The big difference between smart work and hard work

The big difference between smart work and hard work

The idea that you should work smarter, not only harder isn’t anything new. When talking about the difference between smart and hard work it’s pretty simple to explain what working hard means. If you want to be successful in the long run, you have to put long hours into work. You have to start early, before all other people, and you have to stay up late, when everyone else is already enjoying their afternoons and evenings.

On the other hand, it’s really hard to find very clear guidelines on what working smart really means and how it’s different from hard work. It’s very obvious that even if you’re determined that nobody will outwork you, you still have maximum limits regarding working hours that you reach pretty fast; and there’s always someone who’s willing to sleep less than you. On top of that, many people work hard, but only a few become really successful. That’s because smart work is what makes the difference.

As already mentioned, there are some vague ideas out there about what smart work probably means, but this topic is far from analyzed properly, especially if you’d like to really implement some practical advice for becoming a smarter worker and outperforming others with smart work, not only by investing into long hours, hoping that you will get a streak of good luck some day. Let’s put an end to this.

I’ve been analyzing and observing people who work hard for more than a decade. It always amazed me why some people working hard got so much farther than others. One of the important reasons is, of course, smart work, but what I’ve found out is that most people who are working smart didn’t learn it. They do it intuitively, it’s part of their character, of who they are and how they were raised. Lucky them.

But what is really their secret that the others don’t know when getting down to work? Let’s look at the main elements of smart work, from the most obvious ones to the most concealed ones that fine tune smart work and can take your success level a step further. Below, you can find 30 elements of smart work. No smart worker has all of them, but the more elements you manage to implement into your working strategy and style, the smarter worker you will become.

  • From physical to creative work
  • Life management skills
  • Time management skills
  • Understanding the system and the territory you operate on
  • Knowing what you want
  • Being in the right industry
  • Providing scarce resources to markets with a high demand
  • Looking on the bright side of life
  • Carefully selecting the right opportunities
  • Thinking before acting
  • Exploiting the halo effect
  • Focusing on creating, delivering and capturing value
  • Innovating and being bold
  • Having control
  • Leveraging other people’s time
  • Leveraging other people’s money
  • Creating intellectual property or products, and unfair advantages
  • Standing on the shoulders of giants
  • Being proactive and having emotion control
  • Networking and asking for help
  • Putting yourself first
  • Considering limits
  • Hanging out with the best people possible
  • Building on your strengths
  • Keeping short-term and long-term perspective
  • Search, execution and politics
  • The right timing
  • Know when to cut your losses
  • Being agile and adaptable
  • Prestige: Giving back to the community

This post is long, but one element of smart work is knowing when to take time and focus yourself on acquiring and implementing new important knowledge that can unlock your potential and make you much more successful in many areas of life. So make sure you take the time to read the full article. If you don't have that much time, you can read the summary I have posted on LinkedIn: 

Work hard and smart

From physical to creative work

Nowadays, the first element of smart work is self-evident. We live in a post-information age, where the future belongs to the creative class, people who follow environmental values of rapid technological development, higher education (formal or informal), tolerance, transparency and meaningful work. In a creative society, where brains are respected, physical work has low value.

If you want to work smart, you have to be smart. If you want to create value in the creative society, your brain muscle must be as strong as possible. You have to constantly train your brain muscle and challenge it to new levels; both the analytical and the creative part of your brain are very important.

Training your brain muscle doesn’t mean being only formally educated. Universities, slowly adaptable organizations, are unfortunately way behind market trends in most cases. Whether formal education makes sense completely depends from person to person (costs, desired occupation etc.), but no matter what you decide, the key thing is to get skilled up and acquire as much practical knowledge as possible.

Smart workers take really good care of their competences. They read, develop street smarts and make sure they become extremely resourceful. They invest massively into developing useful and practical knowledge and abilities.

I like the quote that you can never be overpaid, overdressed and overeducated.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Acquire really good domain knowledge through formal (if it makes sense) or informal education.
  • Get the optimal formal level of education depending on your personality, resources and goals.
  • Don’t see formal education as just getting a paper but see your university as a center of knowledge and smart people; see it as an opportunity to build a strong network and to become an expert in a certain domain.
  • Constantly train your creative mind by writing down ideas, art, music etc.
  • Train your analytical mind by doing mind-maps, analyzing different subjects etc.
  • Constantly read different things and try to connect them in new ways.
  • Become really good with technology.
  • Learn how to think for yourself and question everything.
  • Never stop acquiring knowledge and stay curious.
  • Know your tools and be good with technology. Technology is a big leverage to work smarter.

Life management skills

Being educated, intellectually skillful and a creative worker is only one part of the smart work equation. The second one is having life management skills. Being smart and educated doesn’t correlate with making good life choices at all. Developing life management skills early in life does.

If you want to be well off financially, you need to have good money management skills, no matter how much you earn. If you want to work smart, you need to be in good health, regularly take care of your body with exercise and diet. If you want to be happy and feel secure, you need to have the capacity for loving yourself and others, and finding the right spouse that supports you on your journey and vice versa.

Those are all skills you don’t learn at school. Unfortunately, you can’t even learn these valuable skills from your parents and siblings in most cases. Because they’re so rare. Not many people know how to work smart and how to manage their lives properly. Luckily with an internet connection and smart people sharing their knowledge, you have access to all the information you need for developing life management skills.  Life is not a rehearsal, you need to get it right the first time.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Learn how to manage money and get financially educated (how to invest, earn extra income…)
  • Take care of your body with regular exercise and diet.
  • Develop a capacity for love and build deep connections with your family, intimate partner and friends. With deep connections, you feel stronger inner security and feelings of happiness, which leads to being more optimistic in life and handling stress better as well as making smarter decisions.
  • Carefully choose your spouse, it’s probably the most important decision of your life.

