Lies – Hard Work is the Key – DBR 013

This is one of a set of posts on common misconceptions about productivity and work. I call them Lies About Productivity. I’ll address some ‘lie’ and suggest a new mindset that is helpful toward being effective, not exhausted – Do Busy Right.

The Lie: You should equate working hard to being productive. Or that work should be hard in order to be valuable. At a minimum, we need to redefine the word ‘hard’ in this context. ‘Hard’ is too vague to be useful and to negative to be helpful.

The problem of not thinking beyond ‘hard’:

  • I don’t think ‘hard’ is necessary and it’s clearly not good for us
  • Value proposition to the world (no source, sorry)
    • Value proposition to the world
    • General value proposition
    • Adding, believing, or relying on: I’m a hard worker
  • Cultural norms around hard work (legend: both forward and backward)
  • Historical notion of ‘hard work’ – based on physical labor
  • Even religious notions of ‘hard work’ – protestant work ethic
  • Self-talk and ‘hard’ – why pick ‘hard’ it’s too vague to be helpful and too negative to be encouraging
  • Taking aim at the legend and the lore around ‘hard’ work

Think about things that ‘hard’ is not – we can pull them out of our definition

  • ‘Hard’ <> (‘many hours’, thinking thoroughly, facing frustrations, etc.) <> ‘lots to do’ (Attention Compass)
  • ‘Hard’ <> more valuable – flow state is effortless
  • ‘Hard’ <> probability of failure (Made shot vs. missed shot)
  • ‘Hard’ <> ‘expert level’ – Experts don’t find their work ‘hard’
  • My bass example of expertise – chunking
  • In fact, some things get so well-ingrained that I do them too often
  • Excel example – more blocks, chunks


  • Symptom: the trap of increasing hours
    • Trap
    • Corollary – harvest part of the value of your own growth
    • MBA example of value sharing
  • Symptom: we don’t define our availability and response levels
  • Symptom: over-producing quality
  • Symptom: vague value proposition
  • Symptom: mediocre performance
  • Symptom: imposter syndrome
  • Symptom: everything becomes hard

New mindset

  • The new mindset – work should be a joy – creating beauty or good
  • The new mindset – we develop greater patience with ourselves
  • Bass example – creating beauty or good
  • The Gap and the Gain
  • Focus on the gap during PRACTICE and the gain during PERFORMANCE
  • Hard work is not a moral imperative
  • We’re not doing physical labor – we’re not doing brain surgery


  • Result one – redefine the value proposition
  • Result two – sense of craftsmanship, of expertise
  • Crawford and craftsmanship – physicality vs. visibility
  • Craftsmanship gets lost if it’s hard


  • Tool one – value proposition is a tool, make sure it includes some things that you enjoy
  • Tool two – practice your skills, so you see yourself getting better (or easier)
  • Tool three – grow your confidence
  • Not the weak, abstract confidence, but specific and concrete
  • Tool four – use your words more precisely

We hear over and over again that hard work is the key to success. I just don’t think that is useful advice. It’s not nearly precise enough, thoughtful enough. 

I’m not saying that the key to success is sitting, doing nothing; I believe in diligence and engagement. Nor am I saying that work is easy (although it can and should normally be calm, meaningful, and joyful); that’s no more helpful or precise than ‘hard’. 

I’m saying to understand what is challenging about your specific work task: too routine/boring, frustrating, many things to consider, needs deep focus, etc. Name that thing and acknowledge it. This will lead to effectively dealing with the specific challenge. It will also help avoid the trap of ‘hard’ work as our value proposition to the world.