Hard Work Is Overrated
If you know me at all, you’ll read the title of this post and instantly jump up from your seat. You’ll point your finger at the screen, arm arrow-straight, and shout out at the top of your voice: “FRAUD!”
People will stare, but you won’t be able to control yourself.
Yes, I’ve been known to work hard from time-to-time. It’s how I overcame a talent deficit in high school to get good grades, and a talent deficit in the pool to win some races. I worked about 100 hours a week for six years straight to build my first business, and just a bit less in my two years as a nonprofit CEO.
Since then, I’ve been starting work at 5 a.m. seven days a week to build my social media knowledge. I kind of always work. It’s almost a compulsion for me.
So, where do I get off with the title of this post? Well, there’s work, and then there’s work. That’s where.
To put it another way, not all work is created equal. Some work is arduous, like “real work.” Real work is hard work. It leaves us tired at the end of the workday, wrung-out. Writing a report, plowing a field, making ten sales calls in a day, building a stone wall: these are all real work, aren’t they?
When we’re done, they give us something to point to and say, “I did that.” They also often give bosses something to measure (which an awful lot of bosses just love to do!)
This type of work is often entirely necessary – quite often our business endeavor depends on it! If you’re a cashier, your very job exists because your company needs you to do the real work of assisting your customers and taking their money. In cases like this, hard work is not overrated at all: it’s just good.
Not all work is created equal.
There’s another type of essential work. And it’s not hard like building a stone wall or checking hundreds of customers in a day – in fact, this other type of work is often quite relaxing. And that can cause trouble.
For one, if you’re anything like me, doing this type of work can make you feel guilty, like you’re goofing off. And if you work with a boss who likes to measure how hard you work, when you do this other kind of work, this relaxing kind, he can think you’re goofing off as well. That can be problematic.
Here’s the thing, though – and this is something your boss and I both must learn to embrace: much of our best work can come from what researchers call “intuiting”. To intuit, we must relax our brains and let connections assemble themselves into insight; into those “Eureka!” moments that are often the result of a mind free to roam.
If you’re a farmer, I urge you to keep milking your cows; you can’t relax into the work of caring for your animals. But in the Twenty-teens, most of us are knowledge workers. And we face the problem that we’re not raised to be comfortable “relaxing into our work.”
As essential as my own quiet reflection is to my writing and innovating, it still makes me feel guilty, so that I’m drawn to busy work throughout the week. This is why my best insights come fast and furious on Sunday mornings, as I prepare for my beach run. My mind has time to relax, reflect, and intuit. My insight comes flying out then, often filling sheets of paper before it’s done.
Much of our best work can come from what researchers call “intuiting”.
As geologist Sarah Andrews said, “It is our capacity to throw our brains into neutral and let connections assemble… that makes it possible to see connections that others can’t. We relax into the work.”
I read about Sarah in a phenomenal book, The Dyslexic Advantage, by Brock and Fernette Eide. The next time we update the Business Heretic’s Bookstore, this masterwork will make the list.
If you are yourself dyslexic (as I am), have a loved one who is, or if you are absolutely fascinated with the creative process and how it applies to business, you will eat up this important work – it’s hard to find a page that is anything short of compelling.
Even if your brain doesn’t transpose letters and numbers; even if you’re part of the 80% of humans who isn’t dyslexic at all, and whether you read this book, I hope you allow yourself – and your employees – to “relax into their work”.
Knowledge work is not about maximizing real work. It’s about solving problems. To do that, you and your people need more white space on their calendars, more “staring out the window” time. You need less hard work, not more.
If you want to win in today’s advanced economy, hard work really is overrated.
Art by: stevenfields