Why Hard Work is Not Good

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Trying harder could be one of the most self-sabotaging moves a proactive, well-prepared person can make. And that is counter-intuitive as hell...
Hard work is not good

In this article, I’m going to dispel one of the most common myths that students and parents discuss with me.

Here’s the scenario

Final year high school student wants to prepare for a competitive and tough university degree. They are planning to do some early preparation but want to wait until their end of year holiday so they aren’t overloading themselves during school.

Sounds good right?

Wrong.

The most important thing that we can do to increase our chances of future success under challenge is to maximise our skills and attributes.

If our skills and attributes are honed and developed, we are able to adapt and overcome challenges that come our way. There’s a saying that goes:

“You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the highest level of preparation”

Generally, I agree, but I think this should be taken a step further:

“You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the highest level of preparation that you can land on“.

Because if you’re falling too fast and too hard, your preparation may not be enough. This is precisely the situation that I see with many of my high school students transitioning into university or my university students transitioning into the workforce.

So what’s the alternative?

Here’s where the hard work thing comes in.

If you need to work your hardest to achieve a result when it’s less challenging, how are you meant to develop the skills to adapt when it’s dramatically MORE challenging?

This is the problem with simply “working hard”. The math doesn’t add up.

What that high school student above should be doing is slowly increasing their workload every week during school to gradually build up their skills of time management, self-efficacy and study efficiency, emulating their future challenge as closely as possible by the end of the year. By increasing their workload, they will be forced to get more done in less time, working smarter, not harder.

If you were to leave that same student to just “try hard”, they would probably work just as many hours and get half the work done! A perfect example of Parkinson’s Law in motion.

(If you aren’t familiar with this law, check out our time management course).

Rule of thumb

When given the choice to work harder or work smarter, always opt to work smarter. Work less, work simply and prioritise efficiency.

Just working harder can always be added on afterwards – that’s easy. But rapidly developing efficiency only in reaction to when the challenge gets harder, without ever having tested your performance at that level before?

Most of the time that’s a recipe for “too little, too late”.

Justin Sung

Justin Sung

Dr Justin Sung is a former medical doctor who now works in education and social enterprise. He has guided thousands of individuals towards living and learning more efficiently for nearly 10 years and is the founder of Foster Our Future, JTT and Finding Gravity.

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