Working too hard

Focus on working hard, not long

Here’s the thing. There’s a subtle, yet powerful distinction between the two words ‘hard’ and ‘long’ in the context of how you work.

Working long (as you probably guessed) is when your working day extends beyond the regular 9 – 5 or more likely 9 – 6 working day. Working long also includes those late night emails, texts, slack chats and diary planning. Unfortunately working ‘long’ has become a badge of honour for so many people. Social BBQs and water cooler chat is littered with stories of 5am flights and working until midnight on that “big presentation”. We rattle these stories off in an attempt to gain both praise and sympathy from our friends and colleagues.

Working ‘hard’ (on the other hand) I am taking to mean working on a task that is ‘hard to do’. This might be because this is innovative work that has never been done before or highly skilled work that few people can actually do. Working ‘hard’ will almost always result in the end achievement being the story, rather than the struggle to get there.

For example, if you’re a lawyer you can work hard on a case to win asylum for an immigrant family to Australia. This is undoubtedly arduous work. You might have to do some long hours, but the niche skill involved – coupled with the virtue of the work which can make it seem noble- is what makes it ‘hard’. Working ‘long’ can be a by-product of working ‘hard’, but the two are not causative – and that is the crucial distinction I want to make. It is possible to work hard and yet not work long hours, just as it is possible to work long hours that are not actually hard.

I was in the Virgin business lounge in Sydney last week, and while lining up for my perfectly matched meat pie and chardonnay, I overheard a senior businessman schooling his young travelling colleague¬†….

“…work smarter, not harder…”

It’s an old adage and strikes me as a classic ‘working for the pay cheque’ approach to life. This cliched line implies the desire to work less which I don’t think is at the heart of remarkable work.

The history of illustrious careers is not filled with people who managed to work fewer hours than others, nor is it filled with people who pulled the all-nighters like some ridiculous badge of honour. History rewards the people who tackled the hard tasks, the tasks that others thought to be impossible or couldn’t even imagine in the first place.

So my challenge is to ask yourself, are you working ‘hard’ or are you working ‘long’?

Because if you’re just working long hours and telling yourself you’re working hard, you’re most likely just working to help someone else achieve their ‘hard’ goals.

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