Time management skills

One very important life management skill is time management. Smart workers are very well aware that time is their most precious resource they have. They value their time the most in life. Thus smart workers learn how to manage their time wisely.

If you want to learn how to manage your time properly, simply read the best time management guide ever and you’ll become a much smarter worker very fast, just by implementing a few time management techniques. Here’s also a short summary of how to manage your time so that you can work smarter:

  • Eliminate most distractions from your life so that you can work productively while the flow.
  • Learn how to deal with procrastination.
  • 20 % of the most important tasks lead to 80 % of progress. Focus on that 20 %.
  • Don’t let urgent tasks get in the way of your important tasks.
  • Don’t spend your time on tasks that only give you a false feeling of productivity, like e-mails or meetings or social networking.
  • Don’t multitask, and have different to-do lists (daily 3, master to-do list, not to-do list etc.).
  • Manage your energy, not only your time, and know your limits.
  • Organize your environment so it supports your productivity (clean desk etc.).
  • Be minimalist and practice asset-light living.
  • Know your biorhythm.
  • Use two screens and productivity apps.
  • Focus on solutions, not on problems.
  • Have a growth mindset and keep improving yourself.
  • Visualize as many things as possible with Kanban boards.
  • Automate, delegate, outsource and optimize as much as possible.
  • Introduce a no-interruptions day into your life.
  • Don’t forget to sharpen the saw and to put down the saw.

Understanding the system – the territory you operate on

You are nothing but a biological system operating in bigger social systems and systems run by Mother Nature and the universe. The better you understand the systems you operate in, the better your capacity to manipulate it and take it to your advantage (in a positive way). Smart people do that, they have no emotional hindrance in doing that, as long as its’ legal and moral, of course.

Let me give you an example. Many entrepreneurs want to raise money from business angels and venture capital funds, but only 2 out of 100 succeed. Many entrepreneurs who do raise venture capital usually first understand the system really well. They understand how venture capital funds work, how business angels operate, when and how much they can investors invest and into which industries and stages. They do due diligence on investors, prepare awesome investment materials, and talk to investors when they have traction to show. They try to get in contact with an investor via an introduction from someone whom investors respect. Understanding the system helps them have a much higher probability of raising money as well as closing the deal more quickly. Entrepreneurs who don’t understand the system go from conference to conference pitching only their ideas with no traction and without even knowing who will be there. They have no clue who they’re speaking with when they network, how term sheets usually look like, and so on. They can work hard, but they’re definitely not smart workers. Knowing your territory gives you a really big advantage in life.

It’s no different in other areas of life. Everything is some kind of a system. Education, healthcare, politics, financial markets, taxes, startups, big companies, dating etc. To make better decisions, you can analyze almost everything in life as a system. The better you understand the system, the smarter you can work, because you can make better decisions. There is of course a very thin line before exploiting a system backfires, so you have to be really smart about it and know your short-term and long-term risks. But that’s what being a smart worker means.

What do smart workers do differently than hard workers?

  • They understand systems and thus know how to get to their goal faster and cheaper.
  • They have no problem with manipulating the system to their own advantage, as long as it’s legal and moral or, in other words, if it doesn’t damage their integrity.
  • Sometimes smart workers even modify social systems so that they have much stronger support for their goals.
  • Where to draw a moral line when manipulating the system is up to every individual, but I suggest keeping integrity and strong moral values at all costs. You have to be wise about when to take a shortcut and when not.
  • Look for systems that support talent, technology, tolerance, transparency and transcendence or, even more, think of environments and systems that can help you flourish the most.

Knowing what you want

There’s one big difference between really successful and unsuccessful or mildly successful individuals. Really successful people know what they want. They have a very clear picture of their desired final outcome or endgame from the very beginning. That also goes for smart workers. Because they know what they want, they can build their strategy much more easily and make better choices in the process. You can’t work smart if you don’t know what you want.

Smart workers know what they want and they fight for it with much more than just hard work. They have a strategy. Hard workers have a vague idea of what they want and consequently don’t take the best decisions or they simply hope that hard work will pay off. Well, sometimes it does, but many times it doesn’t. You must know very clearly why you work hard and, even more than that, you have to analyze what the most optimal way to achieve your endgame is. Smart workers think before they act.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Know your endgame, the desired final outcome, have a clear picture of what you really want.
  • Think about how to achieve that with the least amount of effort possible in a legal and moral way.
  • Don’t just work hard, know what you’re working hard for.
  • Always think, and listen to yourself before you act. Get to know yourself.

Being in the right industry

The cruel fact of capitalism is that markets always win. Markets are the one thing that can put your career on the fast track or destroy it in the blink of an eye. Governments try to somehow limit the influence and extension of market volatility and the damage it can do in a single stroke, but if we want markets to work properly, they can only be regulated to a certain extent. Thus market trends will have a big influence on your success rate.

