Supervisors love to see employees putting in extra hours and working through lunch breaks. The increased face time shows that you’re an employee who isn’t afraid of hard work. So, you burn all the midnight oil and pack your lunch while your coworker leaves promptly at five and takes the full midday hour and your boss sees you as equal contributors. What gives? As with most things, the answer is neither black nor white, but somewhere in the gray middle.
Many people (e.g. your coworker) could probably stand to work a bit harder. Failing to produce quality work over an extended period of time could very possibly be the result of laziness. If your main goal at work is to leave as soon as possible and/or contribute the bare minimum, you’re not going to advance in your career no matter how great your ideas are or how well-liked you are in the office.
If the issue comes down to simple motivation, start off by reframing the idea of hard work. Don’t focus on the potential frustration or difficulty, and focus instead on the pride of completion or recognition from your superiors. Help yourself in advance by setting a definitive end to your day. Knowing where the finish line is will help you find the motivation to reach it. Breaking large projects into smaller tasks is another great way to reduce any anxiety you may feel about tackling large jobs, and will provide a greater sense of accomplishment along the way.
On the other hand, a lack of productivity could be the result of inefficiency. If you lack the discipline to effectively manage your time or prevent distractions, the answer may not be more hard work but smart work. Working smarter can yield all the benefits of working hard without all that hard work. The trick is to seek out and implement work hacks to help you work more efficiently.
Consider using website blockers to discourage time-wasting activities. Keep your personal cell phone in a drawer where you won’t be distracted by notifications. The Pomodoro Technique recommends breaking your time into 25-minute blocks separated by 5-minute breaks. Using blocks of time to isolate your focus is a great method for increasing your productivity by eliminating multi-tasking. Taking regular breaks will help you sustain your energy level and focus through the entire day instead of crashing at 3pm because you’ve been pressing your nose to the grindstone for six hours straight.
The downside with attempting to work smart is that some spend too much of their workday figuring out how to save time. In trying to work smarter, these life hackers end up not working at all. It is important to remember that efficiency should not come at the price of productivity.
So, is it better to work hard or work smart? Well, that requires some self-evaluation. Know yourself. If you struggle with motivation, redefine the boundaries of your day and prioritize your workload so you’re completing tasks with maximum impact first. If you struggle with time-management, eliminate distractions and divide your day in such a way that your focus remains solely on one task at a time.
The best work, of course, will use a combination of both. At the end of the day, if you feel like you’re moving forward and progressing toward your goals without upsetting the delicate work-life balance, you’re working best.