Work Smarter, Not Harder: The Truth Behind ‘Grind Culture’

Emelia Crump, Staff Writer

Photo by Emmie Crump.

As a lifeguard, one of my jobs is to clean out the pool skimmers. The contents of each skimmer are emptied into a bucket that is dumped over the fence. Originally, I could barely reach the top of the fence, so pouring out the contents was a constant struggle. During a particular shift, my boss popped in to drop off pool supplies. As he witnessed my brawl with the bucket, he suggested, “Why don’t you climb the bench and then dump the bucket out?” As the tall fence encompassed the perimeter of the pool, it was right against a bench— an extra height boost. Watching as I effortlessly poured out the bucket, he sang, “Work smarter, not harder…” by far the most important lesson I’ve learned on the job. 

“Work smarter, not harder.” Although the saying is cliché, its point stands clear nevertheless. After all, as Harold Kushner put it, “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’” Today, daily life is as busy as ever, yet the people living these lives prove to be even busier. Overworking day through night, or “grind culture” in American society, may improve an individual’s self-confidence, but constantly toiling life away is detrimental to mental well-being. Working “smarter” to complete tasks— in other words, using a bench to gracefully pour out a bucket— is easier than enduring a full on degrading duel match with a lifeless pail every time the skimmers need to be cleaned out. 

Students can find stress management resources at the Student Services office. Photo by Vy Nguyen.

Because some sports players, students and employees are fixated on being the best possible on the field, in school or at work, these individuals miss out on life’s peak moments— going out for ice cream or taking a stroll in the park. Without having a proper balance between the things needed to succeed and the things needed to de-stress, burnout can occur, leading to an increased risk in other mental disorders. Conditions such as depression and anxiety can lead to suicidal ideation. Risking one’s own life isn’t worth perfecting those soccer drills or juggling three jobs simultaneously. 

Working smarter, on the other hand, improves that final draft of an essay and displays an employee’s skills in another light to a rather judgmental boss, all while achieving daily chores in a balanced fashion. When focusing on how much work can get done in a single day instead of how much can be completed in two hours, expectations are set high and, when failed to be met, unnecessary stress arises. 

A long distance runner, for example, shouldn’t run 50 miles in one day— the athlete should run five miles every other day to collectively reach 50 miles. This provides time in the day to focus on other important routines, such as preparing dinner or getting ready for work for the following day. 

“Grind culture” unfortunately, is an easy trap to fall into. Working from early morning until midnight is simply not necessary in order to accomplish satisfaction or a successful life. Prioritizing and working at intervals with breaks is a healthier alternative to plugging the entire afternoon away. So, the next time a family member or friend asks if you want to watch that new documentary and you still haven’t completed all your school assignments for the week, do a moderate amount of work… then grab a bowl of popcorn and flip on the television.