People operating in the right markets (industries) are exposed to more business opportunities, can earn a lot more money more quickly, have a more optimistic outlook on the future and a positive sentiment regarding their work.  A rising tide lifts all boats. The right markets are stable markets with high growth and good long-term perspective. On the other hand, if you find yourself on the wrong market, a market that’s in decline, has stiff competition and a negative future outlook, there are fewer and fewer opportunities, the probability of losing your job or business clients is much higher, and the depressed markets carry over their depression to you sooner or later.

Smart work means choosing the right industry. Smart work means not choosing the industry and markets you will operate in based only on your interests, talents, hobbies, family tradition and the field you’d like to study in, but analytically choosing the industry that’s interesting for you and where you can definitely create and deliver value. It’s probably much better to be an average worker in a good industry than a top performer on a lousy market.

The problem of the whole picture is that changing an industry is a pain in the ass. When you want to change an industry, you don’t have enough domain knowledge, you don’t have a social network in that area, and you have many wrong assumptions, which leads to different disappointments you have to cope with when you enter a new industry. You can choose the industry you’ll operate in only a few times in your lifetime, and if you want to work smart, you should choose it very carefully.

Of course lucky people find themselves in the right industries by default. But you also have many smart people who make a conscious decision for the industry they’ll operate in as part of their life strategy. They don’t want to just work hard, they also want to get as much output out of their work as possible, and they understand that to get maximum output, you have to choose the right industry.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Choose your industry and the markets you operate in very carefully.
  • Read all the predictions and trends for your industry, understand where it’s headed.
  • Find micro niches in your chosen industry that have the potential to grow fast and get big in the future, and strategically focus on those.
  • Wait for the right opportunity with low risk and a massive potential reward.
  • Have a system for red-flags that indicate markets going down, and react quickly.
  • Remember that timing is everything – on the markets, in the relationships and in any other situation

Know what you want

Providing scarce resources to markets with a high demand

Being a smart worker means putting yourself in a position where you’re exposed to many options and opportunities. Options and opportunities mean freedom and faster promotion or more clients and, consequently, more value added and more money. The best way to do that is to own competences that are in great demand but in very short supply. People who combine the right markets with the right competences are the winners.

Here’s the magical combination that smart workers understand very well:

  • Finding niche markets that have potential for exponential growth and getting really big.
  • Developing competences that are in big demand on those markets but short of supply.

There are a few options for how to do that. You can either acquire domain expertise that requires a lot of effort to master, like for example becoming a top programmer or engineer. There are many low-level skills programmers on the market, but really good programmers are a very precious resource. A good engineer in biotech, alternative energy, fintech and other perspective industries will always find numerous options.

The second option is developing really valuable business skills. There’s a flood of economists and MBAs on the market, but there’s always a job or a business opportunity for people who excel in sales, internet marketing, leadership etc. But as it was already mentioned, you have to be really good. The third option is developing any of your special talents that are really valuable on the market, like pop music, digital design, entrepreneurship and innovating, being a top-tier doctor or lawyer or pharmacist etc.

Whatever you do, remember that you have to become really good at it. In capitalism, a few people reap most of the rewards. 20 % of the best get 80 % of the rewards. So smart workers make sure they become the best in what they’ve chosen as their career.

That’s why smart workers don’t just go where life leads them. They think about their talents and their skills, and they develop the ones that provide the most value to the market. Any one of us has so many options for what to develop and what to do in life, but if you are a smart worker you will go for the talents that are in great demand and there’s a short supply of on the right market.

You want to work smarter?

  • List all your talents that you could develop and there is a big demand of on the market with a very scarce supply. If you have a hard time doing that, list all the talents you have and then rate supply and demand for all of them on a scale from one to ten.
  • Think about which of the talents, competences and skills you’re currently developing are low-level skills and many other people can provide them for a very cheap price. Build a strategy for how you can stop doing these low-level activities and focus on the work that brings a much higer value added.
  • Test your value on the market from time to time. Try to get a new job offer or a better client that will pay more. You’re always on the market and you have to always know where you stand.

Looking on the bright side of life

One very important component of smart work is to always have a positive outlook on life, no matter how hard things are. Much like you can’t live a positive life with a negative mind, so you can’t be a smart worker with negative thinking and a pessimistic outlook. There’s a very simple reason why.

When you’re experiencing negative emotions, your creative and thinking horizon contracts. You focus all your cognitive power on whining, bitching and feeling sorry for yourself. As a consequence, you become blind to opportunities and ideas that would take you a step further. You start blocking yourself and every day, you let negative thinking and emotions cloud your judgment and prevent you from seeing all the opportunities. When you have a negative outlook on life, you simply start lagging behind.

There isn’t one single positive thing that can come out of negative thinking. Not for you, not for people around you, not for the society and not for the world. You may be critical in life, you must strive towards progress and fight for the better world, but you can only do that if you focus all your mental energy on solutions rather than problems.

Want to be a smarter worker?

  • Deal with your cognitive distortions and negative thinking
  • List down all the opportunities you have, no matter how difficult your situation is. There are always opportunities in your life, you just have to see them. There’s always a step you can make towards a better life and smarter work.
  • Ask yourself what the optimal thinking is in any difficult situation.
  • List all the ideas for how you could earn extra money.
  • Brainstorm for a few business ideas.
  • Stay positive and keep your mind open. Your mind is like a parachute, it only works if it’s open.

Carefully selecting the right opportunities

When you have a positive mindset, there’s another problem you have. You can drown in opportunities. Therefore smart workers very carefully select the opportunities they engage with. They have no problem saying no. They’re patient and wait for the one right thing with low risk and massive potential return. It’s called value investing and, as mentioned, your time is the most precious resource you can invest.

