“Work smarter, not harder.” – Is that really such good advice?

(On multiple occasions, I have read how we should all use titles for our paragraphs, so it is easier for the reader. However, I never really took to that idea, because I thought it would just enable you to totally skim through the posts without reading much. And, as we know, I want to inspire people to be better (i.e. read more in this instance), not lazier. That is why, even though I try and make the first sentence of each paragraph descriptive of what is to come, I have not used titles in the past.

Then, I read a post by Ben (who has since deleted that post and his old blog), and thought that the headers (or “titles, but not” as I called them) worked wonderfully. So here I am – trying it out for myself.)


A positive story graces my blog.
I am aware that some of my posts can come across as “negative”. In fact, I had some people tell me that they prefer to read more positive posts to whisk them away to a better land than the one we live in. However, I call it like I see it. My negative emotions can be pretty vocal. Today, though, my post is inspired by a positive story.

Some people still go the extra mile.
This week, I encountered a story that really made me feel better about humanity. That does not happen too often, so I am pleased to share it with you. What happened was that a young man’s car broke down before his first day at his new job. Guess what he did. (What would YOU do?) He WALKED 20 miles (+/-) to get there on time. Yes, that meant that he had to leave his house after midnight in order to arrive early in the morning. His job required him to help with moving. While he was outside walking, he was stopped by a police officer. After verifying the man’s story, the police officer took him out for breakfast, and then dropped him off at the house, where the man was supposed to help with packing/ moving. Who does that anymore? I mean: “Who has so much dedication?”. I witnessed more than one person being late on their first day, late to their interview, late their whole first week, etc. I am so used to people slacking. And it seems like I am not the only one. The police officer was positively surprised by that man’s dedication, so was the family that he came to work for (the client), and so was the company that hired him.

Exemplary work needs to be rewarded.
In this case, he did not do anything extraordinary in regards to his job. In fact, his work skills are unknown to me. However, by getting to his job “no matter what” proves grit. It shows that he wants his job, and he will do everything he can to keep it. (Unlike some people…) It turns out that him and his family were affected by Hurricane Katrina, and that he was so grateful to get this job opportunity, that he would do anything to not miss it. There was a “go fund me” page created for him, which amassed quite a bit of money (some sources report $50k). Moreover, the company’s CEO gave the guy HIS OWN CAR. How neat is that? What lesson do you think this young man will draw from all this? Naturally, that hard work pays off.


Working hard was my mantra.
My parents raised me to believe that if I work hard for something, I will obtain it. They taught me to do everything to the best of my abilities. To do nothing halfheartedly. To strive for the best. To not settle on my laurels. They said practice makes perfect. They told me that if I only worked hard (and was good at it, naturally), I would be recognized and appreciated by others. I add that to yet another disappointing fairy-tale.

So much has changed since my parents’ growing up.
Imagine my shock when I entered the workplace and quickly found out that a big chunk of what my parents taught me was not applicable. I came in fired up, ready to work, and take on the world. And then I crashed and burned. No, not really, but it was disheartening, to say the least. No matter how much I excelled at things, I did not feel properly recognized. Even thought I was going above and beyond what others did, I was still treated as if I performed averagely. Even worse, I felt like some people did less, but were still treated better than I. Quite early on, my boss DEFENDED my co-worker for not doing her job. Up until then, I did not know completing our assigned jobs was optional. I still like to think that it is not like that everywhere, but the more I talk to people, the more I confirm my fears – things have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

I was lost in this new reality.
Not only was I not rewarded for my exemplary work, but even worse, those who failed at their job were not fired. Not even reprimanded. That flabbergasted me. All I knew was – work hard, or else. In reality, I realized that working hard did not lead me anywhere better. In fact, not working required less energy, and it still ensured I was not moving backwards. There seemed to be no incentives to actually give it my best. Soon enough, there was no incentive to give my mediocre performance, either. But that did not agree with me. Every time I promised myself to not do something; to “show them”; to just “chill”, I found myself looking for more work. It is just the way I am wired – I seem incapable of abusing the system.

Motivational/ lifestyle quotes can be so confusing.
Feeling conflicted, I stumbled upon a quote you all probably know: “Work smarter, not harder”. At first, I focused on the word “smarter”, and thought that if only I become more efficient in my work, I will be happier. The quote led me to believe that hard work is not all that good. In fact, it made me think that working hard is for dumb people. Even though it did not make me feel better, it did assuage my feelings of uselessness. At least for a little while. In the long run, the quote ended up confusing even more than how I felt before I discovered it. All of a sudden, people were laughing at those who worked hard, and those who were plain lazy excused themselves as “working smarter”.

Working harder is not the opposite of working “smarter”.
Every now and then, I would come back to this quote, or to thinking of my work ethic vs. the work ethics of others. My final verdict is that that quote is pure nonsense. For the sake of the quote’s author, I will assume they had good intentions and were not trying to tell others to just: “game the system”. I like to believe that what they were trying to say is: “be more efficient”, or “try different ways to achieve the same result”, or “create a process that works for YOU”. All of which, to me, end with efficiency. One cannot forget effectiveness. Efficient and effective are two things that go hand in hand in my book. Efficiency without effectiveness is just pure speed. I do not want you to do something as fast as you can. What I want you to do is solve all the problems, in a reasonable way, with the usage of reasonable resources, and within reasonable time. Smarter = more efficient. Becoming more efficient takes hard work. You have to explore various options, gather and compute data, etc.

