by Chad Broadus

Probably the best example of "work smart, not hard" is the old tale of the lumber jack chopping away with a dull ax. When a passerby suggests he sharpen his tool, the lumberjack replies, "I don't have time to stop, I've got to get these trees felled by sundown." 

Working SmartClearly the smart thing is to occasionally stop to sharpen your ax. Even though there will be a short work stoppage, overall productivity will increase dramatically.

I was recently stuck by a trio of blog posts that really nail this concept in a real-world context. In Avril David's How To Rise Fast At Work: A True Story, he describes the strategies of Mark and Ted, two green financial analysts in their first jobs. 

From day one, Ted decided to work harder than everyone else. Realizing that the senior managers were the ones to impress, he spent little time with, and paid scant attention to, anyone in the organization who wasn't in a position to advance his career. He was a self promotion machine. He stopped by the senior managers' offices to let them know about the great work he was doing and the long hours he was putting in. Often skipping lunch, he did, in fact, get a lot of work done. 

Mark, on the other hand, spent his time learning all he could about the business. He networked with people at all levels of the organization, both junior and senior, often getting to know them over lunch. As a result, Mark began to understand how the company worked and saw ways things could be improved. At first, he made small changes within his area. As people began to notice, he was given the opportunity to help in other areas, effectively expanding his sphere of influence.

At the end of the year, both got noticed in different ways. Ted for being a hard worker, but only better in his one limited role. Mark for being hard-working, and self directed, and for understanding the business, and being able to lead, even without authority, toward the company's goals.

Dave Rodenbaugh posted a take on David's item in a software development context. Different business environment. Same results.

Avand Amiri touches on this too.  His terms are the "get-its" and the "get-nots." The "get-its" take the small part of a task they are working on and think about how it affects other interconnected parts and the finished product.  They begin with the end in mind.

The bottom line? To really succeed, you have to adopt a holistic approach to your job. You need to know how you fit into the big picture. The only way to do that is to work hard at working smart. You have to get to know the "tribe." Understand your co-workers on a personal and operational level. Cultivating those relationships will show you ways you might leverage your unique skills to help your colleagues, or how you could team up to solve a business problem. True synergy.

Wait a minute. Synergy? Begin with the end in mind? Is it just me or is there a familiar thread in all of this?  That's right. All of the success stories in these blog posts are the direct result of following The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, which I think of as the original working smart bible. What say you and I review that little gem, take a fresh look at our job through Covey's lens, then meet back here in the comments?

Chad Broadus is a tech professional and writer living in the Pacific Northwest.