Your energy and resources are very limited, thus as a smart worker you have to choose your battles very carefully. If you say yes to everything, you burn out sooner or later. A burnt-out worker is not a smart worker. Smart workers learn to say no very early in life.

Want to be a smarter worker?

  • Your default answer to everything should be no. Then you should carefully think about what could go right if you engage in the opportunity, what could go wrong, how much of your resources you have to invest, what are other risks and what is the maximum reward or potential return on your investment, if you want. In other words, you have to think like an investor about every opportunity you follow in life.
  • Smart workers think like investors for every single dollar they own and for every single second they have in life.

Thinking and researching before acting

Hard workers just do work, because they were told to do something or because they need to escape the hard facts of life or they feel more important when working or whatever other emotional reason there is. Smart workers always think before they act – for every single activity they analyze: “Why  am I doing this, how much of my resources will it take, what will be the rewards, what is the optimal way to do the job, which tools can help speed up the process,” and so on.

Smart workers are proactive not reactive, when a new task potentially lands on their to-do list. In a very similar way, they always analyze what the best way to complete a specific task is, and they stay flexible with tactics. Smart workers are aware that every hour of planning can save many hours in execution.

For example, let’s take a task that involves other people. Smart workers will take the time to properly analyze all the people involved, their relationships and the whole system to find the best possible way to achieve the goal. They’ll do background check on people, they’ll adjust their rhetoric so that it will be more familiar to the other person, they’ll gather all the necessary information to see who is an influencer, who a decision-maker etc. They’ll invest extra hours into preparation so they can achieve their goal faster when in action.

Smart workers are aware that good preparation and staying flexible in the process can save a ton of work later. Fewer meetings later on, fewer communication noises, more respect because of the preparation and so on. As mentioned before, smart people choose very carefully when to say yes , but when they do say yes, they make sure to execute with surgical precision.

If you want to upgrade your hard work with smart work:

  • Say yes to fewer things, but when you do say yes, fully commit. Always think, analyze and make a strategy before you act. Be more than a hundred percent prepared. Then prepare yourself even more. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
  • Always under-promise and over-deliver, and manage expectations properly.

Exploiting the halo effect

In psychology, there is a thing called the halo effect. It means that we ascribe better personality traits to people who excel at something, even if those traits don’t really exist. For example, we assume that beautiful people are more competent or have better character than others. I know it’s not fair, but that’s the reality. Smart people take reality as it is, they aren’t soft and naïve or live in illusions, and thus they take advantage of the halo effect many times, often without even being aware of it.

You don’t have to be beautiful to take advantage of the halo effect. Exceling at something and taking care of your appearance is enough. First of all: if you take care of your own image, if you dress well and are groomed well, people will respect you more. An even better strategy is to really excel at something, like public speaking, negotiating or being a top specialist in something.

People will also be more likely to work with you if you excel at something, because the halo effect comes into play. But that’s not the only reason why smart people take care of their appearance and want to excel at many things. You’re more self-confident if you excel at something and take care of yourself, you value yourself more, have a better self-image and consequently you become a better performer.

  • Excel at something and make sure people know it. On second thought, excel at a few things.
  • Have your own style and take good care of yourself. As mentioned before, you can never be overdressed, over-educated and overpaid.
  • Value yourself and be aware that you deserve the best.
  • As a smart worker, aim for the best and be the best.

Focusing on creating, delivering and capturing value

As we’ve already covered, an important part of smart work is putting a time management system in place. If you manage your time poorly, you will definitely be poor. Being organized and having a good management system improves your capacity for hard and smart work, but the bottom line of time management is to achieve a totally new level of productivity by being brutally focused on creating, delivering and capturing value. That’s what smart workers understand the most.

Smart work means understanding that there are only three activities that are really important for maximizing your life results. The first one is creating value (innovating), the second one is delivering value (marketing) and the third one is capturing value (invoicing). Because in the end, if there’s no money, there’s no value.

An average worker and even a hard worker usually have a very poor system of task prioritization in place. They want all work to be done. Smart workers, on the other hand, don’t bother with most of the work they “should” do, but focus only on the tasks that bring the biggest long-term impact. Those are always the things connected with creating, delivering and capturing value. Everything else is a waste.

If you want to be a smart worker, do only things that:

  • Create value (innovate and solve problems that people are prepared to pay for).
  • Deliver value (let people know what you can deliver and deliver it).
  • Know how to capture your value (negotiate everything, be aware that no money means no value).
  • Focus 80 % of your time exclusively to the important tasks, and outsource and delegate the rest.
  • Smart workers really focus on a few key things. You should do it too.

Life is chess

Innovating and being bold

Let’s now focus more on creating and delivering value, because that is one thing that smart workers understand really well. Innovation distinguishes leaders from followers. Smart workers always innovate somehow. They always try to improve and find new ways to do things. They doubt everything and are aware that there are no best practices and how things should be done. Because things can always be done faster, better and more efficiently.

As I already mentioned, hard workers don’t think enough, and an important part of thinking things through concerns doing things differently and better. I haven’t seen a single really successful person that hasn’t innovated in some way, be it in terms of creating, delivering or capturing value. Delivering value efficiently also means being bold in marketing oneself. Smart workers make sure that superiors, clients and other people know what kind of value they can provide. They have no problem with selling or negotiating and public speaking. You can’t be a smart worker if you only sit quietly and work hard. As mentioned many times before, it isn’t enough.

