Over the years I’ve met many people who work very hard but don’t seem to get ahead.

Take my friend. This friend held a master’s degree in his chosen profession and worked three jobs to put his kids through school and university. He was successful at his goal, and I admire him for his efforts.

But could my friend have accomplished his goal of providing for his family with less work if he had worked smarter?

I can’t answer this question for him, but in many circumstances in my life I’ve answered this question for myself, where working smarter trumped just working harder.

We all need to work hard. If you can only practice one of these principles (working hard vs. working smart), then choose working hard. But, to create long-term, sustainable happiness and financial security, you need to work smart.

Lessons from a First-Year MBA Student: Working Smarter as a Team

Thirty years ago, I was in my MBA program and struggling to keep up with older, more experienced, more intelligent peers. It was at this time that I wrote a personal mission statement focusing on my passions and future areas of strength, which I’ve discussed in previous posts.

This personal statement helped me work smarter by directing my attention towards what was most important. In addition, during this first year in my MBA program, I strengthened my understanding of a second strategy for working smart: working together as a team.

Teamwork eases the load on any one person

In my program, the professors purposely gave us too much homework and assignments that it was impossible to do it all effectively if we worked alone. But one of the greatest assets they gave us for completing tasks was our team.

In sports we had to learn this lesson of teamwork. For example, recently the NBA championship has been won by the deepest team, not the team with the one best player. In MBA school this lesson was taken to a new level for me.

I remember sitting down with my MBA teammates (Jim Clark, Bob Lumley and Sharon Johnson) and they each shared the sinking yet enthusiastic feeling that I had. By ourselves we couldn’t handle the workload but together we could accomplish our collective goals.

So, we planned.

We figured out who would do the detailed research for which course based on their interest and expertise and then that person would present the findings to the team.

We built personal relationships with the professors and their tutors so we could better understand what was really important for each course. Each person had to still read each case, but I always went deeper in the cases for my assigned class in order to provide deeper insights for my team. These were valuable experiences in working smart and working hard.

To this day, thirty years later, I have fond memories of and deep feelings of gratitude for Jim, Bob, and Sharon and the important role they played in collaborating with me and working smart together to do well in our MBA program.

The same lesson applies in our careers today. Extraordinary teamwork can help you work smart and get ahead in your career. RLG International, the consultancy I have been with for thirty years (since MBA school), has this hanging in the main board room:


This acronym stands for an important lesson:

None of us is as smart as all of us.

This is a constant reminder that we are smarter together with the power of the team.

Working While You’re Not Working

We only have so many hours in the day and we can’t do everything that needs to be done. Having our assets working for us while we work (or play) is an important element of working smart.

This idea is obvious in personal finances. Having your money work for you when you are asleep or on vacation is such an incredible feeling of freedom and security. Having your debt work against you and accruing interest while you sleep works in the opposite direction and is a relentless task master.

The same principles that apply to money and financial security apply to your career and life’s work. Having your key projects move ahead while you are asleep or on vacation is a fantastic feeling.

As an entrepreneur or leader of an organization, you will feel very overwhelmed if everybody and everything is contingent on your approval. If your goal is to work smart, you should rarely put yourself in a situation where everybody is waiting on you. While being constantly needed might feel like a short-term ego rush to show how important you are, this model is not scalable or sustainable.

Figure out how to properly delegate those tasks and projects that someone can do better than you so you can stay in your sweet spot. I learned this lesson when serving as a lay ecclesiastical leader for several hundred young adults.

Delegating Ownership

My three-year service as a religious leader for young adults was one of the greatest joys of my life. I oversaw weekly church services, weekly activities and the spiritual counseling for 300 young single adults. This was a monumental chore when I first started.

Thankfully I wasn’t doing it alone—I had two counselors who were also called to serve with me. Bruce Dayton, Nelson Glassett, and myself sat down from the beginning and tried to work smart. We applied two principles to work smart and effectively with these young people:

  1. What are each others’ sweet spots?
  2. What can we delegate to the young people so they can run their own program?

We determined that I was going to focus on the spiritual counseling of the young people and Bruce and Nelson were going to focus on the administration of the various councils, each led by a young single adult leader.

