Working hard doesn’t always work

Working hard is a good thing. It’s the opposite of being lazy. It signals a strong work ethic. It means you tough out challenges, stay the course, and get stuff done.

Well, sometimes that’s what working hard means.

Other times, working hard means you’re spinning your wheels, killing precious hours, and setting yourself up for a crash and burn.

If you want to break a sweat because it’s worthwhile and rewarding, go for it. A challenging and exciting project deserves your extra attention. A tough assignment with a fast-approaching deadline calls for long hours. To cross the finish line, you might need to dig deep, push yourself, and ignore the aches and pains along the way.

But too much hard work is unsustainable. It burns up your inner reserves, making you less productive and more irritable. When you’re tired, you have trouble focusing, interacting with others, and developing creative solutions. Working too hard can stop you from getting ahead.

Hard work also does not always lead to success. Innate ability, support systems, connections, timing, market forces, and serendipity come into play. If you treat every failure as a sign that you’re not working hard enough, you’re overdue for a wake-up call.

Being super busy, burning the midnight oil and skimping on rest ought to trigger big questions like: Are you working hard on the right things? Do your efforts really make a difference? Is the payoff worth the time you’re investing? Why are you working so hard? What are you trying to prove? Are you being taken advantage of? Is there an easier way to get the work done? Could you add more value elsewhere?

Because working hard doesn’t always work:

 1) Take regular breaks.  Instead of working more than a couple hours at a time, get up from your desk. Stretch or take a walk. Don’t skip lunch. Use your vacation days, even if this involves just kicking back at home.

 2) Get enough sleep.  Research shows that most of us need 7 to 8 hours to feel fully renewed. If you’re getting less, tweak your routine. Set an earlier bedtime or a later wakeup time. Shut down all technology, including your computer, TV, and smart phone, 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep.

3) Maximize the value of your efforts, not the hours you spend on a task.  Make your work count. Create significant impact. Short bursts of high productivity beat long hours of minimum productivity.

4) Be more purposeful and less reactionary in the way you work. Have you ever watched a tennis match? The players who win usually have killer serves and well-placed shots. The players who lose tend to be more defensive, frantically running up and down the court. It’s hard to respond to every single ball that comes your way. Instead, focus on where you serve your shots and place your returns.

Work hard when you want to and when you must. But don’t let it be your default mode because it doesn’t always work.


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Photo by: mag3737, Tom Magliery