less stress — which usually means developing better self-management skills.

Here it's good to look at habits, mindset, systems and support.

Max says: "What staggers me in our work is working smarter or more effectively can come down to a really important soft skill: relationship building. You've got a project to do and it feels hard and long, if you're connected to people you can often cut the time it takes to do the project by a huge amount by being in communication, not isolation.

"In the past 10 years the software industry has revolutionised how it works.

"Agile methods have been developed and taken up in the broader world of knowledge working. These involve performance, flow and systems. These methods are effective, but require a certain mindset.

"Standard agile methods include things like cutting out multitasking, which is counterproductive, and reducing knowledge worker waste — for example making a spreadsheet look pretty may be a huge waste of time."

An issue that's topical at the moment is artificial intelligence taking over work.

"High level soft skills are what will be required," says Max. "People need to know where they stand with the career they'll be in once AI has bitten a big chunk out of it.

"We have to be more aware of the importance of creativity, caring, relationship building, innovation, sustained curiosity, desire for meaning — they'll be the last things that will go, if they ever do go. They require real people."

So, working smarter now means being savvy about exactly what kinds of skills you need to develop to stay relevant in your workplace, and in your career.