Working smart, Working hard

“work smart not hard”

“hard work pays off”

“no one ever did anything great without hard work”

“hard work got me here”

“work” takes up the majority of our waking lives

We form emotional ties to “hard work” and “smart work”

Yet 99% of us work just to make ends meet

And the top 1% face a burnout epidemic, an identity crisis, a great resignation

I began in the 99%: Bankrupt, broke, etc, and now I’m in the 1%

I wrote this post to understand 3 questions that captivated me these last 10 years

  1. what does it mean to work hard / work smart
  2. when does smart work matter, when does hard work matter?
  3. how do you work smarter / harder

What does it mean to work hard / work smart?

Working smart = quality of thinking

Working hard = quantity of doing

“quality” is hard to measure but in any moment you’re between 0 & 100% of your peak

ask yourself

  1. what’s a time I was doing my best work?
  2. am I in a similar mental state now as I was then?

entrepreneurs call it “clarity”

artists call it “inspiration”

programmers call it “flow”

It’s your mental state when you’re doing your best work

It is tempting to define “smart” as “doing the right things” but this has 2 problems

1. it depends on outcomes

you can play an “optimal” strategy in poker and still lose, life is rarely under your control

2. it assumes there are “right things” you can know to do

we often don’t have all the information, we have to guess, make bets

When smart work matters, when hard work matters

The poverty plateau: Working smart becomes more important with wealth

When working a job that pays for hours worked & not for output there isn’t much value in working “smart” because it doesn’t impact your pay

But when doing an output based job there are many ways to play, and you are rewarded more upside if you make a few correct decisions

I’ve seen friends grind for years trying to make a company grow with $0 revenue

I’ve seen other friends spend a few hours building a demo or sharing a tweet and raise millions of dollars in days [2]

More ways to play a game seems to mean high quality thinking dominates in importance

I find so many individuals who are born poor & identify with “hard work”

And they grind hard without focusing much on how to think smart

For example this camp of people will often take a job paying $5/hr full time and suffer through it to pay bills instead of taking an interest free loan and 6 months job-free to learn new skills so they can get a better job.

I call this the poverty plateau.

When you’re in poverty you have no choice but to work hard

You develop coping mechanisms to justify doing really hard work

A common coping mechanism is to just make “hard work” part of your identity

The problem is later on, you have to also “think smart” and not just “hard”

This may cause some coming out of poverty to have an identity crisis

They’ve never thought about other options before, or taking what feels like “the easy way out”

The solution is to expect to re-assess your identity as you gain wealth.

Your friend groups + activities will radically change and so should your identity.

Wealth plateau: “smart work” being important doesn’t mean “hard work” isn’t

I’ve met many people who seem allergic to the idea of working hard

These are the people on twitter who call you toxic because you celebrated a strong work week, or work on the weekend or late into the night at times, even if it’s what you enjoy

They seem to conclude “working smart is often more important” therefore → “don’t work hard”

and their growth plateaus

i call this the “wealth plateau” as it seems to primarily affect those born wealthy

When born wealthy I suspect there is less need to work hard to meet baseline needs

And your immediate network has more wealth so they likely value “smart” work more

So “work smart not hard” is an understandable conclusion. But this reasoning is incorrect

Imagine a simulation with 2 people both pursuing the same goal

Assume both people are equally smart, i.e., both are capable of the same patterns of reasoning

And assume the criteria to “succeed” has an element of randomness

Across many simulations the person who works more will reach the goal first and more often

What’s the balance?

Both are key, if you demonize hard work or smart work you’ll likely plateau

So I do 2 things

  1. figure out how to get into highest quality state for work
  2. work in that state as much as possible

[1] This is a hard thing to accept for me but it’s something I’ve seen consistently from successful people I know. They all optimize working smart first before grinding out hours, but they also grind out hours it’s just not the first class citizen of their work.

[2] Debuild, Banana, Lexica