You have probably not yet thought about this: how can an academic job be compared with an artisanal job?
I can tell you from my own experience that there are many similarities between my academic job as a patent attorney and my former artisanal jobs, such as a motorbike repair mechanic, lipstick machine prototype maker, or production technician in the construction elements industry.
This is why I like to watch Youtube videos of people who are making stuff.
The Essential Craftsman: Scott Wadsworth
One of my favorite Youtube channels is The Essential Craftsman (click here), which is run by Scott Wadsworth.
Scott has my full respect. After high school, he decided to start working instead of studying at university. His has been into logging, saw milling, guiding elk hunters, production framing, commercial concrete, steel fabrication, blacksmithing and all sorts of residential carpentry and contracting. He wrote a book and he leaves a big legacy. You can see from his videos that he has rich experience in making and repairing stuff, and in life wisdom.
And then I ran into his Youtube video about being more productive (click here). The video is only 12 minutes long and it is worth watching.
I have done a transcript from the video and here come Scott Wadsworth’s insight into becoming more productive.
Working Smarter, Not Harder?
This is what Scott says about this slogan: yes, but don’t use it as an excuse for not getting it done at all.
There’s an axiom that everyone’s heard about working smarter, not harder. Now I get the point of this. I like it. I apply it. But it doesn’t really resonate with me because it sort of downplays the working harder part. It sort of implies that if you’re smart, you won’t have to work so hard. It sort of holds up as an example of being smart. Not worrying about how hard you might have to work, but spend a great deal of effort worrying about how smart you’re working. I think it’s easy to get out of balance on this. I think it’s easy to stand around and talk about how to do something better when if you simply put your head down and went to work, it would be done and well done. By the time the discussion on the best possible method was just beginning to slow up enough for somebody to begin to pick up a tool.
How often I do see that in my own work area of innovation? People want to discuss each and every aspect of a problem and its potential solutions when a simple test model would often just solve the case.
Or applied to drafting a patent: academics easily get into a tailspin of drafting patent claims, and discussing them. and re-drafting these abstract patent claims over and over again, when providing a simple and comprehensive figure description would easily reveal where the real aspects of the invention are. We only will find out much later which aspects of the invention can be patented.
People with artisanal experience and academics often respond differently to the same problem, and what Scott says is that the hard work part often solves the problem faster, in a good enough quality.
About That “Work Hard Muscle”
What I like in Scott’s perspective is the “work hard muscle”. It is something that you can train, and you practice it as an artisan on a daily basis.
Here is what Scott says about this “work hard muscle”:
Now I’m overstating that. But productivity is important, and this little video is about how to become a more productive worker. A ramp is not a sophisticated carpentry project, is it? A ramp is a deck that is inclined. The tolerances don’t have to be terribly tight, although in as much as on this one, it’s part of the curb appeal of the House. It had to look pretty good. So I had to put together and utilize some systems and I had to work. Thankfully, once you’ve developed that work hard muscle, once you develop that connection with the labor, once you understand that working hard is in fact an athletic event and you can improve your athleticism and your muscles can respond more effectively and with more strength, and your timing can get better as you try to get stronger and make your timing better.
And that resonates with my own experience as a competing athlete in weights lifting: your timing can get better as you try to get stronger and make your timing better.
Apply the same principle in your daily work and you will become more productive, and you will also have more fun at work.
About How to Train that “Work Hard Muscle”
This is what Scott says about that in his video:
A whole new aspect to hard work emerges. And that is: how can I work hard, and enjoy it? How can I think of the work I’m doing as if I was in a competition with myself? How can I keep track of how much work I did yesterday – or last week or a year ago – and know when I have beaten my time, my output? How do I know I’m becoming more productive?
Now I’m not a really literary guy. I’ve read a lot. I haven’t had time for that in a few years, but I used to enjoy reading Robert Frost. He’s a poet from Vermont. I think Jackie Kennedy was real fond of his work. And I remember, we probably many of us remember learning his iconic poem, The Road Not Taken, when we were in grade school. Does that date me? Probably.
