Stop working hard

Work smart, not hard. Easy to say, harder to do if you measure progress as how hard you work.

I realized in January that I experience progress as an internal feeling. That is, feeling like I’ve made progress is more important that actually getting things done. And it means that if I don’t work hard, I never feel like I’ve made a sufficient amount of progress.

In short: If work is ease-y, it doesn’t feel like I’ve worked hard enough.

“We do not trust the effortless way. We seem to have absorbed through our very pores the notion that there is some unnamed merit in the hard way. We credit as”real” only that which we do on purpose, which takes teeth-gritting effort. We belittle or ignore that which we do without deliberate intention, that which seems to happen. If we cannot take credit for the doing, we discredit it.”

–Denise McCluggage, The Centered Skier (via The Perfect Wrong Note)

The formula for my current way of measuring progress: Distance = Effort. This is confused. Would you measure the distance of a hike by how hard you walked? You walk the same distance coming down a mountain as you did going up it, even if the former feels easier.

I’m trying to rewire how I perceive progress, by:

  • Setting objective, external ways of measuring progress
  • Picking a most important thing (MIT) to do each day;  everything else is a bonus.
  • Accepting that I’ll almost always feel like I haven’t done enough, and that a) that’s okay and b) it’s not accurate.

How do you measure progress?

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3 Comments to “Stop working hard”

  1. I love the quote from ‘The Perfect Wrong Note’ and how she ties up working hard with our need for identity. The pride of the ego is an intensely difficult thing to let go of.

    It’s interesting that you posted about the MIT, as someone in my G+ also posted about that. For me that concept would be dangerous, as it would be easy for my ego to equate important with difficult, since I’m already vulnerable to the idea that the difficult things are the most important. I haven’t read the Zen Habits post yet, and I’m sure that it addresses that, but superficially I know I’d be sucked into thinking that the most difficult things are the most important.

    • First of all, thanks for responding. It’s refreshing to dialogue about these things.

      It’s a great quote and I love it more that it’s in regards to skiing. It’s not the first quote about effortless work and learning I’ve read that applies to skiing; I’ve never ski’d, but from what I understand it’s a complex task to master that is easy to overexert while doing, even though gravity is essentially doing most of the work for you. By focusing on key points of form (knees a certain distance apart, lead from your hips, etc.) you can learn more quickly and effectively, rather than through “teeth-gritting” effort.

      It also reminds me of an interview I read about MMA, where one of the Gracie family said the hardest people to teach where the smart and the strong: the smart wanted to try to figure out how it was done before they did it and the strong just wanted to push through it, forgetting about the technique.

      I think there are some analogies in both instances for the creative process.

      Re: the MIT, you bring up a really interesting point. I have read that particular post in a while but I don’t think he does deal with the issue your talking about. I’ve found that the MIT can be a relief from those other priorities we assign tasks, as it gives you some space to think about it the day before. But from what we’ve discussed in the past, doing the ETF (Easiest Thing First) for a key project is probably going to be more productive for you. That’d be an interesting post, if you do try that out. In fact, I might try it as well.

    • It’s a great quote.

      You bring up an interesting point about the MIT. If the I(mportant) in MIT is biased towards difficulty, then it could be problematic. Maybe you need an MEAIT? Most Easy and Important Thing?

      I don’t think the zenhabits post does address that. The benefit of the MIT (for me, anyway) is peace of mind. It’s a (manageable, highly prioritized) to-do list. I love lists but overestimate how much I can get done. Or I check my email first thing, get lost in 100 bitty things, and leave work dizzy and defeated, feeling like I’ve accomplished that. This recalibrates my internal sense of progress.

      We’ve discussed this elsewhere, but I’d be fascinated to hear the results of any experiments you do with a MEAIT practice. Maybe take a big project you have and, each day, spend 5m thinking, “What’s the easiest, most fun part of this?”

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