Why Hard Work Might be the Worst Thing You Can Do

Success is measured by what you get out, not by what you put in.

There’s a Far Side cartoon, where a kid is trying to enter the Midvale School for the Gifted, and he’s standing on the front steps, pushing as hard as he can against the door labeled “Pull”.

Some days feel like that. We push and push, and nothing happens. We push harder, just knowing that something should be happening, but nothing does. Sometimes we push until we burn out. Sometimes we give up because we just aren’t seeing the results we want, and we lose heart.

Sometimes, it really is as simple as stepping back, reassessing, and pulling instead of pushing.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Anthony Shaw

Effort is how hard you’re working—how much you’re putting in. How much time you’re active vs. how much time you’re idle. It’s a measurement of how busy we are or how engaged we are—which has its merits, but isn’t always the right thing to focus on.

Productivity isn’t measured by how much effort you’re putting in. It’s measured by the results you get out. It’s a measurement of how effective we are.

So why is it important to work hard and hustle if you want to be successful, be more productive, and ultimately have more time to relax?

It comes down to alignment.

How well are your actions aligned with your goals? How well does what you do line up with the outcome you’re after?

Maybe you’re not clear on the outcome you want, or you don’t know the best way to get it. Maybe you need additional training or skills. Maybe you just aren’t planning well, and keep getting blown off course as you go.

When there is little or no alignment, the best way to increase your output is to increase the alignment. Remove the inefficiencies, the distractions. At this point, if you push harder, you might be able to increase the valued results that you get out, but you’re also increasing the amount of wasted effort.

Once you have alignment, then it’s okay to push harder. You know you’re heading in the right direction. You’re focused. Now you’re at a point where you can increase your results by increasing the effort.

When you really get alignment and a strong sense of purpose, you can start to see a multiplier effect in your efforts. You learn to identify the point of diminishing returns and know when it’s time to stop pushing on one thing and start pushing on another.

If the kid on the steps pushed hard enough, he could have gotten inside. Either the frame would have given, or the door would have buckled. But that would have taken a lot of effort, and someone would have been upset about what he did to the door.

Productivity shouldn’t feel that way. When you aren’t getting the results you want, step back, reassess the situation, and make sure you’re focusing your efforts in the right direction.

Question: How can you increase the alignment between your actions and your goals? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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