WORK HARD or WORK SMART: Which is Better?

Eighty percent of our class in the school of engineering was composed of scholars. From this group of people, I encountered the amazing paradox of working hard versus working smart. I even started to doubt myself if I was really among the ranks of this elite.

In the field of engineering, everything is trial and error. That's what engineers do - well, most of the time. 

Source: Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

I remember one of our professors advising us not to overuse all of our brain cells in one task, because there will be more to come. He uttered the magic words of “working smart” without giving hints on how to do it. Everyone in the class kept on wondering, “am I not smart enough?”


After weeks of contemplation, like a fire, its Eureka effect spread all over the freshmen sections. As a manifestation, nobody looked tired, stressed out, and nerdy until the end of the term. Nobody wanted to work hard on anything at all!

What I saw next got me thinking if they really understood the context of working smart; because if they really do, how come cheating on exams had become rampant, project and thesis writing have turned into outsourcing businesses capitalizing on the brainless rich kids, and beating deadlines had been disguised as the new trend of procrastination thus delivering mediocre reports?

If this what turned out to be the definition of the new ideology, working “smart”, I'm afraid everybody else would just not dare to climb up the stairs anymore.

All new tasks whether difficult or common-sense level, require everyone to work hard at first. Only mastery of this task produces the technique of working smart afterwards.


How can you be smart in Algebra if you are poor in basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division? How can you build a business empire without working your way up by getting familiar first with the basics of accounting, management, sales & marketing, human resources, and production?

Generations of today want everything in a hurry. They forget the power of experience. They forget that before anyone else becomes smart, he has to start from nothing and that means working hard at first. Had not Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity which by the way took years of labor, we wouldn’t be able to run every electronic devices and appliances requiring electricity today!

Consistency is the key to transition from working hard to working smart, smoothly.

Surprisingly, the “key” is also the stumbling block along the way. Many entrepreneurs, for instance, find it difficult to stay motivated after starting to work towards this goal.


This is where the skill of Bias for Action comes into place. Let me put it this way: a DC motor used in remote-controlled miniature cars to control the wheels will keep on rotating as long as the person holding the remote control keeps on pressing the ignition button. Simply put, release the button and the wheels will not move.

We lose consistency in our goals mainly because of these two prevalent reasons:

1. We lose sight of the car that went too far away, and we saw another “big” thing that grabs our attention that is within our reach than that car; or

2. Driving a car or controlling it is just not in our interest. It’s just a past time, a “filler” to kill our boredom, or an escape to frustration.

A goal that is long-term deserves a strong discipline towards achieving it. In this case, “the end justifies the means” does not apply here. Because if we do wrong steps along the way, the results we will get are mediocre and temporary. Long term goals deserve precise, concrete, and consistent implementation of action.

Working smart, then, is a by-product of working hard.

And yes, it is NOT a one-way street.

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