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Wondering whether you should work hard or smart? You won’t like the answer.

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Why you have to work hard AND smart, and how to do both.

The timing seemed perfect.

It was a Sunday evening, my son had finally fallen asleep, and I sat down to dig through the latest batch of reader questions for our Friday Q&A series.

There it was:

I don’t usually work on Sundays, but ever since my son was born, I’ve had to take the opportunity to work whenever I could get it.

And thinking about this question on a weekend, I could only come up with one response:

“If you’re wondering whether you should work hard or smart, you’re not going to like the answer.”

And while I stand by it, I also realize that it’s not a particularly helpful answer. So today, I want to dive into why I think that working hard and smart are both absolutely critical to achieving what you want out of business and life.

Working Hard and Working Smart: Why You Need to Do Both

I love this quote on hard work from Mark Cuban:

“Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you.”

While I don’t spend much time thinking about our competition, the spirit of the quote still hits me hard:

Everyone that wants to achieve the same goals as you, and has a shot at doing so, is already working really hard.

Working hard is table stakes.

The four-hour passive income workweek that so many dream about simply isn’t realistic to expect without the four thousand hours of hard work to turn that dream into a reality.

You have to put in the time.

But working smart⁠—that is, making the most of every minute of your hard work⁠—is important, too, because that’s the multiplier.

Working smart (more on that below) is what gives you 10x the output for every hour you spend working.

But 10x’ing bad results⁠—by working smart but not working hard enough⁠—still leaves you with mediocre results at best.

10x’ing the results of insanely hard work, on the other hand, is how winners separate themselves from the crowd of people who will never achieve what they want.

4 Practical Tips For Working Harder

Like just about everyone else I know, hard work isn’t easy for me, and I certainly don’t wake up every morning eager to pour my blood, sweat and tears into challenging tasks.

Here are a few things that help the most when I need motivation to work harder:

1) Understand your “Why”

I’ve written before about Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” talk.

It’s a 20-minute masterclass in understanding how to make people love doing business with you by making it clear why you’re in business, rather than simply explaining what you sell.

But Simon’s lesson about understanding your business’s “why” applies to more than marketing.

It also applies to making you⁠—and your team⁠—inspired to work hard every single day.

If you see your work as “building a software company,” then of course it’ll get tedious, unless you simply love the generic act of building a software company.

But if you see your work as the pursuit of something much greater, and can clearly articulate what that “why” is, then you’ll have a much more powerful motivator to work hard.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

2) Surround yourself with hard-working people

There’s an old adage that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.

It’s a cliche, but I believe that there’s a lot of truth to it.

And who do we spend more time with than those we work with?

If you’re surrounded by lazy people who look for ways to avoid working harder, then that behavior will be normalized to you.

If, on the other hand, you’re surrounded by motivated people who never shy away from hard work, then that’s the mindset that will rub off on you.

I work very hard to hire hard-working people at Groove, because it makes working hard on everything else a lot easier for me.

And all of these hard working people meet every single day to keep each other accountable.

The biggest hiring mistakes we’ve made have all been due to hiring ultra-talented people who simply didn’t want to work that hard. It quickly began to rub off on the team in the wrong way, and we’re lucky to have recovered from it more than once.

3) Turn off distractions

This one is ridiculously simple, but ridiculously important: turn off your email, social media, phone and any other distractions that keep you from putting 100% of your attention on the work at hand.

We’re wired to take the path of least resistance.

And distractions are always the path of least resistance when compared to doing hard work.

Turn the distractions off, and hard work becomes easier by default.

4) Make tasks more manageable

There are two ways that I make big, complicated tasks more manageable.

First, I break them up into smaller tasks.

It’s a lot easier to motivate myself to outline a post, and then to fill in the paragraphs, and then to come up with a title, and then to edit it, and then to publish it, and then to promote it, than it is to motivate myself to tackle a project called “Publish blog post” all at once.

Second, I power-block my time and dedicate it to a specific task. For example, I’ll block off 2 hours to do nothing but answer customer support emails.

In those two hours, support emails are the only things getting my attention, so even if I’m not ultra-productive, I’m guaranteed to make some progress on the task.

And it goes without saying that some progress is better than nothing.

4 Practical Tips For Working Smarter

If hard work is the minimum requirement, working smart is the multiplier that turns that hard work into meaningful results faster and more efficiently than you could ever imagine.

Here are four tips that have helped me work smarter.

1) Delegate strategically (and do it right)

Want to make the most of your time spent working hard?

Then spend it on doing the most high-ROI tasks you can, and delegate or automate (more on that below) everything else.

You can do this even if you don’t have people reporting to you: sites like Fancy Hands and Fiverr mean that small, less-important tasks that take up valuable time (and, importantly, focus) can be delegated cheaply.

But here’s the catch: delegating only saves you time if you do it right.

That means taking the time upfront to find great resources for help, and writing very clear, very descriptive (more descriptive than you think) instructions for the tasks you want done.

We’ve had some success finding virtual assistants using the method that Sarah Householder recommends in her amazing Quora post:

Take the time to do this once and you’ll save time on tasks forever.

2) Automate recurring tasks

Some tasks can be delegated to technology.

A perfect example of this is typing: there are almost certainly phrases that you type multiple times per day.

Rather than spending 20 seconds to type a phrase, create a text shortcut for that phrase using a tool like aText, or, like we do, create a “Common Reply” in your help desk software.

You can also automate recurring tasks using Zapier. If you spend any time at all generating reports or spreadsheets, take a few hours to connect all of the data sources you pull from to a Google Sheet using Zapier, and you’ll be amazed at how much time you save.

3) Take breaks

When I look out my window and see that the surf is looking particularly good that day, I feel no guilt about taking my board to the beach for a couple of hours.

It’s a welcome release, and doing something I love helps me get out of my “work” head. More often than not, I come back to work refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the next big task.

The impromptu breaks are great, but perhaps even more important are scheduled breaks.

I don’t know many people who can be “on” for eight hours straight. But rather than being “on” for an hour or so, taking a break, and then getting back to work, many people spend most of their workday in a half-productive/half-distracted purgatory.

I find that scheduling breaks helps me stay a lot more focused in my “on” time, because I know that there’s a hard stop bearing down on me.

4) Pick a tool, any tool, and use it

Pick a project management tool⁠—literally almost any tool⁠—and use it religiously.

Here’s what we use.

Really though, it doesn’t matter nearly as much what you use, as long as you pick something and use it consistently across your entire team.

It saves a massive amount of time on “syncing up” and meetings that probably don’t need to happen.

Conclusion

I don’t mean for this post to be a rant, even though it may start off sounding that way.

My hope is that it has given you some actionable tips for working hard and smart; both of which are necessary if your goals are as ambitious as ours.

What tips am I missing? What works for you that I haven’t covered? Let me know in the comments below, and let’s help each other get more done.

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About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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