“Work hard to become a smart worker.”
Some of you might think that I am nitpicking, and you might be right. I can over-analyze things easily. But as writers, are we not susceptible to that? Anyway, because I do not like the way the original quote sounds, I decided to come up with an edit. That way, those that work hard will not feel like they are not smart. And those that are lazy, will not walk around proudly feeling “smart”. I work hard, but devising efficient work processes is something I do innately. In my experience, I was able to think of faster/ easier (i.e. more efficient) ways to do various tasks (vs. how they were performed by others). However, make no mistake, that does not mean I do not work hard. Ensuring that everything runs smoothly, means that I have to work hard. I have to be on top of things. I cannot be slacking. Once I develop helpful ways to tackle some tasks, I am able to input less energy than in the beginning, only because I know the ins and outs of every single step of it. I had to work hard to get to that point. And it does not mean that I will not pay attention now. I will. I will still work hard to make sure that nothing goes wrong.

Appearing to work hard can get you a lot of sympathy.
Now, I also encountered some people, who, at first glance, I thought worked VERY hard. They always complained about how much work they had. They were always seen walking around, hunched over, with a pile of papers in their hands, taking every opportunity to express how miserable their life is. Their offices were covered floor to ceiling in papers. It seemed like there was a lot going on. I would come in to their positions a bit petrified. I would organize myself, and I would find out that their desks were needlessly covered in stacks of paper. That they really did not have SO much to do. That they did not have to come in on the weekends just to keep their head above water. I guess you could say I worked “smartly”, and they worked hard. But that is not fully true. They PRETENDED to work hard to get all the pity from other people. Once I would take over, and people noticed how I handled everything with ease, I would get MORE work to do. Maybe I was the one that was working hard, and the “hard workers” were working “smart”?

What do you think about the “Work smarter, not harder” quote?

Do you consider yourself a hard worker?

Does working hard negate being smart?

Stay golden,



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38 thoughts on ““Work smarter, not harder.” – Is that really such good advice?

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  1. I tend to agree. I like to be busy at work so I will seek out more and more work to keep busy because, if everything is done, time drags. The worst jobs I had were the government jobs. I had maybe ten hours of work to last me 40. No matter how you drag it out, that’s unpleasant so I started asking for more. I wasn’t thought any more of than those who made do with their ten hours worth of work per week but I was happier and more content.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Totally.
      I had a job that gave me such flexibility (not much to do), and I kept being told how grateful I should be that I wasn’t slaving away. And I was. But on the other hand, I was exhausted mentally. The lack of stimulation killed me. Then I got a 2nd job, which required me to be active the whole shift. And guess what? I was tired physically at the end of the day, but I was much happier. Upon my return to the place where I had less to do, I knew that I’ve been lied to. I wasn’t oh-so-grateful for the “less work”. Glad I’m out of there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ““Work smarter, not harder” – It’s all relative to the culture that you are working in. My experiences have suggested that harder and smarter have no connection to each other.
    Working hard may be the opposite of taking extended breaks and spending work time in mindless conversations. It could also be a drive to complete a project on schedule even if it dictated additional personal time commitments.
    Working smarter could be recognizing your own work style and organizing your employer’s expectations accordingly. Working smarter could simply be recognizing the other areas of the company that are dependent on your work, and seeing if there is anything additional that they could use from you. Working smarter could be isolating yourself while you totally focus, or could be requesting assistance for a specific task.

    Should you work harder or smarter? If you value the company you work for; the people you work with, and see a future in that role ……… then both should be to your advantage. if you are working for a company that shows no appreciation of its employees who work harder/smarter, then it would be smart to look for another employer!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Like you, my parents also pushed me to work hard.

    My mum grew up on a farm. Her parents didn’t have the money to send her to school, so later she ended up working in a factory.
    My dad used to be an engineer, but due to unfortunate events he ended up being an electrician.
    So both of them don’t consider office work to be “hard work”.

    Of course you can argue with that.
    But in this case I choose “the smart way out”. I worked hard at school, to enable myself from doing physical work.

    But did I really work hard for school?
    I’m average level intelligent. Some topics I like and were “easy” for me.
    Others, I must say I cheated a bit.
    Example: at uni I had to quite a bit of programming. I didn’t see the use of it, because I never going to end up in that field. I was terrible at it too.
    I made deal with a classmate. I’d help him out with math, he’d make my programming homework.

    I guess there, I also worked smart to achieve my end goal.

    Do I work hard now?
    I think 40 hours per week is a lot to ask from people. So therefore, yes.
    However, I do something I like I am interested in, so I’m not complaining.

    If anyone should work smart, it’s higher management.
    Communicate, plan, work together, invest in people, compliment your employees, Respect their wishes to not attend a stupid swimming event and many won’t think of it as “hard work” anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a great comment.