If you want to be a smarter worker:

  • Every day, write down 20 ideas for how you can create and deliver more value.
  • Always stay hungry, stay foolish.
  • Constantly innovate and question everything. Ask yourself the hardest possible questions.
  • Have no problem with marketing yourself and your skills.


Now we have come to two very important elements of smart work. One is leverage (time, money) and the other is control. Smart people are very well aware that in order to work smart, you need control. As much control as possible. After (or even before) creating and delivering value, you have to make sure that as a smart worker, you have control over the situation and can capture the most value possible without any intermediates (for example rather be an entrepreneur or boss than rather just an employee).

That is why most smart workers are entrepreneurs, managers and all other types of leaders. Smart workers want to get to the top of the value chain as soon as possible. If you have control, you can do things your way and if you are a smart worker, you make sure that your way is the right way. Because you prepared yourself, you innovated, you’ve taken a big step further than all other people on the same path.

If you want to be a smart worker you need to have as much control as possible, first over yourself, your emotions and your decisions, then by using legal entities, formal power and other unfair advantages. If you don’t take complete control over your life, your potential choices are much more limited, and so is your possibility to work smarter.

In order to have more options for smart work:

  • Take complete control of your life. Choice is the most powerful control you have in life. Use it wisely.
  • Try to gain as much formal power as possible (combining it with informal power).
  • Consider doing business by using your own legal entities.
  • If you don’t control your systems, your money tree, your brand, you control nothing.

Let me quote DJ Demarco from the book The Millionaire Fastlane, regarding control in your business. The same should be in all other areas of your life, if you want to work smart.

When you control your business, you control everything in your business – your organization, your products, your pricing, your revenue model and your operational choices. If you can’t control every aspect of your company, you’re not driving. And if you can’t drive, you set yourself up for sudden, unexpected crashes.

  • Drivers create MLM companies; they don’t join them.
  • Drivers sell franchises; they don’t buy them.
  • Drivers offer affiliate programs; they don’t join them.
  • Drivers run hedge funds; they don’t invest in them.
  • Drivers sell stock; they don’t buy it.
  • Drivers offer drop-shipping; they don’t use drop-shipping.
  • Drivers offer employment; they don’t get employed.
  • Drivers accept rents and royalties; they don’t pay rents and loyalties.
  • Drivers sell licenses; they don’t buy them.
  • Drivers sell IPO shares; they don’t buy them.

Smart work means always being aware that you have total control over your life and every situation you face. You can always say no and you can always walk away. If you work smart, you know that there are many opportunities and you have to carefully choose the ones where you have a big upside potential and even more control, especially over the cash-flow.

Leveraging other people’s time

Doing everything by yourself, especially because you do everything so much better than others, is the biggest enemy of smart work. With a mindset like that you never focus yourself on creating and delivering the biggest value, but on your perfectionist mindset that only forces you to work harder, not smarter. Never forget that perfectionism is one of unproductive cognitive distortions.

If you want to work smart, you have to learn how to delegate. You have to see other people’s time as an infinite resource you can engage, assuming you know how to inspire, motivate and lead people or have enough money to pay them well. Anyway, smart work always comprehends leveraging other people’s time, whether you work in a startup, big company or non-profit organization.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Use the formula: Delete if it’s not connected to creating, delivering or capturing value. Delegate if someone else can do it. Do it, but only if it’s the task with the biggest impact on your future success. There should be a big filter before anything lands on your to-do list.
  • Focus yourself only on tasks and activities that create the most value.
  • If someone else can do it, think about to whom you can delegate it.
  • Value your time as the most important thing in the world.
  • Think about outsourcing anything that costs less than you can make per hour (laundry, home chores, administration etc.).

Leveraging other people’s money

Much like you can leverage other people’s time, so you can leverage other people’s money. There’s so much money in the world, sitting in bank accounts and waiting to be engaged for supporting outstanding ideas, talented people and important missions. Around $ 60 trillion exists in the world. That’s 60 million millions. You can definitely leverage some of that money.

People who work smart go into the industry where lots of money is in circulation, so they can leverage that money and create wealth for themselves. Smart workers leverage other people’s money with their innovative ideas, knowledge or know-how for making more money for themselves and others with other people's money.

If you want to work smart you have to be aware that there is too much money in the world, not too little. Smart workers have an abundance mindset. The only thing that can prevent you from leveraging other people’s money are your limiting beliefs. A mindset that puts you back to hard work, without being smart.

There’s a simple exercise you can do. Imagine yourself attracting 1 million $ for the best idea you have. How do you feel about that? If any negative thoughts pop up, like “I don’t deserve it”, “my ideas aren’t that good”, “what would I do with all that money” etc., then you have a subconscious problem with money and you won’t ever be able to work smarter by leveraging other people’s money.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Examine your beliefs about money very closely.
  • Be aware that there’s more money in the world than ideas for how to make a good return on it.
  • Think about whether you’re in the right industry that enables you to create wealth.
  • Constantly look for opportunities for how you could leverage other people’s money in an ethical way.
  • Don’t work hard for money, let money work hard for you.

Creating intellectual property or products, and unfair advantages

You have three types of income. The first one is called active income. It means you’re bartering your time for money. The more value you create per hour, the more you get paid. But still, you only have around 8 to 14 working hours. So you’re very limited and that only means limited value creation and trying to work hard for as many hours as possible in order to maximize your income. That isn’t smart, but hard work.

