Just Working Harder Won’t Get You Ahead. Working Smarter Will.

Yes, you have to put in the hours, but just as important is putting in the right type of hours.

Comments: 63

  1. I would phrase the work issue differently. The old adage of working smarter not harder is still true. The second is learn every time you do something. That is what being old has taught me, how to do a job with less effort and learning how to do it with less effort comes with age. For just two examples, when I programmed computers in the 1960's, it was punch cards, now it is wrestling with python and R on a personal computer. When I helped my father build a home, a hammer was the tool, plywood was rare, and I learned to sweat copper fittings, now our new home used OSB and air nailers and PEX tubing.

  2. Sorry, but I spend far more time wondering how so many couples in my parents generation could have one income earner, a house, three children, two cars, take vacations, pay for college, and save for retirement, than I do contemplating the success of others today. Unraveling that mystery will unlock far more happiness for people than figuring out how to get ahead of the person down the hallway. And as someone who has had successes and setbacks, stating “Even our idols who make success look effortless worked for every bit of it” is inaccurate. Luck is a real component in every successful person’s rise. You can work hard and smart, but with bad timing or some bad luck, you can find yourself facing an insurmountable career roadblock, or worse, having to start over.

  3. JEG, the answer to that one is relatively simple: Fever people, more than half the population essentially locked out of all but the lowest paying jobs (blacks, women), no globalization, far less automation, most of the rest of the world destroyed after WWII, powerful unions. None of those things are coming back, so time to look forwards instead of wondering about the past.

  4. I'm of your parents generation. One income, home, two cars, three sons, paid their college. Now retired, two properties, two cars, etc. One word comes to mind that tries to answer how it was that we enjoyed those success back in the 60's and 70's. Unions. They alone brought decent wages to many of us, whether we belonged to one or not. They were the driving force for the middle class. There is power in numbers.

  5. In other words, spend your free hours analyzing your performance in each situation, focusing on how it might not have been the optimum response, and on how you can do better in future? There is a word for such people. Usually we call them neurotic. If this is different, I don't see how.

  6. This is great advice - for white collar, educated workers without children. Try telling it to Amazon warehouse workers, for instance. As a white collar person and a liberal, it represents the tone deaf approach that many liberals have towards skilled and unskilled blue collar workers. And we all know where that got us in the last election. Hard work is important, learning to do it better is important - once you have a job that gives you hope and a living wage. The economic core of this country in the "good old days" was skilled labor and manufacturing located in our country. We need childcare, decent health care and living wages, before discouraged people can think about "working smarter." We can expect more of the same "us against them" voting, until we make those conditions a priority.

  7. Dr. M, I used to work in a factory and I can tell you that even there, those who work smart get benefits. I moved off the line to inspector because I worked smart as well as hard.

  8. An accomplished older friend gave me some advice that sounded obnoxious at the time, but turned out to be exactly right - whenever you are feeling stuck, redouble your efforts. Of course, successful people tend to underestimate the importance of luck, but you have to be super lucky to succeed without persistence.

  9. Another reason some people seem to succeed consistently: they love what they do. Someone who doesn't consider working hard "work" but is simply passionate about both the results -and- the process of getting there is more likely to succeed than someone for whom it's just a "job."

  10. Author is right but missed a critical point. Working hard at the right time is critical. Working hard at high school has a disproportional effect on return. I worked extremely hard in high school for about 2 years. That got me into an Ivy League college, and I’ve been coasting for nearly two decades in comparison to people who partied through high school and college and now work double shifts.

  11. I worked extremely hard in high school, and though I did well, it was not good enough to get me into an Ivy League college. Had it done so, I still could not hae gone because my parents would have never been able to afford the tuition! Then I worked extremely hard in college None of this helped me in any way whatsoever. All my hard work went for naught. The industry I worked in changed, then changed again -- and again. Companies went out of business, went bankrupt or sent the work overseas. Wages stagnated. I would double and re-double my efforts, only to find that it counted for nothing -- or against me -- other workers resented the effort I put in, or felt resentful of my successes. In the end, I was laid off, downsized, outsourced, overseas and oh yeah, a constant victim of age discrimination when I turned 45. Your experiences are not everyone's experiences.

