Working Smarter is Hard, Working Hard is Easier

businessman-looking-through-binoculars.jpgWhy do so many of your teammates work so hard, instead of working smarter? (…Of course not you! Never you!)

One would think that with all the stress, overload, disruptions, disengagement, and corporate craziness, by now we’d all be taking the easiest route — doing less to do more… Working smarter. That’s a no brainer, right?! 

Here are five reasons why working smarter is so hard, why working hard is the easier path, and what you can do about that.

1. Working smarter is NOT about tech! 

2. Working smarter is all about YOU!

These are the top two drivers of working smarter that I’ve detailed fully in another post, here. They come from a most awesome Work Smarter Summit run by David Burkus. He enlisted over 40 work smarter experts to share their insights and how-to advice. 

First Driver of Working Smarter: Not one of the 40+ globally-recognized experts focused on tech as the main driver of working smarter. Not one. Is tech a crucial enabler, and does it make working smarter easier? Absolutely! Is it the primary driver? Absolutely not!

We’ve got to get over our quick-fix approaches to working smarter. The next big thing or the latest app are NOT the most crucial drivers of working smarter. (This coming from an IBM futurist and influencer —

I’m supposed to be hawking AI and Watson as the coming savior.) So what is most crucial?… 

Second Driver of Working Smarter: YOU. Your filters, biases, strengths, shortcomings, choices, behaviors, habits, your ability to learn and unlearn, and your relationships with others.

Which is why working smarter is so hard. Most of us don’t like working on ourselves as much as is necessary. It’s far easier to get the latest app and tell ourselves that that solves everything. It doesn’t.

Your work on you is the hard work of working smarter.

In researching my last book, I uncovered the 80/20 Rule of Inner Knowingness: About 80% of us think we deeply know who we are — but don’t. And most of us have done only about 20% of the work to get there.

So even when we collaborate with others — (the primary way of working smarter that does work) — there’s still a lot more of us under the surface that could be leveraged to truly work smarter.

(Lots more about what you can do to create a Work Smarter You in that other post: Working Smarter: The Ultimate Approach.)

The remaining three reasons why working smarter is so hard come from the Three Laws of Workplace Behavior that I discovered during our ongoing study, Search for a Simpler Way. 

3. Ease of use and reduced-use-of-time…

…are equal to — and sometimes more important than — recognition, compassion, inclusion, rewards, penalties, loyalty, and hierarchy in their ability to drive human behaviors.

Said more simply: Organizations still mostly suck at making it easier to work smarter, not harder. Most company tools, processes, and structures are still way too corporate-centered, and not nearly enough user/worker/learner-centered. Most are designed to make it easier for the company to work smarter, but not necessarily easier for every individual. Because companies are still far too corporate-centered in their thinking and designs: They waste way too much of our time, and their tools and processes and procedures are nowhere near as easy to use as they could be.

Until companies get this, and start using tech to tailor learning, information flows, and workflows to every individual’s needs — (which is where AI and IBM’s Watson, Google’s DeepMind, and more, can help) — most of us will continue to work harder than is really necessary. 

4. The number one behavior in business today is moving To Dos onto someone else’s plate.

In most cases, this isn’t mean-spirited or malingering. It’s merely the most effective way of coping with too many to-do’s, too little time, and too few resources. This universal behavior of pushing work onto someone else’s plate is like gravity…it’s a constant force that will always keep far too much coming at you than you could ever cover in smart ways.

So you either work way too hard… Or… Working smarter includes pushing stuff off your plate onto someone else’s. (Continuing the Ponzi scheme flow of hard work.) 

Solutions: Learn to say No more often, and ask a lot more questions and a lot better questions to shape that work into smart work before you take it on. 

5. Once begun, work follows the path of least resistance.

Most of us manage our workload through daily triage: We avoid or postpone all but the most pressing decisions and tasks. And when everybody is in urgent-triage mode, the path of least resistance is to just keep things moving, passing work onto others as quickly as possible, even if that work comes up short in focus or importance. Because the biggest wall of resistance comes from stopping the flow and telling our bosses what they want us to do isn’t focused, important, or valid. 

Solution: You absolutely must push back on much of the work you are being handed! (See #4 above.) But the key is to do so in a way that does not sound like you want to slow things down. (Like suggesting rethinking some idea or pointing out something that you know should have been addressed earlier.)

That will get you nothing but trouble!

Instead, the way to embrace this law, and use it to your advantage, is to constantly clarify immediate, short-term next steps.

Push back by saying something like: “Sure boss, I’ll get all those 4,321 things done. Absolutely! But which one or two do we need to be focused on today? Oh…those? Great! Now here’s what I’d do next on those two… does that make sense to you?”

Essentially, you’re pushing back on the stupidity of way too much to do, or too much that’s unfocused, but you’re doing so in a way that your boss (or coworker) won’t be challenged or upset, and in a way that provides you much greater focus.

Now that you know why working harder is so much easier than working smarter…

What will you do to work smarter today?

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen is the foremost thought-leader on workplace simplicity, an IBM Futurist, and author of eight best-selling books. He has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal. As Mr. Simplicity, his mission is to make it easier to do great work and to hack stupid work. His research includes interviews and surveys with over one million people around the globe. He is CEO of the change consulting firm, The Jensen Group. You can contact Bill through email ( or his website.

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