Smart workers are more focused on passive and portfolio income. That means that you do something one time and then that thing brings money into your pocket every month, whether you work or not. There are examples such as creating some kind of intellectual property (books, blog posts, YouTube videos etc.), products that people can buy (software, innovation etc.) or being an active investor (real estate, ETFs, businesses etc.).

Smart people don’t want to constantly work for money. They want to create value that can be delivered over a longer period of time. They strategically look for ways how they can put themselves in an unfair position on a certain market. Being in an unfair position, be it formally (being a boss, having a very beneficial contract etc.) or informally (having a certain type of skills, having access to information etc.), can help you a lot with working smart instead of hard. Nevertheless, when you look for that kind of unfair positions, be sure that you create value, not exploit other people.

Being a smart worker demands a completely different mindset than being a hard worker does. If you want to be a smart worker think about the following:

  • Brainstorm ideas for how you could not only work for money, but create a one-time value that would bring you a small percentage of income every month. You can start with 10 $ per month.
  • Think like an investor about everything you do with all of your resources like money, time etc. Calculate how much you will invest, the risks, the upside potential, your expectations. Calculate your ROI and think about other alternative investments you could make.
  • Closely examine if your mindset is blocking you with the belief that you have to work for money.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Smart workers have no problem in standing on the shoulders of giants. They have no problem in taking off and continuing work based on the good past performance of other people. The only criteria they have is in which position they can maximize their creation and delivery of value. Everything else is secondary. They have no problem in upgrading, updating and bringing to the next level the work of other people. Sometimes they even steal ideas from other people, because they know they can create much more value with that idea than the ones they’ve stolen from.

Hard workers not only want to do everything by themselves, they also like to start working on different things from scratch, because they want to take all the possible credit. Consequently, hard workers are also afraid to share their ideas or work. They don’t see life as a playground, a team sport, a relay run, but rather as them being against the world. That’s how you can unnecessarily limit your potential. Smart workers are different. Smart workers like to share, network, learn from others, have no ego problem that would prevent them from continuing work that someone else has begun, but they also know when and where to take credit and keep control.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Go for the best knowledge there is and implement it into your own life.
  • Look for opportunities where the work that was already done can be leverage for your value creation.
  • Share, play, test, be a team worker and stand on the shoulders of giants.
  • You can borrow, recreate or even steal other ideas if it helps you with value creation.
  • Know critical points where you have to keep control or take credit.
  • Get a mentor, join a dream team etc.

Think before you act

Proactivity and emotion control

Smart workers are proactive, hard workers are reactive. Hard workers feel insecure, are afraid that they will offend someone, miss an opportunity or that someone will take advantage of them if they don’t work hard in silence. Thus they do work hard in silence but are disappointed when somebody else that has been working hard and smart is promoted.

Smart workers are much more strategic and proactive. They analyze their situation and environment, they adjust their communication to a specific situation, they form alliances with key people in the environment, and they make decisions much more rationally, because they trust in themselves. Smart workers don’t operate out of fear, like hard workers usually do, but see themselves much more like generals than only hard working solders.

If you want to be a smart worker you need to know how to manage your thoughts and emotions:

  • Deal with your cognitive distortions that also cause many negative emotions.
  • Learn to manage your emotions. If you don't know how to manage your emotions you are reactive, if you do, you can be proactive.
  • Don’t just work hard because you’re afraid of life or you need an escape from reality, instead learn how to manage your emotions and work smart.
  • Follow your progress, not your passion (as an extreme emotion).
  • Be a general, thinking strategically, not only a warrior, working hard.

Networking and asking for help

Smart workers are very well aware that leveraging other people’s time is not the only way to work smarter, you also need help from all kinds of different people that are socially better positioned than you are. Smart workers know very well that one right person in the phone-book can save you years of hard work. That’s why they become excellent networkers, with sniper-precise targeting when it comes to why they network and with whom, all to maximize their value creation.

Smart workers also have no problem with asking for help. They know that most people love to help others. Thus they have no problem with asking for help and helping others. Still, they prefer money transactions, if possible, instead of favors. “No money, no value” is the saying of smart workers (smart workers still decide to give back to the community). And another thing to add: smart workers are never afraid of rejections, because they trust in themselves. Sooner or later, every no only leads to yes.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Trust in yourself and be aware that you cannot make it on your own. You need help from others.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Become a really good networker, but network as a sniper, not with everyone who crosses your path.
  • Prefer money transactions, as no money means no value created.

Putting yourself first, but not being an asshole

Smart workers know that putting themselves first also means doing the best for the community. Putting yourself first doesn’t mean that you become an asshole and exploit people, it only means that you’re aware of the fact that if you want to help others and share something with the community, you need to have that thing you want to share first. Usually in an abundance.

Smart workers are aware that the more power and money they have, the more influence they have on the world and the more they can do for the community as well. The more money you have, the more you can give. The healthier you look and live, the stronger your influence on people who’ll have a good example for how to take care of their health. Smart workers are aware that the most they can do for world peace is to love their family. Smart workers know that emotional security and strength come from trusting themselves, having deep and loving relationships, and that means putting yourself first.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • You need strong foundations in good health, a sound financial position and deep relationships with many people.
  • Always remember the lesson from airplane safety regulations: in case of emergency, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then you help others, even your own kids.
  • There is a thin line between putting yourself first and being an asshole. Really smart workers are not assholes and exploiters. They show respect to all people. When you go up in life, it matters how you treat people, because you meet them again on your way down. Smart workers aren’t naïve, they aren’t soft, but they respect others.
  • The more you have, the more you can give. Always be a giver. Draw a line for how much you can give (of your time and money), your minimums and maximums, and then stick to it.