  12. The key to success at work is to have the end goal always in mind, and to reflect continually on which actions are on the critical path vs which take you off the critical path to the goal. Thus is each moment at work carrying you to the goal, making you maximally efficient and productive. This I suspect is what the successful chess players studied: not "self-reflection" but reflection on how to win the game. By the way, this doesn't mean there's no time for intelligent kindness. As a manager, caring about your staff and the organization as a whole can be (should be) steps on the critical path.

  13. It isn't necessarily being smarter with the work, after a point in time. Knowing how to evaluate, react and handle situations on an interpersonal level can ensure you keep your job when those around you are losing theirs due to layoffs and outsourcing. It can be learned and become automatic.

  14. Interesting piece. As a nation we seem to like talking about our work ethic. However, I've found, anecdotally speaking, that friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who habitually complain over the years about overwork are either working inefficiently or aren't working all that hard and (perhaps) feel guilty about it, hence the constant moaning and self-advertising.

  15. In particular in startups I’ve seen CEOs push their staffs for not just month but for YEARS to work insane hours. While short bursts of periods of intense work seem effective, these long periods of sustained working hours degrade the quality of work and isolate the team members from one of the qualities that made them great team members in the first place: their varied experiences outside the work environment. It’s not a big leap to apply the same idea of the “rest” periods that our bodies need during workouts to our work experiences. This applies to piles of research we have on the positive impact of meditation on the brain. Those bosses who push to drive their teams intensely are pushing for their own demise.

  16. Great article! Would also add the concept of necessary work quality. There are tasks that demand 'A' work, 'B' work, 'C' work, and a few that really don't need to be done at all. One of the ways to be more efficient is to only do A work on A tasks. My team is encouraged to ask me what grade a task is when it is assigned.

  17. Something here that has rarely been said before - a lot of study and practice and work, and an evaluation of the practice. I've been trying for years to get better at playing an instrument and practice a lot. But I haven't spent much time at all evaluating the results of my practicing or evaluating a practice session. This is going to change how I approach my time spent from now on.

  18. I missed the working smarter part of the article?

  19. It’s in the title with a fleeting mention in the article. But it’s easy to miss because most of the article is about working harder. Just like click bait.

  20. Who are any of these people? That link was a crazy person's rant. Read The Times, The Post, EB White, work at a local newspaper instead of going to J-school, learn to cover the night cop beat and budget meetings. Good Lord.

  21. About money: the best way to keep your spending under control is to ask yourself "would I rather spend this money on something else?" or "is there something else I want more/would be a better use of my money?". Never, ever forget the opportunity cost of every decision. If you do A, you cannot do B (or C or D etc.). I have never had any problem saving money and I think it is because I always remember choosing one thing means I can't chose another thing.

  22. You mentioned Twitter, don't forget about Facebook and other similar distractions and time wasters. Kind of like commenting on a NY Times article at 2:25pm when my time would be better spent working.

  23. Not everybody works 9 to 5.

  24. Wow. This is what passes for career advice today? Work smart and work hard. Don't waste time on twitter. Hm. Didn't most of us learn this in middle school?

  25. Not only did most people learn it in middle school, but most people don't really have the option of using twitter on the job. It is a mark of privilege.

  26. Great read and great message to those just starting their careers. As somebody that started off with nothing and broke into a field I wanted to be in since I was a kid, all I can offer is to always be learning, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something and respect those that take the time to teach you things and show you the ropes. There are no dumb questions. Only dumb mistakes. All that and maintain a healthy work life balance,

  27. Early in a career, you don't know how to "work smart." You are absorbing information, learning your trade and building reputation capital. So to distinguish yourself, you had better work hard. Later, you'll learn how to prioritize and manage your time, but until you achieve that level of career development, attempts to "work smart" might be viewed as taking a shortcut. And most likely someone else who works hard will pass you by. Sorry.

