I’ve received various advice over the years regarding success and just generating progress in life(broad, I know). One thing I’ve heard regularly over the years is the concept, of not to just work hard, but to work smart! Mostly this statement pisses me off. When I heard this, I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I had taken a massive wrong turn in the journey of life! I felt naive, it took me off guard. I was completely unaware that instead of working hard, one could work smart and still achieve all that good stuff. It’s somewhat like the advice of following your passion, which is utter drivel(reference Cal Newport and Ryan Holiday)!
The notion of working smarter first hit me when I was about 13, I had the end of year school exams ahead and I was working hard, completely unaware of the alternative, this concept of not working hard, but working smart. And I got criticised for working too hard, for spending too many hours studying, that I shouldn’t need to, that it’s “not about working hard, it’s about working smart”. This disastrous advice, thrown into an impressionable little teenagers head sent me down a rabbit hole that would, unfortunately, take me close to 20 years to climb out of(17 years to be exact).
My hypothesis toward the work smarter concept seemed to be associated with less time, less effort but ultimately, all the glory. Of course, the whole approach is predicated on knowing what to focus on, what to prioritise, and as if, by acknowledging, that “I work smart” not hard, the person above, god himself would pass down a roadmap on what I should focus on and what I should ignore. That never happened, however, at times I still wait in hope!
I get that some can work more efficiently, but I believe this is because they(the masterful few), have, over the years built up a foundation of understanding and insight that allows them to progress quicker, and only possible after usually years of laying the “ground-work”. An accountant, for example, will more quickly come up to speed with changes in the income tax thresholds, then I will. If I want to have the same level of understanding, I may have to put in two to three times the effort. It’s along the lines of what I wrote about in a not so recent post of the not knowing notebook technique that Richard Feynman employed(Growing Pains). If my not knowing notebook is bloody huge, then it’s simple, I will need to schedule a significant time to understand the topic then someone with a smaller not knowing notebook.
I get there are some predispositions that enable certain people to acquire new knowledge much faster than I. But it’s this predisposition, this nature versus nurture bias, that talent is key. The talented few that we look to as role models, when in fact, I feel they are the exception, not the benchmark I want to model from.
I feel the work smarter brigade make the assumption that what you are doing is repeatable, that you can learn from one activity or task, and accordingly next time round work “smart” and get it done quicker. However, as with most things, I find circumstances change, very few things that are worth doing are truly repeatable. So a level of work hard seems to be constant.
“There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time.”