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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