Workaholics vs. Successaholics: Working Hard vs. Working Smart

Greetings fellow monkeys:

By way of introduction, I have been a shadow-user for quite some time, please excuse my lurking, and I want to thank everybody for all of the thought and effort that is put into your posts. I have learned a great amount from the WSO community and the content is often just as entertaining as it is educational.

Topic I Wish to Discuss: After working in the investment management industry for a couple of years, I have seen a dichotomy when it comes to employee types: the workaholics vs. the successaholics. There is a profound difference between these two categories and I want to voice my opinion on why monkeys should aim to fall in the latter category; that is where the true ROI is in terms of life and career development.

Definitions and Descriptions: The first group, workaholics, is myopic by nature and focuses on short-term workload, whether that be answering (often unimportant) emails as rapidly as possible, handling projects in expeditious manners to impress managers with their ability to produce results quickly, working additional hours in order to finish short-term projects, etc. These individuals often stay late and have a very rudimentary life outside of work.

The latter group, which I term as successaholics, largely have a different view on work and goals they wish to accomplish. This group places more value on long-term goals and the strategic steps to get there. Similar to workaholics, these individuals work quite hard and often enjoy the work they are doing, but they have the ability to see the bigger picture (e.g. a project from a higher level) and are able to prioritize steps to reach ultimate goals more effectively. They are not afraid to push their pending tasks to the side and to conquer a more meaningful challenge.

Examples: The above is written rather vaguely, as I am by no means a writer, so let me provide some examples. As mentioned, workaholics are caught up in details and the short-term noise of their jobs' responsibilities. At lunch, they will be eager to get back to their desk to continue editing a PowerPoint; to essentially grind away at their never-ending to-do lists. A successaholic, however, might be less concerned with the short-term work that is on their desk and more concerned with developing their future. For example, the successaholic might take an hour lunch to network with colleagues and outsiders, to reach out to an old college professor to check-up on things, to study for the CFA, to analyze an investment idea unrelated to a current project, etc. In other words, although the successaholic is putting their workload to the side momentarily, they are using their time in a more effective manner by expanding their network, credentials or knowledge. The expansion of these three subjects will often prove to be more fruitful than hammering away all day at that PowerPoint or that veritable deluge of emails that sits in your inbox.

I have seen this first hand on many occasions within the finance industry. Quick personal anecdote: I am fortunate enough to have 60-90 minutes allocated to lunch each day (don't work in the US). I use the full time networking and studying for the CFA and have thus passed the first two levels on my first attempts with my prior financial knowledge being quite limited (never studied finance before my career). This has led to a larger network of employers to which I can reach out, people on which I can rely, advancement within my firm (promotions, salary bumps) due to CFA feats, etc. My colleagues who eat lunch at their desk and cram away at emails the whole afternoon have not seen the same career advancement as I have. Lunch is just the example/metaphor here, as numerous similar examples can be applied to these two personality types.

Closing Remarks:
I do understand the need to work grueling hours in order to reach deadlines (especially for you IB folk), impress senior management, etc. Especially when a current project/task will have a long-term/lasting effect; I am not addressing this type of work. My takeaway is that the prioritization of work and what tasks/projects/undertakings will provide the largest return on time/investment (after all, time is money) will inevitably make the difference in your peers
calling you 'a worker' vs. a 'super successful guy/gal' ... aka 'the f**king man/woman'.

(Pardon the length of this entry)

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 8/31/13.

Comments (42)

Aug 21, 2013

Agreed, and it is also important to prioritize your busy work so that maximum effort goes into the items that will get you the most recognition.

Aug 21, 2013

Great post, it reminds me of some of the points that were made on the front page post about the hours in IB. Some groups (especially in banking) do require a ton of unnecessary facetime and pointless menial tasks, but it doesn't make any sense to go out of your way to do these things if you don't actually *have* to. Especially considering the high amount of turnover in finance, you really hurt yourself by not thinking about the next few steps: not just getting top bucket or getting a PE role, I mean thinking about what you're doing to get you where you want to be in 10 years.

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Best Response
Aug 22, 2013

It's late and I've been boozing with ITF, so I'm going to reread this in the AM. I love the concept. Way to be ahead of the curve!

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Aug 22, 2013
UFOinsider:

It's late and I've been boozing with ITFp>

sb for that

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 22, 2013

'#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.'
- GS Elevator

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Aug 22, 2013
bocconi33:

'#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.'

