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The 3 Pitfalls of Hard Work

I grew up in a culture which did not value hard work but glorified finding hacks and cutting corners. I became very critical of that mindset because it doesn’t lead to high-quality work and high performance.

Now I live in a country where hard work is glorified over anything else. I see that quite problematic as well, at least in terms of high performance and wellbeing. Let me explain.

1. Sometimes, it leads us to the wrong direction

I see frequently that people resort to working harder when they are not getting the results they want. The subconscious equation is “getting what you want=hard work”. So if I’m missing the mark, it means that I’m not working hard enough. I need to pump the gas a little more.

The problem with this mindset is that sometimes the reason we don’t see the result is that we are not going in the right direction. Working harder, in that case, leads us to go even further in the wrong direction. In such cases, it becomes even harder to realize that we are headed to the wrong destination. Since we put so much hard work into it, our mind would not like to perceive it as a waste. The more you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it.

Hard work in itself does not mean much. Effective and efficient work in the right direction is needed for optimal outcomes. If we are not getting the results we want, the first thing we should do is to STOP. We should stop and question our direction; we should question our methods. We should rethink and course correct before we put any more work in it.

2. It can create unnecessary work and distraction

Hard work without a good strategy can create unnecessary work for everybody, deplete the resources and become a big distraction. Compulsive hard work is risky as it can lead us to the trivial rather than the essential. I love how General von Moltke, the chief of staff of the Prussian army, puts it. He said there are only 4 types of officers:

  • Lazy & Stupid: Leave them alone, they do no harm

  • Hardworking & Intelligent: They are good obviously, keep them

  • Hardworking & Stupid: Fire them at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody

  • Lazy & Intelligent: These people are suited for the highest office

3. It can block perception and reflection

When we value hard work and busyness, our reactive mode of function becomes to act and to do. Even though the execution is essential, it should not be the first order of business.

We need to perceive before we think. We need to pay attention to what is changing, to risks and opportunities. After scanning the landscape, it’s time to reflect and come up with a strategy. Last comes the execution.

Compulsive hard work takes over the time and attention needed for perception and thinking. It makes us jump to execution prematurely.

“It’s true hard work never killed anyone but, I figured, why take the chance?” ~Ronald Regan


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