Work Smart or Work Hard

I think a lot of us heard of the title above before. This could be applied in our personal lives or our professional lives. Today’s blog is focusing on professional/working lives.

You may wonder what does this matter. Work is work! As long as we get things done and get paid at the end of the day, we are happy. It matters because it is one thing to work but it is another thing to enjoy work and be recognized.

I started my career as a lowly worker at Arthur Andersen as a Human Resources generalist. At the beginning I was learning my rope around the big organization, but I was not happy because the work was tedious and did not provide any satisfaction. Soon I realized that I wanted more – to get more I have to do less. I began to work smarter instead of just getting things done.

After I started focusing on working smarter, my career took a rocket ship and moved up the chain. I was noticed and was offered more pay with promotion. I was recognized for my work and on the path of management. Today I want to go over several pointers that I use that I believe you may find useful in your career. Don’t just do the job that is given to you; just do it better and more effective.


It is important to organize your daily task. That means that you have a clear desk and you know where your things are. I don’t mean clean desk. Clean desk is for people who are too focused on one tiny task and miss the whole picture. It is fine to have things lying around your desk but as long as you know where things fit, that’s what matter. For example, I have an old calculator that is always around when I need it. Things that I no longer need, I’ll put them away so they don’t hinder my progress. Everything has its place and putting them in their right place will help you focus what needs to be done. It is the “mind” thing.


Our daily lives contain tons of “to-dos” and our professional lives is not any exception. Prioritize your task to ensure what is important and what is not. Some people list to list all the to-dos on a notepad, which is a great idea. It helps you to focus what is important. You may want to list the items an number them by importance. I use to-dos list when there is a too many things to handle at a given time or when I first started on a project. Overtime I use the list less and less because I started to have a mental note that tells me what is important.

Quick Kill

This goes along with the item above. Listing things by importance will show you if you need to work on the item. Sometimes an item my be down on the bottom list but can be easily done in 2 minutes. You may want to complete the task right away. Spending the 2 minutes will help free up your mental note for additional space for other more important things. Procrastinating will not work in this instance as it tells your brain to shelf this item.

Timely Response

A big organization has many employees. In any single day every employee may receive hundreds of email requesting assistance or updates on certain items. If you receive any such emails and you have the answer to the question being asked, don’t wait. Respond right away with your answer. The recipient will appreciate your response not because they think you are responsive, it will also help them with the task they are working on. Plus, your email will show up on the top of their mailbox requiring their attention. Over time, you will also get reciprocal response from them. Sitting on the email and not working on it right away will only create more item on your to-do list and create another mental note.

Ask for Deadline

Every company has task to be completed and project to work on. All of them are controlled by one thing, deadline. For example, payroll needs employees to complete their time-sheet with cutoff time, or SEC filing on certain date. When you receive a task to complete, make sure you ask when do you need to complete it. Give yourself time to complete and review your work before submitting it. Having this information, the task becomes a to-do item and helps you prioritize your work.

Don’t Settle for Easy / Make Improvement

Sometimes easy is not the way to go. You need to find ways to simplify the work by making improvements on how you do things. For example, you know it is easy to sort though a set of data, filter the information and do a manual count of the items. What you do not realize is that easy does not mean time savings. Invest time in understanding tools available to make the task more effective. One good example is utilize Pivot Table in Excel to help you summarize the data, or use Macros to repeat the steps easily. This task has many downstream effect. It frees up your time to focus on more important things, re-prioritize your work and be responsive to your colleagues and your customers.

Advertise Your Success

One way to get noticed in a big organization is advertise yourself. No, it does not mean publishing an ad on a newspaper or company newsletter. What I am referring to is let your customers know that you are reliable and responsive. When you respond to your customer/stakeholders in an email, copy your manager. After you meet with your customers, give a summary of the meeting to your manager of what you have done and what your customers said. If you a people manager, do the same by recognizing your subordinates. For example, I am responsible reporting audit issues to business heads of businesses and functions. When I receive any questions from the business heads on the report, I make sure that I respond immediately and copy my direct manager. Make sure your response is appropriate or you could cause more problems. At the same time, if my subordinate who is helping me in responding some of the questions, I make sure I recognize that person in my response by giving “thanks”.

If you want to move along in a corporate world, it is no longer important to just get things done. You need to prove to everyone that you are capable and effective in many ways when it comes to completing task, projects or responsibilities. Take my points above and start thinking how to be smart when you work. Just putting time in is no longer enough. Be outstanding and stand out among your peers.


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