Though not where it originated, the first time I heard the phrase “Work smarter, not harder,” it was being uttered by Scrooge McDuck on DuckTales. Being fifteen or sixteen years old when I first heard it, I didn’t get the gist of it.
For a long time I never completely comprehended what this really meant, and just how much it applied to. Like my favorite Yoda quote, “Do or do not, there is no try,” the underlying depth and meaning of this quote would not fully impact me for some time.
Why does this matter? Because people too easily believe that they need to work harder. You see it in popular movies and television, read about stories of people working hard across social media, and are inundated with all sorts of quotes and phrases praising working harder.
“There is no substitute for hard work.” — Thomas Edison
“I learned the value of hard work by working hard.” — Margaret Mead
“Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work, is the only way to accomplish results that last.” — Napoleon Hill
Work hard, and you will get where you desire to go in this life. That’s the message being presented here. Putting in effort and intention into work is important, but it is equally important to recognize the line between work and intentional work.
This is what I have come to translate “Work smarter, not harder” to mean. You don’t just work hard because that’s what is necessary for success. You work with intent, with a goal and purpose in sight, so that you are working smartly on getting where you desire to be.
This is why a part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood. I would interpret this as the essence of work smarter, not harder.
Working intentionally is working smarter
If you are unfamiliar with the Eightfold Path, it is eight Buddhist practices that are intended to help provide insight into liberation and enlightenment (I apologize if this is over-simplified and not entirely accurate. My own explorations into Buddhist practices are still very new, and I am learning what all it means).
Right Livelihood, as such, has been often translated as intentional, mindful employment.
Everything has consequences. For every action, there will be a reaction. Thus, what you do for your livelihood will have consequences.
Do not presume consequence means bad. It does not. It means there will be an effect. For example, if you work as a debt collector, you are going to cause people inconvenience, annoyance, pain, and possibly suffering. Yes, this might be your job and you might or might not be ok with that — but that is all a part of YOUR personal moral code.
Right Livelihood means you recognize the consequence of your job. So if you work as a debt collector, and you feel terrible about your job and the impact it has on other people, that would likely mean it’s not Right Livelihood for you.
This is very much a part of the notion of “Work smarter, not harder.” If you have a job where you toil away for hours and hours, and the consequences of your work do not make you feel good, then you are likely working harder and not smarter.
You may be thinking, that’s easy for you to say. I got bills to pay and I have to do what I have to do to survive. No judgment on my part, but if, like me, you are striving to live a fuller and contented life, this is likely preventing you from getting where you want to go.
How can you work smarter, not harder?
Personally, I’ve been struggling with this idea for years. In this life I have worked numerous jobs that failed to make me happy, and when I worked harder, thinking it would improve things, it tended to just further frustrate me.
Please note, I am in no way advocating for slacking off on the job. Taking pride in your work matters, even if it is less-than-perfect employment. And that’s a huge part of what working smarter means.
When you view your work as toil and struggle, that’s what you are creating. Why? Consciousness creates reality. So if you view your work as a constant challenge and a source of pain, then odds are that’s exactly what you are creating.
Working smarter takes this and looks at it from a broader perspective. Even with a job you are less-than-happy to be at, when you take pride in your work, and you work intentionally, you may not find total satisfaction — but you will find yourself less unhappy.
Once you can create such a thing, you empower yourself to build upon it. Not happy with your current job? Maybe when you see it as less awful you will be in a better position to acquire a new and better job. Why? Because we are all energy.
Intention matters towards your energetic frequency
Energy vibrates at a frequency. Positive energies are high frequency, and negative energies low frequency. When you are in a better headspace, you are vibrating at a higher frequency.
If you go for an interview in a negative headspace, what do you think your prospective employer sees? Someone unhappy and wanting out. This may also cause them to question what kind of worker you are overall, and whether they want your negativity as a part of their operation.
On the other hand, if you go for an interview in a more positive headspace, what do you think your prospective employer sees? Someone confident and looking for a new opportunity. This may cause them to be more receptive to you, and see your positive attitude as a potential benefit to their operation.
This is why working smarter equates with working intentionally. Intentional work is smart work, because it is not just meaningless work. There is more to it, and as such greater understanding of not just how work impacts you, but impacts those you work with, or in some cases people who receive the fruits of your labor, whatever form that may take.
There is no set perfect livelihood
Right Livelihood has been interpreted to mean different things in different practices and translations and such. There is no ONE TRUE ANSWER. This is due to the individuality inherent in each and every one of us.
Right Livelihood for me is not necessarily right for you, too. We have different backgrounds, different moralities, unique personalities, and singular perspectives of the world. Going back to working as a debt collector, for example: If you feel that those who incur debt are morally obligated to repay it, and they are reaping what they have sewn in being sent to collections, then it may very well be the right livelihood for you.
Working smarter, not harder, means recognizing what is good for you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Being mindful of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions will lead you to see how to work smarter rather than harder.
Finally, this does not only apply to the job you have. Anything that you do, any action that you take, can be impacted by choosing to work smarter rather than harder at it. Being aware of this and using mindfulness can go a long ways towards all kinds of more powerful, useful actions that can better your life.
Working smarter, rather than harder, in any capacity potentially opens you up to all sorts of useful options. How exciting is that prospect?