  28. "Work smarter, not harder" was a much hated bogus expression from HR in Tech companies in the 80's. Usually around the end of the year when management set 12/31 as the ship date for a new software release. This was used to "explain" why you were working a half day on Christmas day. You hadn't worked "smart enough". It's origin's notwithstanding, it has a element of truth. If you work in R&D you rarely do the same thing twice. You are building something that doesn't exist with tools you have to invent to do the job. If you don't constantly ask, "Am I solving the right problem?" Asking yourself, not someone else... things tend to go wrong.

  29. It's not "practice makes perfect," but "PERFECT practice makes perfect."

  30. if you fail find out why? and then take action. Lick your wound, heal, take a breathe, and tell the story without minimizing or maxazing any part. With the facts, answer why. In the quiet moments come to accept the limitations of time, energy and power.

  31. Work is love made visible. Khalil Gibran

  32. This column is written from a position of such privilege to which many Americans today couldn’t possibly relate. It completely bypasses literally millions of people’s daily realities, such as: - Working on starvation wages & multiple jobs - Expensive daycare - Skyrocketing rents due to gentrification - Unaffordable healthcare - Seniors unable to afford their medications - Graduates overwhelmed by college debt - Veterans lacking access to needed mental health care - No paid parental leave, sick days, vacation time/holidays or job security due to contractor status. - Savings or homes lost due to the 2008 financial crisis - African-Americans living in terror of a shoot-first-ask-questions-later police force. - Undocumented immigrants living in terror of deportation I could go on... To tell those countless Americans who fall under one or more of these categories that they just need to “work smarter” to get ahead reveals the author’s ignorance.

  33. And if you say you will fail -- there is a very good chance, you will fail. IMHO, you have to work smart AND hard. Hundreds of millions have lost $$$ at lotto games.

  34. But, Thomas D, the article is very useful for the millions of people who aren't in list you wrote (actually, the advice is useful for most of those in your list too). We all know that their are people who don't have much, who are poor. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve our lives. Your comment is like saying nobody should print a cookbook until there are no hungry people.

  35. Couldn't have said it better myself!

  36. What a great summary on the "how to" of job success: 1. Do the work. Do it well. 2. Know thyself, embracing strengths and acknowledging weaknesses -- " A (wo)man's gotta know his limitations". 3. Most importantly, see and understand the connection between #1 and #2. Don't focus on the competition, but rather on your own unique and enduring value-added. P.S. That's where the true job satisfaction lies anyway.

  37. Intelligence is overrated. The older man wasn't necessarily smarter, he was just experienced. The notion that "we are a bunch of smart people, we can figure this out" is the reason our ruling elite is failing so miserably. Being smart may allow you to make better use of experience, but it doesn't replace it.

  38. What makes you think our ruling elite are smart?

  39. "Work your fingers to the bone, whaddya get? Bony fingers, bony fingers" - Hoyt Axton

  40. An important topic to be sure. But the article is Delphic. So I looked at “the best advice column ever”, as recommended. Sorry it was not useful at all, with no practical advice. so we have an important topic but no followable tips. Why publish this article?

  41. I’m printing this column, highlighting the parts about serious research, and underlining the following quotation: “Spend more conscious hours and effort in genuine introspection and self-examination, and fewer hours ... ahem, goofing around on Twitter.” It’s going out immediately to our Tweeter-in-Chief. But I doubt it will have any effect, because he thinks he’s already at the top of his game.

  42. I too am completely jealous of Mallory Ortberg. And I would love to lend her a hand. So if she wants week off, I'm there. She could even save up all the really awful questions that she doesn't want to answer and I would answer them badly so that folks would be really happy when she came back...

  43. It is easier to Work Smarter if you take care to do one thing: Start out stupid. Then it's so much easier to improve!

