Why Working Harder Isn’t Always Smarter

Do more, better, always.

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Does it ever feel like, no matter how much work you do, you’re not getting anywhere?

As if the hours of effort and gallons of coffee don’t even matter?

That’s probably because a lot of people feel the need to talk about how hard they’re currently working, or how hard they worked to get to wherever they are today. In books. On social media. At conferences. Anywhere they can.

Which isn’t totally a bad thing. Some aspiring creatives need to be reminded that hard work is the only way to accomplish something meaningful. That success doesn’t just magically happen, especially not overnight.

But constantly hearing about what hard work looks like from different people’s points of view can give many of us the wrong idea about what it actually means.

The toughest part about this is that no two people operate the same way. Everyone’s schedules, circumstances, peek productivity times, and the like vary considerably.

You can’t judge whether or not you’re working “hard enough” by watching someone else.

And you certainly can’t declare “your way” as the only or “right” way to do anything.

In addition, doing “more” doesn’t always guarantee better or faster results. The quality of the work you do matters much more than how much you get done in a week or even in a year.

Working “harder” should be measured by whether or not your skills and results are improving. Can someone write five books a year? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter if the third, fourth, and fifth books aren’t any better than the first and second ones.

Wondering if the amount or scale of the work you’re doing is enough? Here’s my advice.

  • If you feel like you’re working as hard as you possibly can, you’re probably doing fine.
  • Listen to your body. If it’s telling you to slow down, slow down.
  • Not everyone is built to run on the same schedule, hours of sleep, etc. Just because one person can work 14 hour days seven days a week doesn’t mean you have to.
  • If your brain is tired, let it rest.
  • People won’t remember how hard you worked. They care about what you accomplish and who you are as a person.
  • Stop talking about how hard you’re working and keep working.

How hard you need to work to accomplish your goals within a specific time frame depends on what you’re trying to do, how much time you can and will dedicate to one or multiple projects, how experienced you are, and the varying obstacles that might stand in your way.

It’s OK to glance at others’ tracks and progress for guidance and inspiration.

But do things at the pace and level you can handle. In the long run, it will pay off much more than trying to do something someone else’s way and totally burning out in the process.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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3 thoughts on “Why Working Harder Isn’t Always Smarter

  1. I completely agree.
    I’m definitely reminded of how many authors may take a while to write their masterpiece, but those stories are strong. I’ve read stories by authors who crank out a novel every 2 months, or 6 months, and for me, there’s no comparison with titles like Name of the Wind. Granted, it’s also important to be comfortable with that choice.
    Part of the reason I’m currently focused on writing short stories is to try and learn what I can from completing stories (regardless of length) before learning what I can only master through novel writing.
    But there is that way in which, a well written story that takes longer than most like is still worth reading, while a weak story is never worth reading, no matter how quickly it was completed.
    I tend to prescribe to a theory of “first master the quality, then gradually work on improving the rate of work while maintaining the same level of quality.”

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