Hard work is a requirement for achieving any kind of important goal. Whether it’s a goal for career, finances, relationships, or anything else, you can bet that it will take some level of hard work to achieve it.
But there are also those who work hard that don’t end up achieving their goals. There are plenty of people who tried to climb the corporate ladder, become a top athlete, or start a multi-million dollar company that failed after putting in a ton of hard work. The problem isn’t the lack of work though, it’s the type of work being done. If you want to succeed, then you have to be doing deliberate work.
Why Hard Work FAILS
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
— Ariana Huffington
Hard work means putting in more effort. If you’re working an office job, you’re staying late to get things done faster and better. If you’re running a business, you’re putting in more hours to maximize the growth of your company.
All of that hard work is fantastic if it’s helping you to improve and move forward. But that begs the question: is it helping you move forward? Are you sure?
For example, perhaps you stay late after work to try to perfect your project, only to find out in the next day’s meeting that the higher-ups don’t really care about those minor perfection details. Or maybe you keep grinding away at your business only to realize later that the product you’re building isn’t what customers really want. Your hard work is being applied in the wrong direction, to the wrong things that aren’t getting you any results.
Without having the proper direction, your efforts end up being wasted. You don’t see any real progress and you don’t get the results that you want. This way of working can be quite discouraging since you never see the fruits of your labour. At the end of the day, progress and results are what we care about and what we should be striving for.
Deliberate Work Wins
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”
— Henry Ford
You should be doing deliberate work if you want to succeed. The key difference is that deliberate work has a specific purpose aimed at achieving specific results, rather than just aimless hard work. It has a direction, a target, and that target is what will ensure that your work gets you the results and success that you want.
You can think of this from a pure efficiency point of view. If you’re not aiming at a good target, then the work you do will be less effective. Maybe the extra hours you put in at the office end up being 40% effective, or 25%, or maybe just 10%. Some of the extra perfection work you did will be recognized, some of it won’t be. It would be far better for most if not all of your work to be effective, so you can maximize your chances of advancing in your career.
With deliberate work, your efficiency is much higher. You’re getting an efficiency of 70, 80, or even 90% because you know your target and are sure that the work you’re doing will move you closer to that target, in this case getting recognized. It’s deliberately aimed at achieving a specific result. All of that efficiency compounds more and more as you move forward. It’s both motivating and incredibly progressive in achieving your goals.
How to do Deliberate Work
The most important thing with deliberate work is making sure that the extra effort you put in counts. There are 3 steps to achieving that.
1. Set your target
Your first step is to set your target. As the great stoic philosopher Seneca once said:
“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”
You need to figure out what you’re aiming at. Before jumping into the hard work, think about what you want to achieve. What result do you want to get? When will you get it? Why do you want it?
You certainly don’t have to answer these questions 100% perfectly on the first try, that just isn’t practical in many cases. But the important thing is to at least try. Give yourself that clear picture of what you want. By doing so, it’ll be a lot easier to create an effective plan of attack and make your hard work count. You know exactly what you want, so you can determine exactly what you need to do to achieve it.
For example, at work, this can be something like “complete phase 1 of the project by February 4th, one week ahead of schedule.” Then you would make sure that any work that you do moves you closer to that specific goal.
2. Attack with a purpose
Now that you have a target, you can start working towards it by attacking that goal with a purpose. Do your deliberate work such that each effort is spent on something specific and results-driven. You should be getting something tangible out of all the effort you put in. To make sure that that is the case, you can look at your work and ask yourself: “When I finish this, will I be closer to my end goal?” and “what tangible result will I get at the end of this?”
At the same time, make sure that you’re doing the right kind of work. There are no prizes for being “the hardest worker;” the rewards in life come from results and achievement. So focus on achieving your goal in whatever you can. Ask yourself: “Is there a way I can accomplish this faster?” and “Is there a way I can accomplish this with less effort?” Ignore the mentions of the “grind.” Look for the methods of work that are the most effective and do that. Be results-driven.
For example, for your business, this can be something like “get 10,000 views per month on my website.” Then any work you do is direct at that and it is done in the most efficient way that you can find.
3. Review and iterate
Of course, things won’t always work on the first try. Achieving any big goal will always require some amount of trial, error and learning. That’s why it’s important to review and iterate.
When you’ve completed a chunk of work, look back on it and ask yourself: “What went well about this work? What were the positive points?” Asking yourself these questions will help you identify which elements of your work are serving you well and that you should reuse in the future.
At the same time, look back on what didn’t go so well. Ask yourself: “What parts of my work weren’t as effective as I wanted them to be? Why was that the case?” Asking yourself these questions will help you identify which elements of your work need improvement. From there, you can either remove them or refine them to become more effective.
What we are doing here is iterating. Each time you work, you look at the positives and negatives and use that information to improve the next time. Thus, each set of work you complete is better than the last. All of your work makes you get better and better over time.
For example, if you’re looking to improve a skill like playing chess, you can review each of your games and see which moves were good and bad. You use that information to get better the next time by continuing to make good moves and avoiding the previous mistakes.
It is often thought that hard work is the key to success. But if that work isn’t being applied in the right direction, it ends up being a wasted effort.
What you want instead is deliberate work. You think before you dive into your work to define your target. With a clearly defined target, all of your hard work can be applied in the right direction and in a way that helps you achieve the results that you really want. There are 3 steps to doing deliberate work:
- Set your target — The first thing to do is to define your goal, very specifically, so that you know exactly what you’re aiming for and can create an effective plan.
- Attack with a purpose — Work towards your goal in a purposeful, conscious way. Make sure that all of your work gets you some kind of incremental result that moves you closer to your goal. Aim to do your work in the most effective, results-driven way that you know.
- Review and iterate — No one gets everything right on the first try, but that’s where iterating comes in. Every time you complete a chunk of work, review it to see what did and didn’t go well. Use those learnings to improve your method of working and become a master over time.
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
Grit: The Power of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth