Working hard vs. working smart
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Rod Nepomuceno (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2013 - 12:00am

Around a decade ago, one of the “in” things to say to people who were inviting you out for a social catch-up was, “Wow, so sorry, I can’t eh, I’m really super busy.” 

It seemed that at that time, it was a bit of a status symbol to say that you were really tied down with work and too busy for any friendly get-together.  Of course, it’s possible that we were just telling the truth then, but sometimes, we actually had the time to get together with friends, but we just busied ourselves to feel like we were doing something important and vital.  Somehow, by saying that, we felt important.  We felt indispensable.  And that made us feel good about ourselves.  And so we worked and worked in order to have this sense of importance.  But in reality, while we were working long hours, we actually weren’t accomplishing much.

I often ask myself , “Do we really have to work so hard every day of our lives, to the point that work itself becomes the means and the end, rather than a means to an end?”

After a lot of reflection and self-evaluation, I offer my humble answer:  We don’t have to.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t work hard. We should. Working hard leads to positive results. What I’m talking about is working too hard. Working too hard leads to diminishing returns. Working hard leads to progress.  Working too hard leads to broken families.

What we need to do is work smart.  Very smart.

The principle of “don’t work hard, work smart” is best illustrated in tennis players Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  Both are geniuses in their field. Both work hard, probably harder than anyone else in the world. And both are very, very smart players.  But while Nadal dominates Federer in their head-to-head match-ups, Federer seems to have the upper hand when it comes to longevity and playing smart. When Nadal chases the ball or hits it, it’s like there’s no tomorrow. He puts all his energy, power, and strength in every shot. Federer, on the other hand, seems like he doesn’t even break a sweat. He plays with the grace of a gazelle. He doesn’t chase every wayward shot that comes his way. Thus, while Nadal may be the younger, more powerful, and more hardworking player, Federer is smarter.  He conserves his energy and his movements. Thus, even if Federer is five years older than Nadal, at this stage in their respective careers, Federer is the “fresher” one, while Nadal is currently battling his way back to form after both his knees got injured.  Federer is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, while Nadal is at No. 4. 

Another example of a smart worker is NBA point guard Jason Kidd, now currently with the New York Knicks.  Kidd is now in his 19th year in the NBA and he is still playing at a high level.  Kidd is still playing not because he works hard, but because he works smart.  Yes, his movements are very limited. He doesn’t do cross-overs nor does he dunk.  But he analyzes the game and works his way around bigger, faster opponents by outsmarting them with crisp passes, strategic picks, and timely shots. Jason Kidd simply looks for opportunities and takes advantage of them. He doesn’t over-stress himself by trying to barrel his way in or jumping as high as he can.   One of Jason Kidd’s contemporaries was high-flying dunker Eddie Jones. Jones could jump, man.  But guess what?   He retired almost a decade ago.

Now it’s easy to say, “Don’t work hard, work smart.”  But sometimes the two can be confused.  Some people think that by burning the midnight oil, by doing a lot of overtime work, by not taking vacations, they are working hard and working smart.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  If you are working to the point that you don’t have time to rest — you are not working smart.  You are working hard, yes, but not smart.

What are some practical examples I can give to determine the difference between working hard and working smart?  I can give a lot.  But here are a couple:

1. Long e-mails  vs. short, crisp emails (or calls). I used to write these but soon I learned three things about long e-mails:  one, the recipients never read everything and in fact sometimes long e-mails are never read; two, bosses are never impressed with it;  and three, they don’t get things done. 

Remember, in business, as in life, “longer is not necessarily better.”

2. Working during days off and vacation time vs. lying under the sun or sleeping. There’s a time to work.  And there’s a time to rest.  What goes up must come down.  Hey, even God needed to rest on the seventh day after working for six days.  You are not God.  So there’s all the more reason for you to rest and have some down time. Your body needs it.  You mind needs it. Your soul needs it.  And your business needs it.

3.  Exerting all your energy on your work or business  vs. releasing your energy on other things, apart from your job. Some people tend to be one-dimensional — their work, business, or job defines them.  Why?  Because that’s all they do and that’s all they think about.  But that usually leads to burnout — and as everyone knows burnout is not a good thing. Some of the best businessmen in the country have other things on which they expend their energy on.  Manny Pangilinan has his sports advocacy.  Greg Banzon, head of Century Foods, and Fred Uytengsu, big boss of Alaska Milk, participate in triathlons.  The Ayalas are active in WWF and Children’s Hour.  And yet, they are successful in their businesses. I believe that individuals who have other passions apart from their businesses probably make them better businessmen.

To end, I’d like to borrow from Smart Communications ongoing corporate brand campaign, “Live More.”  I think this slogan is so spot-on.

Bottom line: If you work smart, you will live more.

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Thanks for your letters!  You may e-mail me at


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