Growing up in the cornfields of Indiana, I was always taught that if I worked harder than those around me, I would be successful no matter what – in school, in sports and in my career. But what if working harder isn’t always enough to make the cut? As a young professional, I’ve found myself battling this tension of opposites for a few years now, and I’ve come to my own conclusion that working harder doesn’t necessarily get you ahead if you’re not working smarter. We probably can all agree that working harder can lead to successful outcomes, but accepting that success can only be achieved by working hard is unrealistic, unproductive and potentially harmful to yourself, your company and your future. “Putting in the hours” shouldn’t be the core driver of that promotion or raise, and over the last few years, I’ve gathered a few of my own reasons why working harder isn’t the only catalyst for success.


Have you ever felt that pang of guilt when, even after a productive and efficient day, you leave on time (or early), but many of your coworkers are logging another 10-12 hour day? Do you ever think to yourself, “maybe I’m not working hard enough,” or “maybe I need to ask for more tasks.” I cannot tell you how many times those questions have panned across my brain, and how many times I’ve gone out of my way to work overtime in order to feel more accomplished and massage that guilty feeling into something I can accept. The turmoil and stress this unsuspecting internal struggle caused affected my mental, emotional and even physical health. I was always worried I wasn’t doing enough, and I completely ignored all of the great things I was accomplishing. I only focused on what I wasn’t accomplishing, and that just ain’t right, folks.

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.” - Arianna Huffington

As I dug a little deeper into why I was feeling this way, I realized that how many hours I worked didn’t really factor into my level of performance. I was getting tasks done well before deadlines and was in tip-top shape organizationally – and I was working 40 hours a week. So why did I feel like I wasn’t doing enough?

I am inspired by the notion that each student learns differently from one another, and that the way we design spaces for students to prosper directly addressed this premise. I also realized that how people work isn’t much different, either. Shouldn’t our work environments and processes allow for and consider this concept as well? Would you expect a cat and a squirrel to climb a tree the same way? (Me either.) And as I began to accept and embrace this realization, I felt relieved that doing things differently didn’t equate to doing things incorrectly. My pang of guilt started to subside, I had more confidence in the work I was performing and felt less “shame” in how I approached my work. Guilt, be gone!


The ‘working harder’ phenomenon is extremely prevalent in the design industry. There is a misconception that going through countless iterations is necessary to arrive at the perfect answer. But at what cost? Profitability is directly related to time in any firm or company, especially in the design industry. Yet we still see design firms that will exhaust all their resources and capital and run a project into the ground, just to find one seemingly perfect solution. Fortunately, there are many firms that successfully execute creative and innovative designs with efficiency, and are profitable in more ways than one. So why aren’t we all just cranking out product and collecting that moolah without a hitch? Because it’s hard.

“It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

Time management and prioritization have become the two most important concepts in my career (and in my personal life), and I am a firm believer that they should be at the forefront of any design industry’s main priorities as well. I personally am always looking for ways to better manage my time on projects and prioritize tasks to become a lean, mean, efficient machine. Think of what you could accomplish if you spent less time focused on bettering one solution, and more time focused on how to improve an overall process. Some may think product v. process is a chicken or the egg type thing, but it couldn’t be more different. Think of where we’d be if we kept focusing on the square wheel…


To get hired, clients do not choose the firm that comes up with the most solutions. They simply choose the best solution. Now, many could argue that, in order to arrive at the best solution, we must exhaust all of our options (and ourselves) to think of every possible option in order to find that sweet, juicy end. However, best isn’t necessarily synonymous with perfect, and the design process should not be a means to perfection, but a collaborative exercise that gathers expertise and ideas. Coming up with three options instead of 30 does not indicate laziness– it says that the process was efficient and decisions were made effectively and, based on experience and expertise, a solution was presented that addresses the problems of the client. Think of it like a rubix cube – there are approximately 43 quintillion – yes, QUINTILLION – ways to align all of those little squares correctly, but no one pays attention to that information. They care about how efficiently you can put it together (which has been solved in a mere 4.73 seconds by Feliks Zemdegs of Australia, by the way).

With all of this being said, I encourage you to step off the hamster wheel for a brief moment the next time you are logging buku hours and ask yourself, Can I be working smarter? Can I produce successful results AND preserve my health (and sanity)? Ask these simple questions and you may find your life slowly (but surely) gain some much needed clarity.

Walking up hill both ways just doesn’t cut it anymore. Let’s create a path where the ground is working with us, not against us.

You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful.

– Andrew Wilkinson