“Work smart, not hard.”
I was going to college. And everyone I knew had a small tidbit of advice saved for this exact moment. “Remember, work smart, not hard,” was the one-liner of the season.
At the time, this adage had charm.
Instead of breaking your back, why not try to find an efficient and easy way to complete any task? There are enough “learn-it-quick” gurus to prove that anything can become more systematic.
So I toiled for four years trying to perfect my methods of studying and working. I wasted more time than gained trying to be efficient.
But nothing seemed to work.
I realized that it’s time to kill the “work smart” line. It should be replaced it with something more straightforward.
What is “work smart”?
We all have a vague idea about “working smart” means – it’s being efficient, taking short cuts to optimize our time. Right?
But “work smart” is as ambiguous as telling someone to “set goals” without the how-to.
“Working smart” actually means three things:
1) Set a specific goal (using SMART)
2) Manage your time
3) Have short-term and long-term plans
There are no short-cuts beyond this. Methods are generally customized to the individual and the subject area. But whether they work or not completely depends on the person.
It’s vital to success to know where you want to go and how will you get there. This is true whether you are graduating from college, learning a language, or designing a website.
What is wrong with “working hard”?
No matter what method you use, there is no getting around hard work. Not one strategy or “secret sauce” will work unless you apply it.
That doesn’t mean work should be excruciating slow and painful.
Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months advocates a “speaking only” approach for three months to bump up your conversational skills. Which is great. And it works. For some people.
Introverts with little desire to speak and instead want to read, I suggest you don’t take this approach. If you can’t commit to speaking daily and putting your all into the activity, don’t be surprised if you are still sputtering basic phrases in three months.
No “work smart” strategy will teleport you to the finish line.
How to pull everything together.
I spent too much time experimenting with strategies, and not enough doing the work. Most likely, you already have some idea of what works best for you to complete your task. All you have to do with flesh it out:
1) Clarify what you want to achieve. Write it down. Say it out-loud.
2) Figure out the steps to get from point A to point B. If this proves difficult, write down where you are right now at the top of a piece of paper. At the bottom write your goal. Try and list at least five different tasks you can perform to achieve your goal. If even your top five tasks seem too big, subdivide it further until you have a list of tasks that can be completed in a day.
3) Consider your personality when choosing a method. What will motivate you and demotivate you? What task will take more time. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
4) Decide on a course of action and generate a timeline.
5) Gather any necessary tools.
6) Start work and work hard.
When I moved to India in August 2015, I decided to try out various language-learning methods to learn Hindi. I thought that I could find a more efficient way than when I was in college.
I knew I wanted to be conversational. So when I arrived, I thought that I would try to speak Hindi for three months. That seemed like a clear-cut path to success. I focused on using free tools, decided to skip the alphabet, and thought I would find plenty of people to speak to.
By the end of October, I could recite the colors, numbers 1-10 and basic greetings. My pronunciation was a mess.
Where did I go wrong?
I didn’t factor in my strengths or weaknesses. Sure, I could try to speak. But I was soon demotivated by mistakes. And over time, it became easier to hide in my other obligations than seek out speaking partners.
So in January I decided to cave in and buy a Teach Yourself textbook. I didn’t have perfect conversations, but after a few months I was able to understand about 70% of what I heard. I could give simple responses. It was a start.
What changed? Instead of taking the “short cut”, I worked with what I knew about myself. I’m strong at grammar and enjoy reading. Analyzing example sentences and structures helps me to grow. The conversations in the book weren’t always interesting, but they were useful (to me).
In the end, the small successes of using a book kept me consistent and motivated.
This was truly working smart – and hard.
While there is no magical solution, there is something you can do to create efficiency and “work smart”. Look at yourself and your goals, and decide on a method that makes you want to act. Don’t keep reading into strategies looking for the perfect fit.
Find a phrase or a technique that you need to move forward, and soon you’ll find yourself making real progress.