Mind Manual #7: The Concept of Hard Work; Have We Got It Wrong?

The Concept of Hard Work: Have We Got It Wrong? 

Why I am writing this post:

Both myself and many of my close friends have encountered the social media bombardment of cliched motivational advice which basically boils down to “work harder than the other person”. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that phrase is the life blood of the motivational content creators today… Anyways.

I’ve seen this type of advice emerge far outside the domain of the internet. Friends who think they are lazy if they are unoccupied for a moment - myself thinking that if I can get more things checked off my “to do” list, I will earn the kind of success I want in life.

We are moving at an ever-accelerating pace in our lives today, prizing busyness and sense of exertion as our key heuristics for the degree to which we deserve the outcome we’re after.  I believe this is a fatal error in logic, cultural narrative and our personal lives.

What I hope to show you below, is that hard work requires more focus on quality than quantity. It’s about how much of yourself is attendant to the task at hand than your speed or sense of exertion you bring to the task. True hard work that produces effective results come from focus, reason, cautiousness and attention more than your ability to “push”.

With that, I hope you enjoy my short essay on the concept of hard work.


Work hard, we hear it all the time – but what does it mean?

In general, here in the west, we take it to mean a sort of untrammelled exertion that will lead to the desired outcome. But where did this notion come from and does it accurately describe how to achieve what you set out to do?

If you look at the root of the phrase “hard work”, it doesn’t refer to exertion at all. In fact, the phrase hard work is a relatively recent addition to the English lexicon. Before the 17th century, the word diligence was more commonly used in its place.  

The word diligence comes from the Latin word diligentia which means to pay close and consistent attention to something or exhibit cautiousness in pursuit of a greater goal. It is also the root of the word assiduous which means to show great care for something.  

So, the source of the idea of hard work in the west didn’t refer to all-out exertion at all, rather to focus, attention and cautiousness. With that, It seems that we need to reconsider our conception of the idea of hard work as it’s being promulgated today. We know through our experience that doing something with effort but without intelligence and consideration will not result in a better outcome. If you have to get to the other side of a brick wall, it’s better to climb over it than to try to use up all your strength trying to push through it.

In this way, the assumption that effort alone will bring you the outcome you desire is in itself a form of laziness. If you don’t take a measured and considered approach to a problem, task or situation, you aren’t “working hard enough”, or you’re not paying close enough attention to the task.

So, what is hard work?

Hard work, or more aptly put, effective hard work is a three-variable function as far as I can tell. Each of the variables are necessary but not sufficient meaning that you can’t produce good and effective work without all the conditions being satisfied.

They are;

1) Diligence

2) Effort

3) Strategy

Diligence describes how you work and the level of focus and attention you give to each detail of a task.

Effort is the part of the equation that is responsible for the willingness to work in general. It is the simple decision to use your time to work rather than do other more attractive activities. A high degree of effort is allocating a substantial amount of time towards a task or project.

Strategy is the road map from A to B. There are two things you have to know to develop a strong strategy. The first is that you have to be able to identify all relevant variables to your problem. This means breaking your problem down to its core components and writing those down. The second step is understanding the relationships between all the relevant variables. If you can identify these, then you gain the ability to understand how altering any one variable affects all the other relevant aspects of the whole picture.

A solid strategy, along with effort and diligence will reliably produce effective work.