Learning to Work Smart, Not Hard

On March 1st I tweeted ‘March is going to be a roller coaster. Right now it’s like “LOOK MA NO HANDS.” Two weeks in will be more like “i think I’m gonna be sick.’

Well, I’ve made it through the no hands part, but I’m still riding the ‘Am I gonna puke?” part. March is my busiest month every year. There’s still a lot left to do this month.

This March has been a real eye opener for me in terms of how I’m scheduling myself. For the last year and a half, I took every opportunity to make money. No matter what kind of commitment or work it was, I took the job if it paid.

I am absolutely terrified of going back to the place I was before I got serious about paying off my debt. I was broke, sad, and I felt trapped. Not a great time in my life.

So I’ve been adamant about earning as much as I can. Any money is good money, right?


I’ve continued to live with that mentality, even though I’ve seen some pay bumps. I am still in a pretty precarious financial position. I have about three months of savings stashed away, zero debt, and I maxed out my IRA last year. Other than that, I have very few assets.

My instinct is to grab at every dollar that comes my way. One dollar at a time, I will build my financial independence!

Turns out, that’s the hardest way to do it. Working as hard as I can for meager dollars is not the best way to get to my dream of financial independence. For the last year and a half, I have thrown every ounce of energy I have into my low paying jobs. It’s an exhausting and frustrating way to live.

You can see that reflected here on my blog. I have a fair number of posts about being tired, or fighting off burn out, or feeling resentful of my life. That can be traced directly to the fact that I do demanding work for low pay.

I’m finally at a place where I know that my time is more valuable than some of the work opportunities I am getting. Instead of working as hard as I can, I need to start working as smart as I can.

Take catering. Ah, catering. I cater anywhere from 10-30 hours a week. I get paid hourly. And it’s hard work. You’re on your feet, hauling heavy objects around for hours at a time. You have to smile, be polite and do your best to make another person’s dream come true. I often work outside, despite the weather. I work in the dark, in cramped conditions. I have set up temporary kitchens in parking lots, alley ways and broom closets.

And yes, I do get paid for it. I do bring home free food. But it is at such a cost. With drive time, a Saturday catering event will eat up anywhere from 10-13 hours of my day. And it will sap all my energy, meaning I need to spend a significant amount of time recovering.

This is me working hard, not smart. In order to work smart, I need to find a way to reduce my energy output and increase my income.

I had the chance to pick up a new freelance client this month. It would have been an extra $100 a month for two 250 word blog posts a month, and three Facebook posts a week.  At first glance, I thought that was a great deal. I can knock out two blog posts in an hour, and schedule at least half of the Facebook posts ahead of time. Should have been easy money.

It quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to be the case. I spent at least two hours on the phone with the client, explaining my social media strategy. I re-wrote the two articles three times. I spent another 30 minutes on the phone talking about her comfort level with posting on Facebook.

These are all great conversations to be having with a client. I want to help people present their best image on social media. I will happily re-write an article 100 times to make sure it fits the tone of your website.

But not for free. All this extra time was still covered under the $100 fee. Let’s remember too, that $100 was my net, meaning my gross was only $70. It was way too much work for way too little money. I was working harder, not smarter.

So, in spite of the fact that I do still want to grab every dollar that comes my way, I let this client go. I couldn’t give up that much time for so little money. It felt scary to pass up on the money, but it’s a necessary step to take.

I have to start putting a higher value on my time and work. I do great work when I am able to focus on something. Splitting my attention for the last year and a half, in order to make the most money across my five different jobs, has made some of my work suffer. I don’t like it. I want to opportunity to do great work, at a fair price, for one job.

In order to get there, I’m going to have to learn to shut out the smaller opportunities. I have to focus on the ones that are worth my time, and that are leading to my overall professional goal. It IS scary, but it’s the only way to move beyond my current lifestyle ,and into the one I really want.

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12 Replies to “Learning to Work Smart, Not Hard”

  1. Great post, Kara –
    I really admire your ability to hustle hard and tackle financial goals (you’re such an inspiration!), but – at the same time – totally understand where you’re at now. And, I’m glad you can recognize the true cost of working certain projects over others (like your time-intensive client, for instance). I’m not the most astute when it comes to these things. (Working on it.)

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see your fruits of working smarter!! And, if you need some inspiration, I recommend the book, Overcoming Underearning (which was recommended by the fantabulous Amanda, which I’m sure you probably already know).


    1. It can be so hard to see the true value. I get blinded by the immediate dollars in front of me. I haven’t read that book, but it sounds perfect! I’m such a fan if Amanda, of course she’d have good rec’s.

  2. Good for you for saying no! Can you set up a framework for charging for consulting time? Especially at the front end? I might offer the first call/consultation for free for 15 or 20 minutes. And then make it clear additional time is on the meter at X dollats per hour billable in 15 minute increments. That way you won’t be drained, and you won’t be giving away too many ideas for no pay.

    1. That’s my plan moving forward! I’ve been very haphazard with my freelancing, and i think some organization will really help

  3. I’m still trying to figure out just how much side-hustling I can handle on top of my other responsibilities. We have a lot of debt, so it would be hard to turn down any opportunity to make a little more extra money. But you still need to consider your hourly rate. I don’t have any time to just give away, right now.

    1. I hear ya. Turning down money is so hard! But I know that with a little more room to breathe I can make more money. Don’t be like me and grab every chance- grab the best chances!

  4. I agree with Mrs. Groovy! Set up some parameters so X amount is built into the fee and anything above and beyond starts the meter running at an hourly rate. This is how many of my projects are priced at my consulting firm, too. 🙂

    Also, for hourly work, do you have any interest in teaching group fitness classes? I did that for years, and most of the time got $25-30/hour (though teaching an hour took more time than that with travel and everything), and sometimes had back-to-back classes, which was the best. It was easy to fit into odd bits of time though. Just an idea. 🙂

    1. I have thought about becoming a yoga teacher. I’d love to earn money for being active! But the time and money required upfront keep me from doing it. My schedule is so jam packed, I don’t have the space to get certified in anything. I think setting rates will really help me with my writing- I have a general package now, but I need to fine tune it.

  5. I think you have a great attitude. My personal opinion is that work and making money is a bit of a progression. You start with your base and go from there. For me my base was my job, which I have tried hard to increase compensation over time. After all I work about the same whether I’m an entry-level analyst or a manager; might as well get more $/hour if I’m going to be there the same amount of time. Next I focus(ed) on saving money. Once my budget was at a good place I focused on side hustles. Once my side hustles gained steam, I started to be more selective. I can really relate to you making a decision about how much that one client was worth. If there are phone calls and revisions for not a whole lot of compensation then it probably is better off waiting/looking for a different client. It’s nice that you are in the position to be able to make that judgement call!

    1. I totally agree. I’m at the place where I need to be more selective in my side hustles. I’m not giving up catering yet, but intensive clients that aren’t bringing in the right amount of cash are something I can let go. Thanks for reading!

  6. Hey Kara! Yes, working smarter pays off way more handsomely than working harder. I’ve been brainstorming ways to create additional income myself that doesn’t involve a major time commitment. I have had to pass on writing projects before too. It’s good to realize your worth and move on instead of always reaching for the money. Your mindset is totally on point and I have no doubt that you will achieve your goal of working smarter:)

    1. Cost versus value is a lesson I’m only beginning to learn. I have faith that we’ll both get that extra income somehow!

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