  44. To quote John Wayne: “Life is hard, and it’s a lot harder when you’re stupid.” Stop multitasking, fire your smart phone, stop watching movies, start listening to people, paying attention, attending live theater - You will come alive with life - No Electron-Vivre

  45. Very interesting how the Smarter Living Section bills itself as providing "tips and advice for living a better, more fulfilling life." Yet, despite these grand ambitions, the article blindly connects a "better and more fulfilling life" to working more (aha! but in a different ways...) and career achievement. Isn't the stress and hollowness caused by just this attitude why so many NYT readers seek out this sorts of 'living advice' articles? I guess the smarter living section has to keep their readers coming back... And I love the last bit: "Even our idols who make success look effortless worked for every bit of it." So you want us to believe that those wanting in life are there entirely due to their own personal failures, really NYT? May I suggest: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=structural+inequalities

  46. Everything old is new again. I remember W. Edwards Deming, in an NYU seminar in the ‘80’s, telling us to work smarter, not harder.

  47. So true this article...about studying for success. Step one: Stop lying that you know Microsoft Office on your resume! Get a certification that proves you can do all those things an "advanced" CV-notation implies. Step two: Name your price...and don't go low.

  48. Winning the birth lottery is the most important factor is 'success' today. Parents' income and education, social capital, and geography matter the most. We have less mobility than many of our Western European counterparts. (Take a look at the work done by Chetty and others on this.)

  49. This is good advice to a limited few. As others commented, it appears to ignore the vast majority of workers whose existential anxiety results from grinding exploitation, rather than a fear of failure or, CyberLord have mercy, “fear of missing out.” Imagine how to give advice to those trapped in the massive global post-industrial capitalist socioeconomic mess. To do so you either run for office (mostly as a demagogue) or write a blog on guerrilla warfare.

  50. Funny, I know way too many "successful" people who neither work hard nor smart. You can start with the current president. This column's theory is bunk.

  51. I work as hard and smart as I can I study about my job on my own time but I can get nowhere when my company takes away benefits and makes my job harder every month by not providing the tools I need, then gets mad at me when I ask for clarity on a subject I'm struggling with. Working in American is a no win prospect, it is misery. Why try hard when we can't win.

  52. The article seems to undermine its whole point when it ends with the Mallory Ortberg anecdote. "Sweating her ass off on her work until her bountiful hair goes limp at least four nights a week” sounds like working hard, not working smart. Furthermore, the article doesn't even prove it points. We have no idea how hard or not Mallory Ortberg works. Is it possible that we're calling her a hard worker simply because she's successful and we want to explain it?

  53. "Just Working Harder Won’t Get You Ahead." Sure it will. Look around any workplace. Notice how many people are looking to just skate by doing the bare minimum. Look at how many people are just killing time between paychecks. Think for a moment about how little extra it will take to vault over these masses. I tell my kids that just a few simple habits -- arrive 5 minutes early and stay 10 minutes late, always be present at work and show interest in doing/learning more -- will set them head and shoulders above and therefore ahead of 90% of the rest of the office. Sure, the last 10% will require some additional thinking and skills, but it's incorrect to suggest that hard work doesn't matter.

  54. American workaholism is killing our culture and killing us. How about a little reflection on not defining oneself by one's career, and not defining "success" so narrowly? And therefore not considering those with more "impressive" job titles as necessarily "more successful"? There's nothing wrong with wanting to improve oneself. Perhaps that improvement might include seeing life and identity and worth as not necessarily centered around a "successful" career as identified by mainstream U.S. culture. It's no coincidence that narcissism has skyrocketed in American society in the past decade or so. Central to narcissism is precisely this sort of externally derived sense of self-worth and "success," particularly as it's been inculcated into the younger generations. Workaholism is not necessarily a lofty ideal. Believe it or not, there are higher values around which to structure one's identity.

  55. This sounds like HR propaganda. It's good be effecient, but cramming impossible no of tasks in a work to please one's boss, boss 's boss, etc. is not going to help in the long run. People are being replaced by robots, more and more is being asked from each employee. "You are fine but you could be better" was my boss 's recent assessment. Every time I see, my boss is the cell phone playing or texting. This is state current affairs even, scientific, medical research. Purely because the 1 percenters who own all these companies do not want to share their profits.

