Our work culture is constantly plagued by two seemingly opposing ideals. On the one hand, we glorify the romantic notion of hard work. We, as a society, often emphasize that anything can be achieved if you work hard enough. On the other hand, there is the newly emerging school of thought which suggests that it’s not necessary to work particularly hard, if you know how to optimize the work process, and use your smarts. So what is the right answer in this debate?
As always, the truth is somewhere in between. It’s true that the work process has come a long way. The constant advances in technology bring about innovation and the possibility to significantly speed up many tasks. The fast-approaching AI revolution will take working smart to a whole new level. Optimal organization and avoidance of distractors can tweak the process to perfection. However, if you truly think about it and make an effort to scratch the surface of the question, the real point is what we do with all of the extra time we gain through these time-saving means.
The traditional approach
The opposing camp holds the traditional view that hard work is the cornerstone of success. This is hard to dispute – behind every successful person, there are countless hours of hard work. Even when the person in question is undeniably a genius, they still have to put in the hours to hone and perfect their gift. Creativity is, more often than not the result of a meticulous approach to a problem, and excellence a sign of practice.
The modern businessman
Take Elon Musk as an example. Do you think he works hard or smart? The current visionary/creative genius poster boy works on an incredibly demanding schedule. Yes, he has grand visions of human colonies on Mars, and revolutionary ideas such as solar panel roof tiles, but he also works 7 days a week, with his total work hours often amounting to a whopping 100 hours on a weekly basis. He probably works smart too, but still it takes an incredible 14 hours every day to be one of the most successful people on the planet.
Quality above all
The fact remains that quality of the work done, matters – to say nothing of the output. What good is it to work overtime, if our working ours are wasted on banal tasks that can be otherwise automated, simplified or sped up in any way? An exorbitant amount of our time spent at work doesn’t get used in an ideal way because of multitasking, distraction, procrastination, and suboptimal organization. At the end of the day, the results we achieve are the most objective measure of our efficiency and the quality of our work.
The best of both worlds
The truth of the matter is: there is no simple, clear cut choice between the two. Plowing through the same straightforward and boring tasks with no creative spark or interest in work process improvement will probably lead you nowhere. Or at least, not very far. A shortcut to success is also wishful thinking. If you take a look at any top professional, renowned expert, a gifted artist or an elite athlete, you will find that they do, indeed, work smart. However, they use the time they save not for rest, but for yet more work. They arrive for work first, and leave the office long after everyone else has left. The results they achieve with a combination of both hard and smart work ultimately place them head and shoulders above the competition.
In the merciless arena of modern business, it is simply not enough to just work either smart, or hard. It’s also not productive to cling to the dated idea that the two are mutually exclusive. Those who intend to climb all the way to the top must strive to combine the two approaches. The drive and endurance needed for such a feat is extraordinary. Couple it with talent, vision, savviness, decision-making skills, and just a pinch of sheer luck, and you just might be onto a recipe for success.