There is lots of popular advice about working smart not hard. Most of the advice givers (that you read advice from) are successful and have gone through long periods of hard work. Whether it was starting companies or obsessively writing novels, they dove headfirst into their work and then slowly over time eased out. They learned what their most valuable skills are and they learned how to focus on the most important work and not get lost in small details or distractions.
Early in your career, reading this advice can be confusing. Most of the options in from of you to make money require lots of hard work and long hours. You don’t know what you’re most valuable skills are yet and no one is interested in paying you for your unique abilities. Reading about how you should work smart, not hard, or how it is never productive to work more than 40 hours leads you to turn away from opportunities that would actually be very beneficial.
It is possible for a successful author, VC, or entrepreneur to talk about how working 60 hours a week is a waste of time because they have spent long periods of time putting in long hours. They got to the position they are in now—where they can create lots of value in a short amount of time—by diving in, working hard, and slowly eliminating less valuable tasks. They were all willing at one point to work very hard.
Most advice from successful people comes from their situation in life. They have already learned how to create value and use their unique abilities. The hard and boring administrative work is way less valuable for them (relatively), so they should be trying to set their lives up to be as creative as possible. But when you are young and early in your career you should prioritize simply getting opportunities to create value. When you learn how to create through brute force, you can eventually learn how to do it with more finesse and efficiency, but you can’t take slow steps and ease your way into creating a lot of value.
There is a great episode of the Forward Tilt podcast on a similar topic: Babies Don’t Baby Step