‘Hard work is the key to success,’ the familiar adage goes. It has a simple meaning: total and uncompromising commitment toward one’s goal is the only way to success.
Hard work constitutes consistency and perseverance. It means one who is undeterred by failure and continues to chase the goal is likely to be successful compared to someone who compromises and cuts corners for instant gratification.
On the other hand, smart work refers to a strategy that yields the best possible results in the least amount of time and effort. It constitutes acting based on instincts, improvising on the go and using everything at one’s disposal to achieve what is needed.
As a principle, almost everyone would choose hard work. However, in practice, most will go for smart work. But there is no reason you can’t use the best of both. However, before we get into it, let’s talk about hard work vs smart work in a little bit of detail, from an academic perspective, and understand the difference between the two terms on the conceptual level.
The Difference Between Hard Work and Smart Work
Hard work is often associated with the time one puts into achieving a goal. When a person asks a student how hard they are working, the response is usually about the number of hours they have studied at school and at home. In the office, it changes to the number of hours worked beyond the mandatory eight hours every day. When the boss asks who the most hard-working of all his employees is, the manager chuckles and points to the one who has accumulated the most overtime hours, not the one who has delivered the most projects.
However, if you believe Bill Gates, this definition of hard work is wrong. Hard work has to do with consistency, not with time. If you’re doing what you have to do to achieve a goal, it is not the hours that will count but whether or not you’ve done that particular thing every day. That alone will ensure that you get it right the final time and in the last iteration.
Therefore, attaching the term hard work to the number of hours spent doing a job is foolish.
You’re more likely to succeed at a job if you’re doing that same thing repeatedly over an extended period than when you do it for many hours in a single day. It is is because doing something repeatedly over some time turns it into a habit.
Smart work is often viewed negatively and associated with cutting corners. When we’re told that someone believes in smart work, the first thought that comes to our minds is that they may be taking shortcuts to success instead of “working hard” for it.
But in practice, smart work has no negative connotations. It has to do with being pragmatic and realistic, which means knowing your abilities and where you stand even when you have complete faith in your capacity to achieve what you want. Smart work is also about strategizing, doing the right thing at the right time and using real-world scenarios as reference points when making an important decision about your goals.
In simple words, smart work is about separating what you can do from what you would want to do. In some cases, the two can be very different. For example, suppose you don’t have the grades to qualify for an Ivy League university, but you do not apply to any other university than the Ivy League ones. In that case, you may end up without a college at the end of the admission drive. A more pragmatic way would be to apply to some other universities as a backup when you know that you may not be able to qualify for the Ivy League ones.
How A Combination Of Hard Work And Smart Work Can Get You Success
It’s easy to frame a strategy that incorporates the best attributes of hard work and smart work – consistency and pragmatism. When you’re consistent, you may end up performing better than what you had imagined with a pragmatic view. However, if the consistent effort you have made towards your goal does not pay off, you may still be able to save the day by going with your pragmatic choice, which would still be available.
In management, this theory is taught as ‘consistent pragmatism’. The theory of consistent pragmatism says that the world around us is constantly changing, and therefore any strategy that we put in place to achieve our goals must be flexible. Without turning this into a management class, let us tell you that the two separate elements, consistency and pragmatism, provide this flexibility, as we had explained with the help of an example earlier.
But Go For Smart Work If You Have To Chose
If you’re inclined to choose one out of hard work and smart work, it would always be better to go with the latter because it offers more certainty. This conclusion is based on the simple fact that decisions made based on pragmatism are more likely to be fruitful than those based on a set of assumptions that may or may not hold.
Elon Musk is now the largest stakeholder in the microblogging site Twitter but he has decided against joining the company’s board of directors because the old members together own more than he does and can easily overpower him in the decision making process. He could have worked hard to build consensus with consistent action, but he knew that he had to decide quickly and identified that things were not in his favour.
Therefore, if you have to choose, go with pragmatism – choose smart work.
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