Working Hard or Working Smart: Finally the Answer

The rat race, the daily grind, the fight is hard. The work/life balance and ‘17 Ways to Get a Raise’ articles have taken over a large portion of the Internet at this point and for the ambitious among you who are searching for their dream job, there is an abundance of ‘perfect cure’ answers to everything that ails you. So, I thought I’d dip my toe in the water and break a promise to my 17-year-old self: I’m going to do math.

Obviously, the Internet and the explosion of ‘5 Ways to Get Ahead’ lists over the last several years are there for a reason: you are looking for help/advice/ways to improve. So in that spirit, I’ve put together a few notes of my own on the topic. I’m pretty good at knowing what I don’t know but if you have a substantial or simple disagreement, speak up. The comments section below is there for your rants, prove me wrong.

Working Harder

Work your face off. Think for a minute about the person who has the dream job that you want … I’ll wait … got it? How did they get there? They probably didn’t stroll into and out of the office whenever and just hang around while they were there. They probably worked very, VERY hard to get where they are.

So without any further ado and my high-school teachers cringing somewhere in Ohio, let’s do the math …

If you’re five years into your career and everyone in your profession is working forty hours per week then 40hrs * 50 weeks * 5 years = 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell would be proud. However, if you’re five years into your career and everyone in your profession is working forty hours per week and you work sixty hours per week then 60hrs * 50 weeks * 5 years = 15,000 hours. In theory, you just earned two and a half years of an edge on your peers. Think about the job title, responsibilities, financial compensation differences between someone with five years experience and someone with seven and a half years experience. Looking at it another way, you can reach the famous 10,000 hours status made famous by Mr Gladwell in only three years & four months.

Go on…

And, fancy math (calculus and whatever else there is) and I are not the best of friends but I have a decent handle of simple arithmetic and my multiplication tables. Plus, this one time, math and I are on the same team. The math gets way more fun (eww) as the years go by.

Working Smarter

Now, simply putting in hours doesn’t mean anything if you’re not accomplishing something more substantial in those hours. So, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that you are just as talented and smart as everyone putting in forty hours a week and therefore you have the same output per hour. What would then happen if you increased that output per hour on top of working 50% more hours? Meaning, what would happen if you ‘worked hard’ and you ALSO ‘worked smart?’ Most would agree that there is an hour a day that they could get back by working more efficiently. Some of you probably have a lot more than an hour you could get back but that is a conversation for another day. How do you get the time back?

A few Productivity Hacks to Consider

· Turn one hour meetings into 50 minutes and 30-minute meetings into 25 minutes

· Limit email check-in to once every hour, only respond to emergencies and dedicate a time to manage your inbox each day

· A 3-item To Do List only, written down first thing in the morning

Anyways, what happens if you put in 50% more time than most in your job and then you add on additional output to each hour you work?

If working efficiently means you get a 20% higher return on your hours of work (which I believe is totally possible) then let’s get back to the math!

60hrs * 50 weeks * 5 years = 15,000 hours

60hrs * 50 weeks * 5 years * 120% efficiency = 18,000 hours

So, to extend the math and recap:

‘Normal’ Work & Effort

5 years = 10,000 hours

10 years = 20,000 hours

15 years = 30,000 hours

25 years = 50,000 hours

Working Harder & Smarter

5 years = 18,000 hours

10 years = 36,000 hours

15 years = 54,000 hours

25 years = 90,000 hours

Obviously, these numbers are estimates but think about what it would mean if you worked hard and smart. Think about the dividends that the hours, increased output and effort pay in a year, five or over a career. What is the return on that investment for you? Does it mean a promotion, raise or more freedom in your schedule? Does it mean all of the above?

Think about what would happen if when you’re competing for a promotion against someone who (on their resume) appeared to have more years of experience than you. Think about the confidence you would have if you had the mathematical data to explain that you probably have at least as much experience (if not more) than that person.

Too many of us spend our time thinking there is a debate between ‘working harder’ and ‘working smarter’. The answer isn’t to choose one of the other the answer is to choose both.

Work hard and smart, it’s hard to lose if you get really focused on both. Plus, math can be your friend … sometimes.

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