      It really is interesting how people who do/ did manual labor jobs think that office jobs are just so easy. No matter what I tell them, they insist they had it harder. Those cannot compare. The amount of mental gymnastics and people interactions I have to perform on a daily basis can be really taxing. Sometimes I wish I could just be a laborer and could use my body instead of my mind. Both have their pros and cons, and the grass is always greener, but one cannot say that just because you don’t spend your whole day sweating in the sun, that you have not worked hard and that you cannot be tired.

      School… good ‘ol times. Yes, I worked hard in some, while “smart” in others.

      And I like your conclusion. Totally.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I work in a Service department so most of the staff are technicians.
        They often tell that I show no interest in their work and don’t understand how hard the work is.
        It is true that I have no interest, or I would applief for that job.

        When I was told to hire people for a semi office job, I did a big presentation for the techs and tell them that this is their big change to move to an office job.
        “I’m not going to be locked up for 40hours a week in that prison cell” they responded.


        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh yeah I’ve seen the story of that guy receiving the car as a gift, it was very touching. I wish there were more people like both of them, the receiver and the giver.
    Unfortunately the world is selfish, and everyone is on their own.
    To work smarter and not harder, is a quote i can relate. Unfortunately we’re the kind of “work harder but not smarter ” that’s sadly us. 😞

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m not sure working either harder or smarter is the right thing to do. I think it’s the quality of what you produce that counts, rather than the amount of time and effort needed to produce it..So if you produce something of high quality with minimal effort then to me, that will be better than the person working flat out (or efficiently) producing something of lesser quality…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The military set me up for a mission accomplishment mindset where everyone is expected to be a team player. The big thing I have had to realize is that employer-employee relationships are much more convoluted. Some people are dead set on giving their bare minimum because they feel it matches their paycheck. Some people want to push their salary up and figure each job is just a rung on the ladder. Some people value the company’s product or what it represents, some people are after the right culture. Some just want to make ends meet.
    The question really is, how to motivate all of those personalities without getting their noses out of joint and ending up with revolving doors?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fellow military mindset… In the end it is all about what the team produces together that matters so… do your part, and help others if necessary, so that optimal results can be acheived together. That is sometimes “hard” but it is also “smart” because you and your team get more when you find a way to work cohesively. As far as slackers are concerned; I have helped and “shown my teeth” at the same time so that they become aware that their behavior is unacceptable. That usually does the trick. Anywho… now I am a stay-at-home mom… something I have wanted and prayed for since forever so I work smart/hard and more importantly I work out of love.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t show my teeth. It’s a problem. It doesn’t seem to matter what the situation is, I have to always concentrate on my volume, tone, and facial expressions. It’s a real double standard, and it’s almost impossible to live down each ‘Marine Moment’ when it happens. Everyone loves an ass kicker on their team until it’s their own butt getting a fire lit underneath.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It definitely isn’t easy. I would show my teeth a lot in the past. Now I bite my lip more often. Not that I like it, but sometimes the sting in the moment hurts less than the stress and aggravation in the long run.


  7. For me sometimes they’re the same and sometimes they’re not. It depends on the type of job. With the kind of job I have working hard is different from working smart. Most of my colleagues finish the same job longer than I do, and when I ask them how they do it I find that there are things I know that they don’t. It’s not because I’m smarter than them, it’s just that I’m more resourceful and I take the time to find new ways and learn new things. Most of my colleagues do things the same way and they don’t take time to learn. They don’t realize that the time taken to learn something new is an investment in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally. I’m the same.
      But the fact that you finish quicker doesn’t mean that you work less hard. You put in the time and effort to discover more efficient ways to handle things. And, just because it takes them more time, does not mean that they are spending all that time working hard. They might be just killing time sometimes.

      How have you been?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I too had a similar experience when i started working. i also wanted to give it my all but it never really seemed to pay itselff off. I still dont understand how other people deal without any form of posotive recognition, especially when it seems like it doesnt even matter how good you are doing your job.

    As far as the titles, but not are concerned, i really like them. they work very well, especially with longer stories like this one. i also think it helps people keep their motivation going to finish a piece. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you thought so. I don’t think they can be incorporated to every post of mine, but I thought it worked alright in this case.

      Yes, it’s very disheartening to work for no recognition.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I arrived here as a result of a ?Random Raiders! visit. Oddly, this post has a lot in common with your recent work-life balance post, and you’ll have already seen my comment there.

    A lot of what you say here resonates with me. I work in a place where far too many folk seem to have the attitude of surviving through the day just to get their paycheck reward. I’ve never been able to work like that; I’ve always been of the mindset that if a job’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing to the best of my ability.

    RR feedback: The link in your introduction on the word ‘Ben’ appears to be a dead one, at least currently.

    Liked by 1 person

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The Literary Serenity Archives

Creative Writing Reflections, Stories about Stories, and Feel-Good Pieces

Ellie Thompson

Musings and Memoirs - True Tales of My Life ...

Roars and Echoes

Where the power of my thoughts comes from the craft of writing.

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