Why work hard?

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Anthony Pica
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Why work hard?

Why work hard?

Conventional wisdom says to work smarter, not harder.

But I think it's terrible advice.

I think working hard is a way to work smarter.

Yes, repetitive tasks should be automated with software. Yes, we should delegate and prioritize our time.

The problem lies within the definition: what does "work hard" really mean? Putting in 12-hour days? Managing countless projects at the same time? Having a calendar full of meetings?

That kind of hard work could short-circuit a robot.

We could spend half the day in meetings discussing eight different projects—and still be ineffective.

Here's another definition of "working hard" I'm thinking about: short periods of deliberately controlled attention. (Cal Newport might call it "working deeply.")

Before I passed a User Experience Designer test last week, I worked through a prep course. I completed the study material in half the estimated time. I don't mean to boast; my point is to illustrate the value of working hard. By focusing intensely on one task in a distraction-free environment, I learned and retained information in less time. The same can be applied to other types of knowledge work: writing, programming, reviewing a legal contract, coaching, strategic planning, etc. It can be tough to get focused—especially in the first 10 minutes—but the payoff is worth it.

I would rather focus with extreme intensity for 45 minutes on a project than casually work on it over a period of 3 hours, despite the latter feeling easier. It gives me more time for other stuff, like leading my team or being with my family.

Imagine telling a weightlifter not to work hard. She'd laugh at you. Yes, having good form is essential. Yes, breaks between sets are critical.

But during each rep, you concentrate and push yourself. Then rest, repeat. That's how you grow.

Working hard and working smarter are not mutually exclusive.

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