Have you ever seen a world-class high jump or pole vaulting event? If you have, you might know that while high jumpers can clear the bar at over 7 feet, pole vaulters can clear 18 feet. It’s hardly fair to make the comparison: It’s not that pole vaulters are better athletes. It’s just that they have the leverage of a pole to propel themselves over the bar.

Pole vaulters and high jumpers can be equally successful because they compete in separate events. But in real life, different categories of competition are rare: If a person gets ahead by finding resources he or she can leverage – legitimately, of course – he or she will be judged a better performer.

So it makes sense to make best use of available resources, and so propel yourself forwards on the path to greater success.

Where’s the Leverage?

A lever is simply a tool that helps you use your strength more effectively. Just as a pole vaulter uses the pole for leverage, you can use other types of leverage to achieve much more with your skills and resources, and with the limited time available.

Leverage can be found in some unlikely places. The trick is always to be on the look out for it: Here are some tips that help you know where to find leverage and make the most of it.

1. Levering Your Own Time

When it comes to being as efficient and effective as possible, the obvious starting place is to make the very best use of your time. If you use your time carefully, you’ll have more of it for things that make a difference.

Look at how you spend time in a typical day. What can you stop doing, or do less of? Can you make more of your “down time”, for example by listening to voice messages or important podcasts on the way to work?

Learn to prioritize, schedule and control your workload. (Visit the time management section of the Mind Tools website, and see our Make Time for Success! program to become expert at this.)

When you do these things well, you will be more efficient and better organized. Not only will you get more from your time, you’ll also get more from the other types of leverage as well.

2. The Leverage of Technology

Do you make the best use of the computer systems and personal productivity tools available to you? Just take a look at what’s available on your computer. You can often find easy ways to make big improvements.

Do you use a customer database, or re-type people’s details over and over again? Do you hand-write your to-do lists time and again, when you could better use a personal organizer, Outlook or even MS Word?

There will always be faster, sleeker, more powerful gizmos that promise to answer all your personal productivity needs (and promise to “make the tea as well.”) But a simple solution is often most effective – the trick is to find a solution that works and use it well. Stick with it, at least for a while, or else you’ll spend more time changing systems than the time you save!

3. Leveraging Knowledge, Skills and Experience

With the right information and the right training, you’ll be much more effective on the job. Make sure you have the right reports, manuals and background information to hand. Get the training you need and keep your skills up to date. If someone else did the job before you, pick their brains and learn from their experience.

If this sounds too obvious, you’ll be surprised how often it’s overlooked. Just think back through your recent experience at work. What other knowledge, skills and experience would have made you more effective? When you take on a new activity or project, think this through in advance. Gather the resources, book the training, talk to people with relevant experience, and see how much leverage you can gain.

4. Leveraging Other People’s Time

However efficient you are, there are only 24 hours in a day, right?

Wrong. Serious leverage comes when you can tap into other people’s time: The more you can delegate, the more hours there are in the day! This is particularly true if you can delegate to someone who is a real expert at doing the job.

Whether you delegate to people in your team, to consultants or an outsourcing partner, delegation is an important skill to build. Our article on delegation gives more tips on how to do this. Identify things that you currently do that could be delegated to other people, and give it a try.

If you already delegate a great deal, try delegating more! Remember always to make sure the right checks and controls are in place. And see how many hours you can find in other people’s days.

Key points
Leverage is very important for a successful life and career: Intelligent use of it is what moves people from being good performers to being truly spectacular ones. And it’s not just in the areas we’ve discussed that you can find it: Money, resources, contacts… the list of different types of leverage just goes on and on. Make sure that you think often about how you can use leverage, and understand what it can do for you.

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This article is adapted from a full chapter on leverage, written by James Manktelow and Namita Anand.