Raggedly Rich

Canadian Finances, Musings, and Art

How To Get Ahead Working Smarter, and Not Harder

Work smarter, not harder. 

I was chatting with a friend the other day, and he said those words when we were talking about our work lives. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I know it had something to do with my constant surprise with how low the bar was set for productivity in the workplaces I’ve been in. To which he responded: “That’s because we know how to work smarter, not harder.” 

And he’s right – ish. I’m by no means an expert at it, but I do make an effort to work smarter, and be more efficient in what I’m doing. And I think that’s a really important perspective to have for anyone in a workplace. We all have finite time in our days, and in our lives, so putting that time to the best use possible is paramount.

There are benefits to working smarter and not harder too:

  • Getting more done in less time
  • Expending less energy to get those things done
  • The self-satisfaction that comes with those accomplishments
  • Being seen as efficient and effective in the workplace

So how do you work smarter, not harder? There are three things you should be thinking about:

  1. Focus / Goals
  2. Efficiency
  3. Mystery

Seems straight forward enough, right? I mean, the mystery is a bit weird, yes, but I’ll explain soon…

Focus / Goals

I’ve talked about the importance of goals in life before, and it’s pretty relevant here

Brocci-louie knows where it’s at

too. When you have an end goal in mind, it’s easier to streamline your intentions in order to reach that goal. It’s the difference between the squiggly bee-line between point A and point B, and the direct line from point A to point B. Sure, both lines eventually lead to the same place, but one is much more focused than the other.

The best way to take a direct line from point A to point B is to know where point B is, and to know what obstacles you’ll be faced with trying to get there. Sometimes you need some mini-goals to keep you on track. Small steps not only bring a sense of accomplishment, but they inherently provide focus. Instead of having a lofty goal like ‘Be able to afford a mortgage in 3-5 years’, a more focused plan of:

  1. Put existing savings into growth-oriented accounts (bonds, stocks, etc.)
  2. Continue working and increase side hustles to generate more income
  3. Cut out unnecessary expenses to save more money
  4. Contact companies in January 2018 to get nail down gigs for 2018/19
  5. Research housing market and familiarize myself with location, price, and rental income properties

End goal: Save $70,000.00 for a downpayment in 5 years

– will help me get there faster, and with less energy. To be honest, the former was my initial plan, before I started writing this. I guess I wasn’t working smarter on the whole mortgage plan.


Being efficient isn’t easy. Sometimes it takes more work up front. Sometimes it takes a lot more work throughout the whole thing, and then you realize it actually wasn’t worth it. It always takes forethought, and it usually requires and understanding of the process. Understanding how to get to where you want to be is part of why focus and goals are so important too, because it allows you to streamline your intentions. We’re going for smarter, not harder.

It’s like the saying goes, two birds with one stone. If I can cultivate my connections while making a little bit of money, that’s going to be more beneficial and efficient to me in the long run, than making more money but not connecting with anyone.

But it could also be as simple as investing in a coffee machine. Want to kick that Starbucks habit? Set up a pre-programmed coffee machine to brew your coffee in the morning. Put out your travel cup the night before. When you wake up, there’s fresh coffee waiting for you and all you gotta do is pour and go. I pack my lunches the night before so that I can just grab and run in the mornings.

Or, efficiency can be more effort-based. I know some people have trouble with multi-tasking, but if you can talk on the phone while cleaning your bathroom? That’s efficient! Watch your favourite show or listen to your favourite podcast while working out. Make five meals on Sunday instead of spending an hour each night during the week cooking.

There’re lots of ways to be efficient, and at a certain point, it’s so subjective that only you can judge what’s efficient for you and what’s not. 


dream office…


Mystery might seem an odd thing to put into the list, but hear me out. Two people have the same assignment. They both go into two separate rooms and take four hours to complete the assignments. Both assignments are equally as good – so it shouldn’t matter if one person spent an hour on it, and the other person spent all four hours on it, right?

But I know from experience that some management is keen to pay you for the time you put in, instead of the work you produce – some people are more than happy to pile on more work if you have spare time, but expect you to stay later with no compensation if it’s the other way around. I’ve found that sometimes this creates a ‘work harder and be punished’ mentality that’s really toxic. I’m not condoning slacking off, or being lazy – but I am saying that sometimes it’s okay for people to make their own assumptions.

Sometimes I catch myself saying, “It’s not that hard, it really doesn’t take that long”, when I should refrain. What I’ve done is developed a system that makes me more efficient than the others, but your efficiency doesn’t mean you’re working any less. You’re just working smarter, not harder. Don’t discount that. Let there be some mystery, and if the boss thinks you’re working your ass off when you’re just working smarter, there’s nothing wrong with that.

How do you work smarter and not harder? I’m always on the hunt for efficiency hacks!


  1. Great post!!! So many points I agree on.

    I used to work myself into a frenzy at work – constantly finishing assignments faster than planned, and taking on as many new assignments as possible.

    In my first job out of college, I easily put in 70-80 hour weeks.

    I stood out as a ‘work horse’, and I was rewarded with even more work. Woohoo!

    I’m so glad I learned to take a step back, and work smarter/ more efficiently.

    I definitely still work ‘hard’, but I’m much selective now about how I spend my time at work, and I generally focus my energy on the tasks which pay off.

    Awesome job with the post :o)

    • Ms. Raggedly Rich

      August 17, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks Ava!!

      Gosh, 70-80 hours a week sounds a lot like what I was doing the past two weeks – and I have no desire to be doing that again. It’s so exhausting! Fatigue is a real thing.

      It’s terrible that a good work ethic usually feels like it’s being punished. It’s definitely a delicate balance to strike, and your tips on getting recognized at work actually pair really nicely with the whole working smarter and not harder thing. The recognition is important, and being rewarded appropriately for that effort is the difference between feeling taken for granted, and feeling appreciated.

      Thanks for stopping by : )

  2. I just worked 40-45 hours but got 80 hours worth of work done. In my area of chemical engineering we created designs from scratch. So it wasn’t just quantity, a better design often was worth millions to the company. Believe me, when you make millions for your company they will promote you and compensate you, always, without fail. To me that’s the real genius of working smarter, higher value results, not more quantity of work product.

    • Ms. Raggedly Rich

      August 22, 2017 at 11:44 am

      That’s an amazing return on time invested!

      That’s true – I definitely wrote this with a quantitatively-focused job in mind. The fields I work in, joe-job or otherwise, don’t quite have the capacity for anyone to make millions of dollars, unless they take out a lotto ticket in the company’s name.

      Thank you for the great point! It’s always worth it to me to take the time to figure out how to make a better quality product, faster.

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