But anyway, as I was thinking about being a productive worker and what it takes to really feel like you’re earning your cheque, I’ve thought of a poem of his, and I looked it up. And sure enough, there’s a couple of stanzas that I want to apply to this little deck project and the athletic experience of working hard. It’s called Two Tramps and Mud Time, and the setting is a fellows out in the yard splitting some blocks of oak, and he likes it. He’s having a good time. And then two strangers come down the road and it changes the dynamic for him. And these two stanzas go like this:
“Out of the mud. Two strangers came and caught me splitting wood in the yard and one of them put me off my aim by hailing cheerily: ‘Hit them hard!’ I knew pretty well why he dropped behind and let the other go on away. I knew pretty well what he had in mind. He wanted to take my job for pay … the time when I most loved my task. These two must make me love it more by coming with what they came to ask. You’d think I never had felt before the weight of an axe head poised aloft, the grip on earth of outspread feet, the life of muscles rocking soft and smooth and moist in vernal heat.”
If you’ve had the experience of working hard, you felt that rocking of muscles and of the coordination that grows and the fatigue that begins to set in, but the determination to keep working, even though you’re tired. There are times, I have to admit, when I’ve gone ahead and shoveled the gravel off the trailer just because it felt good to shovel. Now that’s not a moneymaking thing in every case, but it’s nice to be able to do that.
And Scott is right. There is nothing more pleasing in my work than finding out that I can still do hard patent attorney work, such as drafting a patent application in a short time or analyzing that difficult legal situation. Even if I am not required to do so. That is probably also what makes work an indispensable part of life in our old age: use that muscle and you can feel that you are still alive and you can fill an important role.
But the “Work Hard Muscle” is only one side of the same medal.
Working Smarter #1: Use The Right Tool
Now that goes deep. “Use the right tool” sounds like a no-brainer. Here is what Scott wants to tell us:
But let’s not stray too far from working smarter. One of the key pieces of working smarter, especially on a little carpentry project like this, is to use the proper tool for the job. Try to eliminate wasted effort. Incidentally, wasted effort can lead to an entire discussion about allowable tolerances, can’t it? How much of a perfect fit in a different in different jobs is in fact wasted effort? And how much of it is vitally important? But using the proper materials and working conditions and everything.
But sometimes, the “right tool” is a new tool that comes with a learning curve that will cost us time. From my own experience, this can be a killer for many.
How about using the old tool when you know that the new tool is much better? That is a mindset problem, and it requires a lot of openness to be overcome. Many are not born with high amounts of that personality trait of “openness” in the Big 5 personality system. Do you know that you can test yourself? Click here www.understandmyself.com for a good Big 5 personality test. I am among those people with a high amount of openness, that makes it easy for me to learn how to use new tools. And that has helped me a lot in my own life.
There is one change over time, however: in my age, lifetime is more precious than the money that one can make. I still believe in new tools and that is why I also believe in paying someone for helping me to shortcut that learning curve.
Working Smarter #2: Put A Work System in Place
Being systematic is important, and that is again a personality trait that you are born with. It corresponds to two areas, “Industriousness” and “Intellect” in the Big 5 personality test above (click www.understandmyself.com).
Do not confuse the personality aspect of Intellect with IQ! Intellect is one aspect of openness to experience and it is a measure of interest in abstract ideas, essentially, while IQ is a measure of processing speed, verbal ability, working memory, and problem-solving capacity, and is better measured with a formal IQ test. It is perfectly possible to have a high IQ and a low score on the personality trait of Intellect (or the reverse). For working smarter, I believe that it helps more to have a high Intellect value than being very intelligent, simply because intelligent people get easily bored.
People high in intellect are quite interested in ideas and abstract concepts. They enjoy being confronted with novel information, even when it is complex. They are substantially more curious and exploratory than average, and frequently like to tackle and solve problems. They will actively engage in and seek out and initiate issueoriented discussions, and are likely to read, think about and want to discuss idea-centered books (most frequently non-fiction). They are generally articulate and can formulate ideas clearly and quickly (particularly if average or higher in Extraversion).
