How to identify when you need to work ‘smarter’ and when this isn’t going to help you get more productive

I was having a conversation recently with a client who had been newly promoted to director in his Big 4 firm. The conversation inspired this article as we were looking at how he utilised his time. He thought he needed to work smarter in order to work harder. However, it wasn’t simply a case of working smarter.

It’s not always about working ‘smarter not harder’

When you are working for a promotion to director or partner in a Big 4 firm it is easy to fall into the trap of doing everything it takes to get the promotion across the line. The same goes if you are working in a large or mid-tier firm. This need to ‘do everything it takes’ isn’t limited to just people in Big 4 firms!

Once the promotion comes in, it’s fairly normal to take a long hard look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, and want to make some changes. One of those changes is often realising that you can’t carry on doing the amount of hours you are doing at work if you are going to get to partner in one piece.

However, this is the sting in the tail. It’s so easy to treat the symptoms and not the cause when it comes to cutting down the amount of hours you are working. For example, when you decide that you just need to work smarter and not harder, you will typically fall into this trap. If you have made it to Director, as my client had done, you are probably working fairly smartly already. There is unlikely to be any easy or quick wins that you can do which can materially make a difference to your working hours. For example, getting better at planning the important stuff in the diary may help you a little, it’s unlikely to really make a material difference.

Deciding to ‘be more productive’ or ‘working smarter not harder’ normally leads you to treat the symptoms not the cause.

Are you just tired or are you burning out? Find out by clicking here to take our burnout self-assessment. (email required)

Normally, when you get to Director in a Big 4 firm, you need to actually have a mindset change to really make a difference to the amount of hours you are working. And that mindset shift is about realising that you can’t make partner solely on your own. You need to create a mini business. I.e.

  • Creating a team you can delegate the client work too – or stuff which doesn’t play to your strengths
  • Developing people in your team who can also win work or support you to win work

As a director in a Big 4 firm, you are not expected to be as chargeable as a senior manager. You are expected to create a business which is profitable and sustainable for the long term. This means changing what you actually are doing, rather than deciding to work smarter, not harder.

Are you just tired or are you burning out? Find out by clicking here to take our burnout self-assessment. (email required)

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