  56. Not a word about the workplace! In my middle years, in a city hall, three women were put forward by an enlightened city manager. One of us was put in charge of non-profit housing, one of us was in charge of heritage planning, and I was in charge of an international-level museum project. The three of us were concerned that the more we did, the worse we were treated. For example, every article I published in the wide world, was treated as an affront in the workplace. A neighbour was a child psycologist, and I asked her to refer me to someone who could help us; she did, and in the first five minutes of this appointment the psychiatrist told me that inferior men faced with a superior woman "band together" and...that's why she didn't work in a hospital. I jumped up, excused myself, and went to telephone my two colleagues. Nothing in this "Smarter Living" about the construction of the workplace, for example, a small city's city hall.

  57. Defination of success as high paying job and good compensation is not necessarily an universal one. Compassion, empathy and happiness should factor in.

  58. why isnt the idea of "work ethic" questioned? Only serves the bosses; work to live, not live to work

  59. Whatever you do, don’t click and actually read the link to the advice column. It’s one of the most annoying and whining pieces of drivel (which goes on and on and on, stuck in a self-focused poor me loop) that I have read in a long time. I would agree that I often do see less striving for excellence than previously, and a lot of “good enough” work produced. Partly this is because employers don’t care really anymore about their employees (no loyalty), people don’t have adequate vacation time, support in raising a family, pay and benefits that provide a cushion, etc. But I also am shocked at how most people, just as an example, usually don’t thoroughly read a work email and instead fire back a quick response that is not well thought-through, detailed, etc. It is as if they have ticked the box of responding without actually thinking thoughtfully. I have seen that over numerous organizations and in multiple countries. In Germany however I would say the rate is higher in thoughtful responses and attention to detail. To get ahead (or stay afloat) you will have to stand out in some ways from the others. Striving towards excellence is a good way to do that.

  60. I'm an adjunct. It doesn't matter whether I'm good or bad at my job. No one is checking. I have literally never had my teaching evaluated. The college doesn't have enough full-time teachers to evaluate us and administrators, who are abundant, couldn't do it because most of them have never taught. No matter how hard I work or how good I am, as long as I'm an adjunct, I'll receive a tiny raise every two years. This raise-- one hundred dollars or so per class-- is hard fought for by the way, requiring multiple negotiations, at which the college is represented by one of the most expensive law firms in the area. Recently, a fourteen year veteran-- one of the hardest working, most dedicated and effective teachers I've ever known-- was not given courses

  61. Talk about over-simplistic, schmaltzy "how to" advice! The headline alone is totally misleading - there's not a word in this about how to work smarter, just a smarmy salute to "hard workers." Focus on the big picture, identifing ways to improve the business, thoughtful leadership, and - oh yes - a decent golf game and willingness to throw other people under the bus, are ways to get ahead in today's business environment. Gah. I get almost as much guidance from a FB meme.

  62. just take it easy. yall trying too hard. even people two levels above you are getting linear paychecks.. they have to show up to work everyday too. i routinely take a year off. thats cause i play my chips slow. i bought a starter house and thats my ending house. yall keep running with you bulls. let me grab the popcorn

  63. I'm an adjunct. Whether I'm outstanding or terrible, I will still be paid the same paltry sum. My teaching is literally never evaluated. The school doesn't have enough full-time people to do so and the administration certainly couldn't as most of them have never taught. After many, many painful, time-consuming negotiations, at which the administration is represented by one of the area's most expensive law firms, I will receive a tiny "cost-of-living" raise ($200 per course). If a full-time position were to open up, it would go to the adjunct with the most seniority. Some of the adjuncts where I teach are over eighty. They will never retire because they can't afford to. After stringing along a number of good, dedicated teachers for years, the administration has finally stated that no more full-time positions will be created. In fact, just in the few years I've been there, the percentage of faculty who are adjuncts has gone from 70%to 75%. An experienced, well-organized, highly disciplined person can teach a class in my field (writing) in about ten hours a week. To make a very modest yearly wage, you have to teach at least ten courses in a semester. These ten courses will be taught at three different schools so that each school can keep their employees at "part-time" so they can avoid paying them benefits.