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The Myth About Working Hard vs. Working Smart


There is a lot of life-hack discussion in the book and blog world. It’s not surprising. We’re all looking for ways to get more from our efforts and still have time to stop and smell the roses. Anyone who’s read The 4-Hour Work Week has been filled with the knowledge that Tim Ferriss has won a battle all of us face each day. There is however, an often overlooked part of the sitting-on-a-beach-while-money-pours-in success story.

To get to only working 4 hours a week you have to start with 80 hours a week.

Make no mistake, I love the idea of working 4 hours a week and still making a lot of money. Our business uses all the time-saving techniques we can. As a team we actually work less hours than anyone we know. We take ample vacations, work very reasonable hours and generally manage to even take off a day each week. Many of the ideas out there actually do help to reduce email, meetings and distractions so you can focus on what does produce rewards. There are definitely life-hacks that work but there is not short-cut to the hard work that creates entrepreneurial success. The truth is, if you want to build a great business that throws off cash each day you will need to put in the hours up front.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of 4 startups in the last 12 years. Two of them have been a great success (by both financial and reputation standards) and two of them flopped. The common thread in the two successes has been hard smart work. Not just hard work, but focused, disciplined hard work. Working hard and working smart are not two ends of a spectrum. They need to co-exist. They need your equal attention.

So what is it that requires hard work vs. working smarter? In spite of all the myths, building software does not require your developers to sit chained to their desks for months on end punching out millions of lines of code. Great software can be produced in simple ways and without having to drag a futon into the office. If you’re just a middle-man drop shipping merchandise, like many of the web businesses we read about, then producing product isn’t even on your to-do list. In many of the businesses we see and work with we hardly ever see the product or service eating up time. What requires unadulterated hard work and long hours is sales – at least initially.

At least once a week I get asked how Fresh Tilled Soil manages to produce so many new leads each week with no apparent effort. The answer is in Jim Collins flywheel metaphor. We produce a solid pipeline of sales without breaking our backs because we broke our backs for the first two years setting a flywheel in motion. That flywheel is the referral mechanism that only works if you have it spinning at a solid rate. The only way to get it spinning is to work bloody hard making calls, networking and executing excellent work. There is no life-hack to get around this one. The good news is that once the sales flywheel is in motion it’s very easy to just keep it moving forward each day. The initial effort to get that heavy flywheel moving translates into an inertia that sustains itself with only a small amount of daily effort.

The way we see it is that working hard is a bare minimum to success. Applying "working smart" ideas from the beginning helps make that hard work turn into something even better. If you work hard and work smart, success comes a lot quicker than just doing one of those things.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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