Working harder, smarter is not the answer

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Jul 30

Pick up a newspaper, magazine, or read career management pundits and you’re likely to see these two sentences come out of the writing in relation to working through tough times:

We need to work harder in this economy by taking on more responsibility so we can keep our jobs.

We need to work smarter (because, you know, we’re working harder).

Harder and smarter. Smarter and harder. In a 30-year career, you’ll be working so hard you won’t have any time left for friends, family, or fun. But working so much smarter you’ll think of a task to complete and it will get done with no effort on your part…

The Cube Rules answer: work to deliver meaningful results to your manager.

It’s not the hours. It’s not the working harder, smarter mentality. Working hard on the wrong thing doesn’t produce the right result. Working smarter by figuring out how you can get more efficient at doing the work simply gets the wrong things done faster.

The only thing that counts is getting meaningful results to your manager. And, if you’re still in the wrong place at the wrong time, it won’t save your job. But the results can be used to build your professional brand.

There are those that will argue for working on stuff that matches up to your company’s mission statement, but the truth for most knowledge workers is that the company’s mission is too far away for you to impact.  If you’re a Financial Analyst, it makes no sense to walk into your manager’s office and ask to work projects for “providing world class products and services to career management pundits.”

No, your manager is more concerned about meeting his or her goals to their managers. Delivering results based upon those goals is what makes you valuable to the one person who needs to defend your work and your job.

Not harder. Not smarter. Results.

How many times have you heard working harder and smarter? Has it helped you if you’ve been working on the wrong goals?

  • This is great advice. I think the intention behind the “Work harder and smarter” philosophy is to produce meaningful results, but I think you’re correct in saying that if you forget about why you’re working smarter you’re in trouble.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      @Erika with Qvisory – I’ve come to the realization that I just really hate advice that says “work harder, work smarter” and “when there is nothing to do, look busy.”

      I’m waiting to be given advice like I was an adult.

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