Considering limits

Smart workers know how to set limits. They put a lot of thought into their minimums and maximums, and know how to maximize value creation and quality of life. They know how to set limits in their own life and with other people. They aren’t afraid to speak up and even set very strict limits with their bosses, clients, superiors and even family.

Hard workers usually try to please everybody as much as possible. Ironically, nobody is really satisfied in the end. Smart workers are aware of that and thus they set limits early when building new relationships. They also know how to set limits for themselves. For example, what is the minimum of exercise every week, what is the maximum for spending and the minimum for donating, what is the optimal amount of time for hanging out and socializing, and so on.

One way of considering limits in your life to work smarter is also what kind of tasks and projects you undertake. Which opportunities you say yes to, as we were discussing before. You can have, for example, a minimum for how complex and big a project must be and how much value must be created from your side, before you even consider it.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Have very clear limits with people you engage with in life, even with your superiors.
  • Have very strict limits about your own resources. Never get too emotional and start wasting your time (being afraid to say no) or money (impulse purchases, for example).
  • You can set limits for the minimums in projects you undertake (complexity, payment etc.)

Hanging out with the best people possible

This one is a no-brainer, but smart people stick to it very strictly. You’re the average of five people you spend most of your time with. Smart workers are very aware that they have to hang out with people who are on the way of achieving or have already achieved what they want to achieve. Smart workers want to hang out with people who are smarter than them and who are superior in some way; then they want learn as much as possible. Smart people very carefully choose who they spend time with.

Hard workers, on the other hand, are afraid of people who are better than them. They’re afraid to ask their boss to go for a drink. They compensate for their fear by working hard and hoping that someone will notice them. That’s not how things work. You have to be proactive, not reactive, if you want to be a smart worker; that also includes very carefully choosing who you will spend time with.

If you want to be a smart worker:

  • Spend time with people who motivate you and who you can learn from.
  • Don’t be afraid to socialize with people who are smarter, better than you or superior to you.
  • Cut out of your life all the people who are dragging you down or have a bad influence on you.
  • Focus spending quality time with a few people who bring the most value to your life and vice versa.

Building on your strengths

Smart people work on their strengths and develop their talents to the level that they really excel. It helps them with the previously mentioned halo effect and to stand out from the crowd. But on the other hand, they also very carefully take their weaknesses into consideration.

They split their weaknesses into two categories. The first category are all the weaknesses that don’t even matter, and they simply forget about them. These are the weaknesses that have zero contribution to maximizing value creation and the quality of life. Who cares if you don’t know how to dance ballet.

The second type of weaknesses are the ones that you have to abolish; some of them only to a certain level, others completely. Abolishing one of your weaknesses can make a big difference for your success.

Many times, working smarter means focusing yourself on building up a few of your strengths and abolishing one weakness that really drags you down. An alternative thing that smart workers do is to find a team of people who substitute that one or several big weakness they have.

Hard workers don’t build on their strengths. They’re usually afraid to shine and excel and stand out for something, except for hard work, of course. They only hope very deeply that hard work will speak out loud instead of them. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Many times, hard workers only compensate with hard work to hide their weaknesses. Smart workers, on the other hand, think of how to abolish the weaknesses or substitute them with other people, while shining with their strengths.

For working smarter, consider the following:

  • Do your personal SWOT analysis, assessing you strengths and weaknesses.
  • Focus on developing your strengths to the point where you will really shine and stand out.
  • List all the weaknesses you can forget about and then actually do it.
  • Decide which of your weaknesses you’ll substitute with teammates and coworkers.
  • Decide which of your weaknesses you’ll develop to the minimally acceptable level.
  • Decide which of your weaknesses you’ll develop into your strengths by investing an insane amount of resources into leveling up your game. Just because that one thing drags you down.

Short-term and long-term perspective

Hard workers can only focus on either a short-term or a long-term perspective. They either focus on instant gain, for example working hard for a few days to reap the reward, or they focus in the long-term, sacrificing many mini benefits and rewards they could reap along the way. The problem with both is that this doesn’t lead to long-term maximization of created, delivered and captured value.

Smart people are focused on both. First they ask themselves what kind of long-term consequences each action they take will have on their lives. Smart workers never fail to consider where their decisions are taking them in the long-term and whether the chosen path leads to unfair advantages and superior positions in future life. But by having that long-term goal in mind, they also consider the short-term perspective. They don’t have a problem in going after the low-hanging fruit and reaping small rewards along the way that motivate them even more on their way to the final outcome.

If you want to work smarter:

  • Remember that with time, the hard road becomes easy and the easy road becomes hard. Thus you always need to have a long-term perspective in mind. You must resist instant gratification, especially when it comes to spending your resources. Many times, sacrificing instant gain is the best way for an unfair position in the long run.
  • Smart workers know that they have to build a strong foundation first. That’s why they usually start with the basics and small steps, and then they consistently follow their goals day by day. Smart workers don’t look for overnight success that would be built on fragile or questionable foundations. That’s why they always pay attention to strong foundations, however with smart work they always think about how to achieve their goals as fast as possible in a healthy way.
  • While doing that, you mustn’t forget about the present and your short-term position. You have to go after the low-hanging fruit, you have to reward yourself (or make sure others do) for every small success. Smart workers celebrate small wins.

