Is Working Smart Really An Alternative To Working Hard?

If you read personal productivity or career related blogs/websites, you see one topic gets a lot of coverage – “Working Hard Vs Working Smart”. The problem I have with many of the blogs/websites that discuss this topic is that they convey the message, either intentionally or otherwise, that working smart is an alternative to working hard. I agree that just working hard is not enough. But I also think that only working smart quite won’t cut it either.

We lead a very hectic life packed to the hilt with things to do and errands to run. Balancing a career and family is not easy. So when someone comes along and argues that we don’t need to work so hard as long as we work smart, we are all only too happy to grab on to that argument. And that is what makes this argument so dangerous - the susceptibility of the listeners and to a certain extent the basic laziness in all of us that wants us to avoid hard work if possible.

During the past few weeks I have stumbled across several blog posts by young authors bragging about their ability to work smart and how they can get away without working hard like the rest of us mice in the corporate American rat race. I have no doubt that these young bloggers are smart and indeed get a lot done efficiently. But I think their pride in being able to do away with hard work is misguided.

It’s a lot more difficult for us immigrant workers to think of work from a different perspective, especially since we were raised to believe that hard work is what takes you places. And hard work did take us places. Coming from a middle class family in a third world country and establishing a place for ourselves in the most affluent country has not been easy. So it is ingrained in us that we need to work hard. But I do see that to get any further in life, just working hard is not going to be enough. I get that I need to be smarter in managing my time and effort. And in hind sight I do see that it was not just working hard that got me here – if that were the case there would be even more immigrant workers here than there already are :)

But I just can’t subscribe to the theory that working smart is an alternative to working hard. Working smart is a great way to get things done more efficiently. In a way, it can be seen as a means to cut the fat out of the tasks we do regularly. But unless you are willing to get your hands dirty and pour your sweat into what you do, I doubt that just working smart will get you anywhere in the long run. It can offer success in the short term, but if you want to really be successful in the long run, you need to start working hard too.

Come to think of it, Bill Gates is smart right? What if he just worked for 8 hours and called it a day? I am sure in those 8 hours he could get quite a fair amount accomplished and impress a lot of people, but do you think Microsoft would be the giant that it is today? The same goes for Google and You Tube. Yes, it looks like they all have it easy now, but imagine the elbow grease they would have put in during the early days to make themselves the giants they are today.

I have no ambition to be the next Microsoft or the next Google. But I do want to make sure I can retire early and retire financially comfortably. While at the same time providing my (future) children with comfortable lives and good education. I agree that just working hard is not enough. But working only smart isn’t quite the recipe either. I hope to find a good balance of the two to take me where I want to be. And like all the other cocky youth out there, I am pretty sure, I have found the right answer :)

If you liked this article, you might also like Why You Should Work Smart, Not Hard @ Money Smart Life and Hard Work @ Neville’s Financial Blog.

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Dawn ... said...

I am 100% supportive of working smart.
I am also 100% supportive of working hard.
Having a strong work ethic does not seem valued by people these days.
It has been replaced by a sense of entitlement compounded by a strong desire for immediate gratification.
We should all be working both smart and hard.

Matt said...

Personally I think that working smart is important in making the hard work that is done useful. The level of efficiency in a lot of corporations is bad simply because a lot of people run around all day pushing papers from one end of the office and back. They work very hard; but often its pointless work.

I subscribe to the idea of working smart so that while I'm working hard I can be productive.

Wrtier's Coin said...

I think that the whole "working smart " instead of "working hard" deal comes from the top. People feel like they are being told how to do their work in an inefficient way, so they fight back by doing it in a better, more efficient, smarter, way. It's a kind of sophomoric revenge that the employee gets from slacking off a little and not working "hard" because he/she is now being "smart." Basically, sticking it to the man.
I too grew up in a third-world country, so I know what you mean. The good thing is that by working hard and smart, you can pretty much rise above most other workers.

Kyle said...

Excellent post, I actually wrote a post like yours where I talked about working smart and hard and how that is the key to sustainable success. Especially since my kids are watching everything I do, what kind of message would I be passing along to them if they saw a Dad who did not have a strong work ethic. The benefits of hard work don't stop at me.

Pinyo said...

I support both working smarter and harder. My version is to prioritize and focus on putting a lot of energy into the important stuff.

Lazy Man and Money said...

I think that working smart is 80% of the equation and working hard is 10% and getting lucky is the other 10%. You could never persuade me that the people who started YouTube worked as hard as the people in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Yet in about a year almost anyone that worked at YouTube had many, many times the wealth.

This is why I write Lazy Man and Money. There's always some amount of execution involved, but I like to keep the manual labor down.

Jen said...

I working hard is a huge part of working smart. I know plenty of people who think they are geniuses, but don't know how to apply it with hard work. One of them has both an MBA and a Law Degree, but instead of working hard and being successful he chose to allow his family to be homeless, because he felt he was too smart for the "rat race."

I also hear people say they want to work smart by consulting for other businesses instead of working hard. Well, not one wants your advice about their business, unless you have worked hard & had some success to show for your smartness!