Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! Happy National Teacher’s Day! During this celebratory and reflective week, I’d like to take a moment and recall a teacher I had 15 years ago during my freshman year of high school. One thing he used to say all of the time was, “Don’t work hard. Work smart.”
This was a new concept to me. I always thought if you work hard, positive results will happen. If I went to ballet class every day and worked hard, I would get better. If I paid attention in school and did my homework, I would get good grades. If I cleaned my room, my mom wouldn’t bug me.
It took me quite some time to truly understand what my teacher was telling me. I didn’t understand how to ‘work smart.’ What did that mean? How do I do that? Was he saying working hard isn’t smart?
Eventually, as I continued my education, I was forced into this understanding. Working hard doesn’t mean your inputs are producing the best output. Working harder doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see the best results. It doesn’t mean you are being efficient. It doesn’t mean you are being productive.
Let me give a more concrete example—we’ll stick to school in honor of this holiday. I was taking a political science class during my senior year at UNC Chapel Hill. I was taking a full load of classes, was very involved in the dance community, and worked in a restaurant three days a week. Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate. However, I always showed up to this class, I did the readings, and I studied for the exams, but I was legitimately failing. (I’m not exaggerating. I got something like a 28 on the first exam, which I thought was hilarious because I felt like you had to try to give the incorrect answer to get a grade that low.) I could not seem to connect what I was reading and hearing in class to what this professor was asking on the exam. It went that way pretty much the whole semester. (I did end up passing with a C. Somehow. Magic, probably.)
Anyways, the moral of my story is that I just wasn’t doing it right. I had yet to figure out how I learned best. How I needed to study, not how other people were studying or how my teachers suggested I study. I needed to figure out a better system to get everything done efficiently and effectively.
So how does all of this relate to where I am today? In the working world, we need to work smart. It’s not about the number of hours put in at the office. It’s not about cranking out more presentations or pitching to more reporters. It’s about quality. It’s about doing it right the first time and doing it well. Make the best presentation and get that new client. Research the best reporter for your story and get a feature. This is how to measure productivity.
And this isn’t to say that you can’t and shouldn’t work smart and hard. I think working hard is part of working smart—the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Instead, working smart ensures that the our efforts produce the best results. It means we are constantly learning ways to do things more efficiently and do it better than the time before.
I’m thankful for the teacher who helped me begin to understand that it’s not just about hard work, but rather a culmination of things that leads to success: effectiveness, efficiency, time management, organization, critical thinking, ingenuity, among others. I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what you learned from your teachers.
And to all the teachers out there—thank you.