October 28, 2016

Work Softer, Not Harder

BY John Paul Narowski IN Company 0 Comment

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “work smarter, not harder” and I didn’t know why. Sure, I agree with the premise – who doesn’t want to work smarter?

I’ve done my best to work smarter and to encourage the idea within my companies. The problem is, I never fully connected with this concept. It’s possible that I resisted it because it’s a cliche, but I think it’s much deeper than that.

The phrase “work smarter” doesn’t provide enough clarity on the underlying philosophy. It seems a bit empty.

It needs a little more intuition, more voice, more gut.

What if we changed the phrase from “work smarter”  to “work softer”?

How does that land for you? What images come to mind?

Take a minute to ponder. Give yourself a little space. I promise I’m not going anywhere, and that never-ending to-do list isn’t either.

OK, now that you’ve formulated an idea of what this means to you, let’s dive in.

What “work softer” means

This inspiration came from a poem I read recently: “Fire” by Judy Brown.

Here’s my favorite passage:

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

While building my businesses over the years, I’ve packed as much wood into the fire as possible. With all the brute force and willpower I could muster (and a shit-ton of coffee), I’ve barely managed to singe the edges. There have been a few brief flickers of flame here and there, but that only prompts me to shove more wood onto the suffocating pile of sticks.

There has to be another way.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire grows
simply because the space is there

Wait, you’re telling me less is more? That fire grows on it’s own without my dominant superpowers?

Working softer means giving your fire room to breathe.

It means …

Giving yourself time to sit with ideas instead of acting immediately
Giving yourself permission encourage creativity
Giving yourself space to listen internally to the softer voices

I realized that most of my decisions, my leadership style, and my personal life were governed by a willpower-heavy “stick-packing” approach. I’ve come to realize (in my cold, fireless room) that willpower is only a small piece of the puzzle.

I’ve known deep down (enough to journal about this a billion different ways over the years) that the missing piece was giving myself permission to work softer. To explore creativity, to learn new things, and to approach problems in my business with the space it needed.

It doesn’t just apply to work

Part of working softer means exploring your own creativity and creating your own space. I believe that “work hard, play hard” makes Jack a dull boy.

What do you mean by creating space?

I mean not jamming your day from start to finish with action items. I mean taking breaks throughout the day to walk, to think, to breathe. I mean mono-tasking and closing your applications, so you can be present with the task at hand. Enjoy the taste of your food at lunch, look people in the eyes.

When I give myself permission to create space, I thrive. In the past, reading poetry and growing a business have seemed innately at odds. I’ll do that stuff when I’m successful, when things settle down … THEN I’ll learn piano and figure out how to be happy.

Who’s said that before … Anyone? Anyone? I’m guessing we all have.

Working softer also means doing those things now, integrating them into your life and into your work. Not work-life balance, but work-life harmony. I’m finding that the more I read, the more I write, think, and explore, the more I see the invisible lines that connect the dots in my business.

It becomes more effortless, and the fire grows on it’s own when you give it space.


You mean I don’t have to work 20 hrs a day, forcing my business forward with the strength of a thousand Thors?


Give it a try

Give this post a chance to sink in. It’s not a get-rich-quick tactic you can apply and 20x your growth overnight. It’s a philosophy that requires a lot of smaller decisions to bring to life.

I am at the beginning of embracing this concept, but I’m ecstatic for the journey.

Go for a run, actively listen to a song, read some poetry, dance. Do something to let yourself fly today, and bring that energy back into your job.

Work softer. Give yourself permission to cultivate creativity and space in your life and see what happens to your business, to your leadership, and – most importantly – to your happiness.  

I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

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