How to work smarter, not harder (but... you are already smart...)

Published on 28 February 2017 by Tomislav Rozman

"Work smarter, not harder" is one of the most overused phrases that I hear lately. I think it is offensive and I'm sure that you do too.

It implies we're dumb. It implies we simply just have to switch our mindset from 'dumb working' to 'smart working' and all the problems will be gone.

But ... we are all smart already! Otherwise, the evolution wouldn't allow us to survive so many generations.

This empty motivation phrase usually offers nothing more than a nice picture with this sentence. Just google it ("work smarter not harder") and you will find a lot of similar pictures:

The majority of articles offer random vague time management skills like: take more breaks, check email first, work in blocks, don't multitask, delegate work or similar.

This is not smart.

An example:

If you have a heap of sand to shovel, taking more breaks will not make it easier. Buying a bigger shovel will not make it easier. Taking naps? Nope, the heap will still be there.

Only the new approach will make it easier. For example, renting an excavator. Or, ask yourself, why do you need to move the heap of sand at all.

It's the same with our everyday jobs.

But, how do you invent "a new approach"?

Not with the same knowledge and mindset, as we created a problem, that needs to be solved.

The solution (which works for me)

The solution is very simple in fact.

Learn a new skill today. Even if it's not directly related to your work. Don't worry, your brain is smart enough to figure it out how to use new skills in new situations.

Don't worry, even if the new skill is not directly related to your work, your brain is smart enough to figure it out how to use it in new situations.

Learn how to play the ukulele. Take a psychology course. Learn how to weld. Learn a new language. Start with dance lessons. Take an online course, learn about financial management. Let your intuition guide you when you're selecting the next thing.

And most important, combine different sources of gaining new skills.

Read. Traditional books. At least one per week. I've been using the internet since 1995 and I'm still simultaneously reading traditional books. Why? Because I feel the information gained from books is stored and reused differently than the information gained, for example, from social media.

In the majority of cases, the information gained from books is more focused, refined, without disturbances and peer reviewed. Now, go to your local library today and randomly select 3 books. Then, read a first chapter tomorrow during the breakfast or before you go to sleep. Repeat for 2 weeks and it will become a habit.

Attend live or online courses. Overall, online courses are getting better and better every day. For example, I've been using Duolingo to learn Italian for 6 months and I'm still not bored. Currently, I'm also attending CRM course at edX, to see what's new in this field.

Follow and learn from a smarter (more skilled) person than you. Just look around. It may be your colleague, boss, father-in-law, or your child. Currently, I mostly learn about the tolerance, gamification and motivation systems from my kids. They're perfect target group to test which motivation systems work and which aren't.


If you are a manager, there is a great chance you have been promoted to managerial track from the technical expert track.

How do you cope with that? How do you manage people, if you never managed people? How do you set-up business processes, if you never thought about, for example, customer journey or sales process? How do you pitch your idea and attract external (e.g. EU) funding? How do you… ?

It’s a hard job, I know. It takes a lot of additional training to manage skills, which are at the intersection of the technical and managerial field. For example, you can take an official Executive MBA course. Or, you can choose a lifelong learning path, select the micro-managerial courses that suit you and fill only the missing gaps.

The choice is yours. Be smart(er) and love to learn.

Further reading