by: Daryl Cowie

We’ve all heard the phrase work smarter, not harder. It’s one of those motivational statements that once held a great message, but now days is more often used to mean “You’re taking too long. Quit complaining and get it done”. In many ways these messages are not that different, but they hold two very different sentiments.

The truth is, many of us need to work smarter instead of harder, but we don’t really know how to get from where we are to where we need to be. I was brought up believing that hard work is the key to success and fulfillment. Work harder than anyone else and you’ll get recognition for it. While this is true in many ways, this philosophy can also severely restrict the level of success you achieve.

While working hard truly is a virtue, it also has some basic failings. First of all the hard work principle lends itself to measuring how hard, or long you work instead of what you are getting done. Many hard workers feel they are entitled to rewards as long as they put in long hours or carry heavy loads. It can lead to resentment of people who have figured out how to work shorter hours for larger rewards. Instead of admiring them, you see them as lazy and undeserving. Hard workers are often frustrated by the efforts of people around them that they feel are not making the same contribution, or reaching the same level of productivity as they are. What the “hard working” crowd is missing is that every employee is hired to get a result, not to fill an empty space.

Look at it this way. Pretend for a moment that you were doing the hiring and paying the bill. Would you rather pay a hard working man with an axe for 2 months to clear your land of trees, or pay a lazy dude with a chainsaw who can do it in one month? What I’d really like is a hard working man with a chainsaw, but given the choices I’ll take the man who made the smart tool choice over the one who works hard. Why? Bottom line, it gets the job done faster and cheaper, which is what I really want.

The second failing of the hard working philosophy is a tendency to want to jump into action without a well thought out plan. Let’s get moving! The problem with this is that the devil is in the details. I have seen many hastily laid plans leap into instant action and gain immediate progress. I have seen just as many of these plans sitting in the trash bin after huge amounts of time and money have been invested in them because they didn’t actually accomplish what the customer really wanted. By the time they figured they weren’t going to meet the real requirements they had too much invested in the hastily chosen direction to make the required corrections. A common companion of these discarded plans is the discarded manager who goes along with it. Action is critical, but first you must ensure your actions contribute to a plan that actually ends in the right results.

In both cases of these cases, the work hard philosophy is missing the main opportunity. A smart plan is better than a hard working plan every time. But we are taught to spring to action. Get to work. Get it started. The reality is that working hard without a plan is fruitless. Working hard at things no one cares about is simply not productive.

Making smart choices that contribute to the results that matter to other people is one of the keys to success. Solid up-front goals and objectives planning sessions are critical to your personal success and to the success of everything you endeavor to do. If you’re a hard working person, learning to effectively recognize the goals and intelligently plan objectives and strategies to accomplish them is one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

My success management tip for hard workers: learn to plan smart first, and then work hard. This is the unbeatable combination.


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