The system worked great. Nelson and Bruce were terrific mentors to each council and helped them coordinate their group activities and outreach. It was a terrific experience to watch Bruce, Nelson, and those young leaders run the program. I believe it taught those young people how to lead, an experience that will bless them for the rest of their lives.

For my part, I got to focus on counselling. I read every book I could. Beyond that, I developed one-page summaries based on those readings, outlining issues and solutions that were real for those young people. I probably had 15-20 counseling interviews every week for three years.

During this time I was able to make a material impact while staying sane and still running my day job and family. All of this was possible because others took ownership of their delegated areas of authority.

Nelson, Bruce, and I still stay close to many of the young single adult leaders. They grew in their assignment because we worked smart!

Hire People That Help You Work Smart

At RLG International I have had some incredible executive assistants that have allowed me to work smart. The trust that my former assistant Sarah Blizzard and now current assistant Queenie Tsang and I had and have has been so helpful over the years. We communicated regularly on priorities, and I had full trust they were acting on my behalf and setting up meetings and assignments that allowed me to stay in the $500/hour zone, instead of the $20/hour zone.

The $500/Hour Zone

I once had a client, Walter Pinto, that insisted we as consultants only did $500/hour work so we could be more effective to his organization. He didn’t want his expensive consultants to be doing $20/hour consulting. Walter Pinto knew how to work smart! He hired people he could count on to work smart.

Work Is a Blessing

Work is a blessing—even more so when you work smart.

I admire Tim Ferris’ book and body of work on the 4-hour work week. Every chapter talks about how to work smart on your small business and your job. I really like the principles.

At the same time, I’ve noticed he works more than 4 hours a week on his books, podcasts, and angel investing because he enjoys working!

Work is a blessing, no doubt about it. But having too much work (because you’re not working smart in your sweet spot) can be exhausting and overwhelming. Work smart and find joy in your work.

Application Idea: Create a Personal Advisory Council

Working smart is not an activity done in isolation.

RLG International and many top businesses have experienced executives come in to advise them on future direction. These executive advisory councils allow us to learn faster and instruct us how to be more effective in the marketplace. They come with outside perspectives and a fresh set of eyes to help us work smarter.

Wouldn’t that be beneficial in our personal lives? So why don’t we have personal advisory councils?

The goal of a personal advisory council is the same as an executive advisory council: to help us learn faster and be more effective.

Who should be a part of your personal council?

Enlist your family or close friends and experts to be on your personal advisory council. And don’t ask just anyone—ask true experts who have experience in the areas of your life you’re interested in improving.

For example, to learn about finance, ask the person you know that knows the most about finance to sit and advise you twice per year. Take them out for lunch and ask for help. Everybody likes to tell their story. Ask a million questions, learn a million things, and start working smarter.

Do the same thing with relationships, physical fitness and spiritual development. Find people who you admire and are experts. Ask them for counsel. The person doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid professional. Who lives in your neighborhood that you admire and has done well in one of these areas? Start there.

Go ahead and build your council. That’s working smart!

Start Working Smart

There are so many application areas for working smart. I have only mentioned a few examples. To start, figure out how to apply the principles of working hard and working smart in your life. The below application questions can help:

  1. What are my strengths? Where is my $500/hour contribution? How can I focus my efforts on the areas where I contribute most?
  2. How can I work more effectively with my team? Can we delegate assignments so that we’re working smarter together? What needs to change about our team meetings in order to work smarter and build trust more effectively?
  3. How can I more effectively delegate tasks so nothing falls through the cracks? (The market isn’t sleeping. The competition isn’t sleeping. You must keep your initiatives moving ahead.)
  4. Who could I have on my advisory councils?

Keep working hard towards your life goals. Make sure they are balanced goals in areas of work, physical development, financial, emotional and spiritual. But also work smart.

Never forget these two principles: Work hard and work smart.