- GS Elevator

They could be lazy and smart.
Very often the super smart people are extremely lazy when it comes to doing real stuff because they are not interrested anymore once they know they can do it.
But give them some obscure and very challenging problem and you'll get amazed.

But those type rarely end up in banking.

Aug 22, 2013

Maybe not 'lazy and smart,' but 'smart enough to know when they can be lazy'

I think more of these folks are lurking around in banking than you may think. They are the ones that when they get to the senior level, they are often described by their peers and former colleagues as the guy who just was not that great of an analyst or associate but somehow starts to just crush it at the VP level and above.

At a recent performance reveiw, my group head once told me that he loves having me staffed on his projects because I am able to carry the majority of the senior banker's workload for him, not how many hours I put in.

Aug 22, 2013
Zafrynex:
bocconi33:

'#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.'

- GS Elevator

They could be lazy and smart.

Very often the super smart people are extremely lazy when it comes to doing real stuff because they are not interrested anymore once they know they can do it.

But give them some obscure and very challenging problem and you'll get amazed.

But those type rarely end up in banking.

Yeah I still don't know how I did it...

Aug 22, 2013

Skimmed but think the distinction is quite real. During my first internship in finance, I was definitely a "workaholic" and it was to my advantage as well as to my detriment for many of the reasons outlined in your post.

Aug 22, 2013

Good post, reminds me of a recent article in Economist.

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21583592-bu...

Aug 22, 2013

Relevant quotes.

"You know you've mastered digging a ditch, when someone else is doing it for you"

Finance specifically:
"To work in this industry you're either hard working or smart. You can't be both."

Aug 22, 2013

Great post. I definitely label people in my office as one or the other. I used to feel a little guilty about pushing off work related tasks to spend a little time during the day to pursue my long-term goals, now I feel sorry for people who don't do this.... they just grind away all day for 'the man'.

Aug 22, 2013

LOL @ WSPB - I actually dug ditches at one point. I didn't get anywhere by working harder, I just got more ditches to dig. "Work harder to get ahead" was the bullshit the foreman said as he sat there smoking a cigarette while I busted my ass with no end in sight.

Work hard and smarter.

Aug 22, 2013

Having no first-hand-experience, I have to ask one thing. Wouldn't you agree, that people do those low-prio-tasks, because they are asked to and have to? The goal might not be to show how much pressure you can handle, but to not disappoint your superior. In the end, it's the work they want you to do and they might easily be offended, if you just label their tasks "low priority" and go for your own, bigger goals.

How did you handle that?

Aug 22, 2013

Lana - you bring up a great point and a very valid question. You should certainly meet expectations and achieve the goals that you signed up to achieve. It's what you are getting paid to do; don't bite the hand that feeds you. That said, overachieving in these 'low priority' projects/assignments might not be as fruitful as one would hope. There will always be a certain amount of busy work that must be handled, with more busy work falling on the more junior roles. As a junior/analyst, you will need to of course meet expectations and treat even the lower priority requests with enthusiasm and prudence, but you can (often more easily) excel in other areas that fall out outside of the scope of busy, low-priority work. In my opinion, focusing on these other areas (i.e., thinking outside of the box) will often be more effective in terms of achieving long-term goals and advancing in one's career. It is very easy to get caught up in the daily noise of one's position, especially in a junior role, and become burnt out while simultaneously loosing vision for long-term goals and interests. I suggest keeping a long-term focus and thinking outside of the workaholic mindset. I by no means suggest not completing the tasks one has nor displaying arrogance to your superiors that you deserve better or more rewarding/intellectually stimulating work, but rather accomplishing these daily tasks and proving that you can take on the more interesting work by excelling in the other areas and supporting your case --- this should get you to where you want to be faster.

Aug 22, 2013

Whenever I get asked in an interview at the end 'Why should we hire you?', my go to answer is that I'm able to work smart, not work hard, and this always goes over well

Aug 23, 2013

reminded me of this gselevator: "#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.", not that i agree... but that's another comment for another day

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 31, 2013
AndyLouis:

reminded me of this gselevator: "#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.", not that i agree... but that's another comment for another day

GSElevator is wrong. Odds are they hope you're the sucker who will be doing their hard work for them.

I try to work hard most of the time and try avoid working stupid some of the time.

