Work hard and work smart

We always talk about working hard, assuming hard work equals good results. And in most cases, this is true. But what if we treat “hard work” as a baseline, and try adding in “smart”? With this move, we lay the foundation for a productivity boost for ourselves and for our organizations.

When I was a youngster, I mowed the family lawn with a manual reel mower; in other words, I was the motor. This was hard, physical labor that got even harder when I took on the job of mowing a neighbor’s lawn. At this point, the smart move was to upgrade to a power mower which, lucky for me, my Dad agreed to finance. With the right equipment in hand, I could mow half-a-dozen lawns and by doing so, I paid off my debt during that first summer. In this case, the smart move involved an investment and a small amount of risk, but the reward was clear.

Still, I don’t believe we should ever rush to be too satisfied with our performance. I like to say: “If it ain’t broke, let’s break it and make it better!”. When we approach our work with a willingness to accept assessment and suggestions for improvement, we are priming ourselves to discover a better way. A smarter way. That kind of thinking can put us on a path toward perpetual improvement in everything we do.

I was on a vacation tour recently that involved multiple buses of tourists visiting the same two venues simultaneously, allowing for uncomfortable overcrowding for all parties. I suggested to the tour guide that things would be much smoother if we staggered our visits – one group at Venue A, the second group at Venue B, followed by a switch. To my mind, such a set-up would result in the same time elapsed, same mileage clocked, but better customer experience overall. As it turns out, our guide had made the same suggestion to her boss several times and been turned down. Leaders should remember that those closest to the work usually have the best suggestions for making it smarter.

In my time with Tractor Supply, I’ll bet that 90% of the ideas for new products and product improvements came from team members inside the stores. By listening and collecting those ideas, an organization prepares itself to work smart. I vividly remember the feedback I would receive from store employees about new product instruction manuals that, in many cases, proved impossible to understand. The short-term solution would be to encourage an employee to keep reading, to plow through it over and over until maybe they figure it out. Our smart approach was to push back through the right channels to get manuals re-written so that they can be understood by anybody on the first try!

I have a challenge for everybody. At the end of the working day, set aside ten minutes to reflect on the day’s work. Ask yourself: “what did I accomplish today?” Dissect the day task-by-task and think about which of those tasks could be simplified, or maybe even eliminated. You might be able to streamline some tasks right there and then, while others may need to be pushed up the ladder. Either way, you will have taken the right first step toward working smarter.

The more efficient our business, the more everyone involved will grow and prosper. Ideas for smarter work can come from any member of the team, no matter their rank or department. So, I encourage you to start every day with this reminder: “I can make a difference.”


published Nashville Business Journal

Show More


  1. Excellent article! Great ideas come from all different types of people. It’s a shame that some companies devalue their own employees who can bring so much value.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button