So much about the theoretical background of being able to put a work system in place. Here is what Scott Wadsworth has to say about work systems:
But the item that really separates the productive individual is the system that the individual puts in place to get the work done. One way to work smarter is to divide your work into specific tasks and then stay on one task as long as possible instead of jumping back and forth between related tasks. When you’re moving lumber, move all the lumber. When you’re making cuts, make as many cuts as possible. If you can arrange it, cut the pieces in place instead of measuring and cutting and putting them in place. When you’re drilling holes, drill all the holes, or at least all that you can right now, hopefully you can see why this is so much better. You can generally work with fewer tools. Laid out means a cleaner workspace. You develop a little muscle memory as you do a task 30 to 40 times or 3 to 400 times. And then the next time you get a chance to do this task, you will have the advantage of having done it a lot earlier, and your body knows that action and your productivity is going to be respectable from the first moment. You will almost always get faster at the task as you repeat it. So repeat it.
So I was trying to do this. Wait a minute. I was trying to get this ramp project built. I was trying to initiate a few systems that would minimize how long I was going to be out here doing it, because I didn’t know how long the good weather was going to last and mom was going to need the ramp soon. So I was in a race with myself. And I’m not as productive as I once was. But I still enjoy working. It feels good to be productive and it’s really nice at the end of the day to look back and say, I can remember when this would have taken me a little longer. I must be getting better.
Now apply this to the area of IP. I have had a patent attorney working for me who loved to do prior art searches. He came in at 9am in the morning and did 15 prior art searches over the day. You did not see him often, only for getting a new coffee. He left at 7pm, and he made EUR 6,000 over one working day. He did this 6 times per month, and this is how he made his salary 3-times back.
He had the perfect system in place in order to do so. And he had 20 years of practice with ten thousand or so industry grade prior art aearches.
Working Smarter #3: Learn From The People Around You
Here comes a booster for working smarter: learn new things. Not only learn how to use new tools, learn also new systems and techniques. And there is no better place to do so than your existing workspace.
That “new learning” attitude again comes as an aspect of the personality trait of openness and intellect (see above). Someone without these personality traits will not easily be in a position to behave like someone who has them.
Here is what Scott Wadsworth wants to tell us:
If you are concentrating on the work smarter piece rather than the work harder piece, there is nothing that you can do that is smarter than learning from the people around you. Now, one of C.S. Lewis quotations that has always stuck in my mind as a warning is “Two of a trade never agree. ” So what that’s saying is that two people who spend their time, their lives doing the same type of work are never going to agree that the other way, other guy’s way or the other woman’s perspective or the other method is anywhere near as good as theirs, because that’s the way I do it. Therefore, it’s superior. The smartest thing we can do is decide before we ever get to work in the morning that everybody we meet that day is going to have something that I can learn from them if I want to learn it.
This axiom has the bonus of being true in all cases. So the best thing you can do if you want to become a more productive hand, if you want to experience the joy of getting more work done in a day than anybody thought was humanly possible. Is make it a point to learn something from everyone around you every day. Pay attention to the way they handle material. Pay attention to the way they stage their work. Pay attention to the way they put their boards in place. And you will add that to your repertoire of tricks and techniques. And after a while, not only will you be working harder. But you’re going to be smart and people are going to wonder, wow, how did you learn all that stuff? And you won’t feel like you have to mention that it was all learned just by keeping your eyes open while you were earning your living, producing good work. So as I think about 40 years of work and the people I’ve worked with, the people who have made the biggest impression on me for their raw productivity, and then I circle back around to this axiom about working smarter, not harder. I’m convinced that the axiom is good as far as it goes. But to really become a top hand, the thing that must always be on your mind is how can I work smarter and smarter and harder and harder in order to get as much work done as I possibly can? By the time the sun goes down.
You are now ready for Scott’s video about becoming more productive. You will like it, promised:
You can watch the video here if you cannot open it on Youtube or if it disappeared.
Let Scott’s video sink in and take an informed decision to apply the two points that he made. In every aspect of your own work:
- Use and train that “Work Hard” muscle
- Work Smarter: use the right tools, put a work system in place, and learn from the people around you
Do this and you will become more productive.
Martin “Productive” Schweiger