Work Smarter, Not Harder

My thinking around hard work has been challenged significantly the last couple months. We hear phrases like, “Hard work got me here.” or “I made it hear because I worked hard.” Although hard work is important, I realize now more than ever it is vital to work smarter, not harder.

Hard work is important, but we reach a point where everyone works hard. Everyone puts in the training sessions or the hours in the office. Hard work is mandatory to be successful, but when everyone puts in 50 hours/week in the office, there must be other factors that separate the high performers from the rest.

Steve Magness shared a Twitter thread that looked at the influence of hard work and performance. In a study of deliberate practice (i.e. focused, intense work) compared to performance, deliberate practice explained the following variance % among different activities:

  • Games: 24%
  • Music: 23%
  • Sport: 20%
  • Education: 5%
  • Business: 1%

Aka: hard work can have a significant impact in games, music, and sports, but it doesn’t cause much separation in business. When evaluated further, only 1% of athletic performance among elite athletes came from deliberate practice. Hard work makes a big difference in youth and high school sports, but not much at elite collegiate and professional levels. Everyone works hard at elite levels, so it is often not the sole reason for a successful team or season.

I put in hours of rehab and cross training during my collegiate career just to complete a whopping 4 cross country and 3 track races. I worked harder than most of my teammates just to get one surgery after another. I wish I could say that my hard work paid off and I came back to help lead Lipscomb to a conference championship, but that is far from reality. There were many runners who were luckier with injuries and far more talented than I ever was.

We hear the stories of the athletes and entrepreneurs who were down and work their way back to the top, but we ignore the stories of individuals who spend years working just as hard without the success. Hard work isn’t the only thing that gets someone to the top. Talent, coaching, game/race strategy, training plans, and other factors separate elite athletes, businesses, and teams.

I challenge you to notice ways that you and your team separate from the competition. Notice talent, culture, and training plans. Notice the focus on mental health and recovery. The ways you and your team operate smarter are the reasons that separate you from everyone else. Don’t use hard work as a blanket reason for success because everyone is working hard at the top.

Work smarter, not harder.

I appreciate you.


This is a break from the excerpts of my upcoming book, Speak Up. Stay tuned for more updates with a launch coming later this summer.

Check out Steve Magness’ Twitter thread here:

1 thought on “Work Smarter, Not Harder

  1. SO TRUE! Thanks for your insight. Now to figure out how to work smarter this week;)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close