Search, execution and politics

Smart workers understand that first, they have to find a place where they can shine. They search for their perfect fit before they commit, be it at the work place or in a relationship.

When they find their fit, they start executing. Smart workers are very well aware of how important outstanding execution is after finding the right fit, especially in the beginning. Smart workers see themselves as executives and always deliver measurable results.

Nevertheless smart workers also understand that the higher they get on the social ladder, the more politics comes into play – forming alliances, building organization structure, convincing people to follow certain agenda, enforcing specific values etc. Smart workers are not afraid of politics when they come to a certain level in the organizational structure, but they use politics in as positive way as possible.

  • First find your perfect fit where you can shine and blossom – the right company, the right spouse, the right friends, the right mentor.
  • When you commit, execute perfectly. Under promise and over deliver.
  • Many executives usually suck at politics. But the higher status you have, the more politics comes into place. It's a skill you can learn.

The right timing

Smart workers understand that timing is everything. They have empathy for the environment and other people, and so they know very well when to speak up and when to shut up. We’re all emotional, not rational beings. Talking to someone who’s in a bad mood may bring a significantly different outcome than when they’re in a good mood. Same goes for markets.

  • You have to manage your emotions to get the timing right. You must develop empathy and be patient.
  • Aim for perfect timing.

Know when to cut your losses

Smart workers definitely spend a lot more time analyzing, thinking, innovating, creating, focusing, optimizing, automating and leveraging. Still, they often make wrong decisions and commit their hard work to the wrong things. But in the same moment, smart workers realize they’re digging in the wrong direction, they cut their losses and move on. Smart workers know that they will miss some shots that they will fail sometimes, it’s inevitable, but what’s more important is to cut your losses quickly when such an unfortunate situation happens. Smart workers fail fast.

Hard workers, on the other hand, have a hard time accepting failure. They think that working even harder may solve the problem. But if you’re digging the wrong hole, the only right solution is to stop digging and regroup, not dig even harder. That’s what hard workers rarely understand.

If you want to work smart:

  • Cut your losses when necessary. Fail fast. Don’t think that hard work can solve all problems; it can’t, the same way money can’t.

Being agile and adaptable

Last but not least, probably the most important quality of smart workers is that they’re always agile and adaptable. Hard workers hate change. They just want to work hard and when the circumstances change, they get lost and angry, especially when most of their work was for nothing. Environments have become too unstable, volatile and unpredictable to only work hard and hope for the best. On the other hand smart workers love change, because they know that every change brings new opportunities.

Today you really have to work smart (and hard) if you want to be successful. You have to be aware that your surroundings and situations are constantly changing. Smart workers constantly gather feedback from the environment and change their strategy every hour of every day, if necessary. They adapt and have no emotional attachment to their past hard work or to how they think things should be. Smart workers don’t live in their fantasy world or wishes, they accept reality as it is (or try to understand it as correctly as possible, if we assume that there’s no objective reality).

Smart workers know that they can’t piss against the wind. That’s why they’re constantly observing what’s happening to the wind and adjust their strategy and hard work to maximize value creation in a specific situation they encounter; a situation that can be totally different in the next moment, because environments are so complex and turbulent; but they have no problem with that, because they know how to adapt.

If you want to work smart:

  • Be sure you see the world as it is, not as you want it to be. Don’t be soft and naïve.
  • Be aware that cards are always being shuffled and your situation will keep changing, which means you also have to keep changing your strategy.
  • If you want to stay agile and adaptable, you must learn how to manage your ego and your expectations and you have to trust yourself even more.
  • Love changes, because every change brings new opportunities.

Giving back to the community

There’s one more bonus point to mention about smart workers. Many smart workers love to give back to the community. Because it’s a win-win situation. Acting out of prestige instead of domination leads to a better social position and more respect.

Living in an environment that’s more developed, friendlier and more connected is much better than living in a hostile environment. Smart workers take care of themselves but they also take care of their environment as much as they can, because they’re very well aware of the fact that their happiness strongly depends on the quality of the environment they function in.

If you can influence your environment in a positive way, it’s definitely a noble thing to do and on top of that, it also feels extremely good. Real smart workers know that and that’s why they love giving back to the community. Give and you shall receive.

If you want to be a really cool smart worker:

  • Act out of social prestige not out of domination over others.
  • Take care of your environment as much as possible and the environment will take care of you.
  • Keep your integrity and be a good person.
  • Don’t sacrifice yourself for the community, because you’re doing double the damage, to yourself and to your community. First you have to take care of yourself – wealth, health, family, knowledge etc. Yes, give to the community, but know your limits. Sacrificing yourself means going way over the limit.
  • Don’t think that being a good person means life will be good to you and reward you with good things. It has nothing to do with that. Smart workers know they have to fight for what they want, but there’s no obstacle to being good at the same time. You can be tough and fair in life.

For hard workers, hard work is often the only escape from reality, bringing a sense of security and stability in life. But in reality, only hard work rarely leads to the greatest progress possible in life. You can’t only work hard, you also have to think and work smart. You can’t only be a warrior in life, you also have to grow up into a general. Don’t only be a hard worker, be both a hard and a smart worker. Now you know how. The first thing you can do as a smart worker is to implement the ideas you liked the most into your everyday life immediately. Good luck.