Working Hard or Working Smart: Which is Best?

What would you recommend, working hard or working smart? While both approaches can be useful, there's one strategy that tends to lead to more success. Find out more here.
Working Hard or Working Smart: Which is Best?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 17 June, 2023

Which is better, working hard or working smart? There are some talented people who dedicate seemingly endless hours to their work but do it ineffectively. As well as affecting the objectives of the company they work for, this affects both their physical and mental health and they end up feeling exhausted or even demotivated.

However, many companies prioritize physical and cognitive overexertion. They do so without taking into account that this approach is often completely inappropriate. In reality, in an increasingly competitive social scenario, it’s necessary to apply other innovative mechanisms to gain productivity, success, and psychological well-being. Working smart could be the key to this transformation.

“What can be higher than peace in the family and work? The rest isn’t in our power.”

-Boris Pasternak-

The classic model of working hard

Our culture and upbringing have always conveyed the idea to us that we must work hard. It’s the only way to pass our exams, we were told as children. While self help-books claim it’s the only way to conquer our dreams. It’s as if the constant effort and high investment of energy are an absolute guarantee of success. However, this isn’t always the case.

One such example happened during the pandemic. It’s described in a study published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology. During that time, a great deal of work was carried out at home remotely. It often meant people working all hours. But, investing more hours wasn’t always synonymous with efficiency and satisfaction.

Next, we’re going to explain what working hard entails.

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Man with work stress searching what is better to work hard or work smart
Hard work means you invest a great deal of time and effort in completing tasks.

Characteristics of hard work

Hard work doesn’t always lead to success. However, it does allow us to achieve many goals. Indeed, this methodology uses resources that, properly oriented, are positive. As they say, hard work is the first step to achieving something, but working smart will get us where we want to go. These are the characteristics of hard work:

  • Many tasks tend to be left outstanding.
  • It involves great physical and cognitive effort.
  • It’s not easy to make changes.
  • Planning and time management aren’t easy.
  • It employs traditional approaches and methodologies that aren’t particularly innovative.
  • It takes a great deal of time to complete a task.
  • It’s often difficult to deal with any unexpected problems and challenges.
  • Although it involves total dedication, the planned objectives often aren’t achieved.

While smart work makes it possible to better manage our time and go home earlier, hard work orients us almost exclusively to our work environments. Nothing else exists for us.

Psychological effects associated with hard work

To determine whether working hard or working smart is better, there’s one factor that must be considered. It’s the fact that the employee who dedicates endless hours to a job without good planning will suffer high stress. The psychological effects associated with this modality are quite complex:

  • Often, demotivation and frustration gradually appear.
  • Hard work doesn’t always reinforce self-concept and self-esteem especially if the required results aren’t achieved.
  • The City University of Hong Kong conducted a meta-analysis that discovered that spending long hours at work affects individuals’ health. For instance, chronic fatigue, poor sleep quality, and anxiety often appear. There’s even an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Working smart: innovation and efficiency

It’s possible that, during your education and training, you weren’t ever told about working smart. After all, we live in a culture of effort and unconsciously assume that whoever is busier, achieves more. But, in reality, this isn’t true. In fact, success is achieved by using our time effectively and by employing innovative, goal-oriented tools.

The characteristics of working smart

The main characteristic of working smart is correct time management. Research conducted by Concordia University (Canada) claims that this competence significantly improves an individual’s quality of life. It also improves their performance. This is the case because the smart worker:

  • Is more flexible and autonomous.
  • Possesses good adaptive abilities.
  • Prefers quality to quantity.
  • Is creative and innovative.
  • Avoids procrastination and doesn’t leave tasks outstanding.
  • Is goal-oriented and structures every task really well.
  • Meets their goals, both in the short and long term.
  • Employs a growth mentality. As such, they’re always oriented to face challenges and difficulties.
  • Uses ingenious methods in reaching their objectives. Moreover, they assess their results to see what they can improve.
  • Makes plans. These start with good evaluations.

The smart worker is far more autonomous. Furthermore, they’re free to carry out the objectives proposed by their company.

Psychological effects linked with working smart

One of the best effects of working smart is that the individual has full control over the task and is far more autonomous. By possessing better management skills and planning their daily work, their results gradually improve. This reinforces their self-efficacy, they feel more competent, and their self-esteem improves.

Another advantage of working smart over working hard lies in having more personal and family time. Indeed, effective time management makes it easier for the employee to optimize their working hours and influence their own well-being and that of the company. This well-channeled physical and mental energy brings favorable results.

Representation of brain analyzing what is better, work hard or work smart
The right combination of hard work and smart work is the most appropriate approach.

Working hard or working smart: which is better?

In light of the foregoing, it seems rather obvious that the working smart approach, supported by a more intelligent and flexible mentality and attitude will always be more beneficial, productive, and successful.

However, we should point out that working smart is also working hard, only in a more planned way. It means knowing how to invest your physical and mental energy at all times. In addition, intelligence, innovation, and a flexible mindset also mean effort and hard work.

In fact, both spheres must be used together, and ingenuity and quality over quantity should always be prioritized. This is the only way to better manage our time, strength, and motivation. But, in the workplace, time is often wasted in an absurd way and, on occasions, the efforts made fall on deaf ears and don’t bring the expected results.

When faced with the question of whether it’s more advisable to work hard or smart, undoubtedly the second dimension should be chosen. But, we mustn’t exclude the value of dedication and well-directed and organized effort. This combination, added to enthusiasm and motivation, will lead to success.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.