Work Harder or Work Smarter?

By Mario Fraioli

“Work harder,” we’ve been told. “No no, you need to work smarter,” someone else will insist. So which should you do, work harder or work smarter?

This is the wrong question to ask, writes Ed Batista, executive coach and lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Instead, we should be exploring the relationship between effort and results and where we fall on that curve.

“In a system characterized by increasing returns, additional effort yields ever-greater results,” explains Batista, “while in a system characterized by diminishing returns, additional effort yields less and less. This is a truism, of course–nothing could be more obvious. The key is recognizing that some systems are fundamentally one or the other, while others change their nature, often depending on the timeframe under consideration.

Good food for thought around reframing a question many of us wrestle with—I know I do—when it comes to our professional and/or athletic pursuits.

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.