Why Hard Work Isn’t Such a Good Idea

There’s an idea ingrained in many cultures that hard work is a good thing in itself. You’ll have seen this in action. People brag (even in the guise of moaning) about their long hours, or they tell that getting to the top means years and years of hard work.

You might buy into the myth that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be.

So you put in more hours. You work at the weekends. You focus on the easier tasks, so that you can build up a huge long list of accomplishments.

Except … it feels like you’re running hard and getting nowhere. In fact, you’re ending up feeling exhausted and burnt out.

Hard Work Isn’t Enough

Of course, most worthwhile goals require some work. Sometimes they take days, weeks, even years of consistent effort: the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell suggests that to become an expert, you need to put in roughly 10,000 hours (that’s three hours a day for ten years).

Perhaps it seems only fair that the harder you work, the more you’ll achieve.

Unfortunately, that’s not really true.

You could work hard at something without getting far at all. Let’s say that, at work, you decide to work harder: you answer all your emails, you get all the filing done, you even help out some colleagues … but you never volunteer for a new project, or take on any tasks which help you develop your skills – so you never get that promotion you’re hoping for.

If you’re a student, you can spend long hours poring over your books – without really taking anything in.

If you’re going in business for yourself, you might spend forever tweaking your website – even though you don’t have a single client yet.

Can you see the problem? Success isn’t just about how long or how hard you work – it’s about what you work at. Perhaps you’ve heard this summed up as don’t just work hard, work smart.

Hard Work CAN Kill You

Hard work never killed anyone. (Proverbial)

Overworking can be seriously damaging to your health. Stress and long hours can lead to heart problems, increased susceptibility to infection, fatigue disorders like CFS/ME… and even suicide.

We live in a world where we often feel pushed to do more. You might be under pressure from your peers, your parents, or society in general. You might well have internalized these influences – and you may believe that to be “successful”, you need to have a high-flying career or a huge salary.

Ultimately, though, you won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of your hard work if you ruin your health in the process.

Working hard isn’t always a good thing. It can actually end up being selfish and destructive, if:

  • Your long hours cause problems for your family
  • You’re short-tempered with colleagues or employees
  • You make mistakes because you’ve been working too hard
  • You lose your sense of perspective, and let work take over your life

How to Keep Work in Perspective

You might love your work – I know I love mine! But however much you enjoy it, your work isn’t your whole life. Recognize the importance of other things – like friends, family, hobbies, sufficient rest and relaxation…

If you’re working hard in the hopes of retiring early, ease up on work and enjoy your whole life a little more – instead of hoping for a few golden years at the end of it.

If you’re working hard to buy more things for your kids, ask yourself whether it’s really more money that they need – or your presence.

If you’re working hard because you feel that you “should” – then remember that this is your life, and it’s up to you to decide how to live it.

I’m sure you’ve got plenty of views on working hard (whether you strive for it or try to avoid it!) – so let us know your thoughts in the comments…

Photo from Flickr, courtesy of coljay72


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.