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Sep 1, 2013
IlliniProgrammer:
AndyLouis:

reminded me of this gselevator: "#1: If a person says they 'work smart, not hard,' odds are they are lazy and stupid.", not that i agree... but that's another comment for another day

GSElevator is wrong. Odds are they hope you're the sucker who will be doing their hard work for them.

I try to work hard most of the time and try avoid working stupid some of the time.

agree

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Sep 1, 2013

All I got from reading that was think over the long-term and network.

Sep 4, 2013

Also, after you work long enough in any place, you will learn to prioritize. You'll know when a partner comes by your desk at 4:30 PM on a Friday, asks you to update X report for Y time frame (usually demands it for Saturday), you know he's only going to look at it Tuesday afternoon.....

Jul 22, 2016

yep! agree with you on that

Sep 4, 2013

Great post

Jul 21, 2016

The truly successful people tend to know how to work smart and then also work hard.

If you can produce 100 units of success in 8 hours by working smart, then might as well bump that up to 200 units of success by working 16 hours.

If you max out of both (smart and hard) then you're set up for success on a grand scale.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

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Jul 21, 2016

It's important to work smart AND hard. A balanced life is an art not a science and it the most important thing in career and life. Learn how to be successful both in the short and long term while maintaining a certain level of happiness.

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Jul 22, 2016

Long-term minded hardworker vs. Short-term minded hardworker.

Don't break yourself on the way to making yourself

Jul 22, 2016

I could only add that you also always for optimization of your work. "I really admire lazy people, they will find out the quickest way to finish a hard task". It is very important to work smart, not hard.

Jul 28, 2016

tl;dr - spend 1 hour lunch networking and studying, instead of checking emails

Jul 28, 2016

Hi bNNNN, don't worry, the WSO Monkey Bot is here.... I'm hoping one of these links will help find your answer:

  • Smart work. Does it make a difference? thing is that you will need to work hard as a junior banker, but contrary to a recent article on this ... tells you about the crazy hours you'll work as an analyst in an investment bank, don't listen. ... asking for work that was unnecessary, I pushed back hard. I also tried to make sure that I was
  • Why Consulting- Answering the Interview Question spectrum in between. Mgmt at its most general would be what you're referring to, i.e., I want to know ... Don't you travel an ungodly amount in consulting? Bankers make way more money. Aren't consulting ... illustrates the differences between the two. It's similar to compa
  • Can a Non Target land a IB SA? With hard work and persistence it definitely is interviewers want to connect with you, try to make it personal. 2. Know your technicals Coming from a non ... firms and school specific events. Sneaking in to the career fairs was not an easy task since you had to ... firms: Deloitte, IBM, Union Pacific, Dell, Wells Fargo, PwC, Caterpillar, GE and I was able to make it to ...
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  • More suggestions...

Calling relevant pros to the rescue! @rushinga @gtf5 @Coke Chimp

Hope that helps.

Jul 28, 2016

In your view are most women this stupid?

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Jul 28, 2016

Most of them are both.

Jul 28, 2016
sufjansteves:

Most of them are both.

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Jul 28, 2016

none of them are rly smart, altough many delude themselfs into thinking they are.

above average, but not rly smart id say.

no1s below average(except for few hot chicks).

intelligence decreases as rank rises, no1 rly smart is gna do 100 hours a week past an analyst stint.

Jul 28, 2016
leveredarb:

none of them are rly smart, altough many delude themselfs into thinking they are.

above average, but not rly smart id say.

no1s below average(except for few hot chicks).

intelligence decreases as rank rises, no1 rly smart is gna do 100 hours a week past an analyst stint.

o rly?

Jul 28, 2016
leveredarb:

intelligence decreases as rank rises, no1 rly smart is gna do 100 hours a week past an analyst stint.

1) This is complete horseshit.

2) Reading this makes me feel like I'm in an AOL chat room circa 1999

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Jul 28, 2016
leveredarb:

none of them are rly smart, altough many delude themselfs into thinking they are.

above average, but not rly smart id say.

no1s below average(except for few hot chicks).

intelligence decreases as rank rises, no1 rly smart is gna do 100 hours a week past an analyst stint.

Says the guy who can not spell.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Jul 28, 2016

^ Haha! Id say smart people think more than do. At least that's from my personal experience.

Speed has never killed anyone, suddenly becoming stationary... That's what gets you.
-Jeremy Clarkson

Jul 28, 2016
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Competition is a sin.

-John D. Rockefeller

Jul 28, 2016
Jul 28, 2016
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If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford