Why working harder is not the answer

working smarter

Lately, I seem to see a lot of posts popping up on social media praising ‘hard work’, claiming that this is indeed necessary if we want to succeed. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The moment I stopped ‘working hard’ was the moment I became ‘successful’.


The thing is, success means something different to everyone. To you, success may mean earning a certain amount of money each year. To your friend, success may mean having a certain status in society. To your neighbour, success might mean living a contented life. How we know when we have reached this level of success will also differ from person to person.

Working in vineyards when I was a teenager was hard work. Every morning at 6 am I would trudge off to Ata Rangi Vineyard to meet with the dozen or so other workers in preparation for leaf plucking. Now let me tell you something about leaf plucking, until you have done it you won’t understand how monotonous, and hard, it is. Come rain or shine there we’d stand, slowly edging our way down the umpteen rows for hours on end, plucking the leaves from around the grapes, to make way for the sunlight. I would fall into bed at night, close my eyes, and see leaves behind my eyelids. I dreamed about leaf plucking and was extremely grateful the next year when I got a job as the dish washer at our local pub. Some people might like leaf plucking, but to me it felt hard. Mainly because I didn’t want to be there.

For me, I am going to feel and be successful when I get paid to do what I love on a daily basis and can live the life I want to live.


It doesn’t matter what your version of success is, what matters is how you plan on getting there and whether or not you want it to involve ‘working hard’ for the moneys, or not. I’m telling you now though, there is a much simpler way.

Up until last year I was definitely a ‘hard work = success’ belieber. I would have told you with firm volition that in order for me to succeed in life I needed to work my arse off, 24 hours a day. What came with this mindset was stress, workaholism, discontentment, anxiety and an unease as I was constantly under the impression that I just wasn’t working hard enough. No amount of working seemed to be getting me anywhere. I would start work at 8 in the morning and sometimes feel guilty when I switched off at 6 pm. In my mind, all the other ‘successful’ people didn’t switch off. They were working 24 hours a day.

But this ‘working hard’ mindset just leaves us feeling like we’re in a hamster wheel, spinning and spinning, with no end in sight. The bars rotate before our eyes until they are simply a blur and we become dizzy and overwhelmed.

It also assumes that work has to be hard, rather than being, say, enjoyable. In telling ourselves on a daily basis that we need to work harder, we are immediately putting pressure on ourselves to perform and do. It takes the fun out of work. Unless of course working hard for 12 hours a day is your idea of fun, and if so then do that. If not, then read on.

 “Imagine working 20% smarter instead of 20% longer. Work-life balance and startup success at any stage aren’t mutually exclusive. There are enough hours in the day to be effective and present.”

David Cummings, Pardot

If we are constantly telling ourselves that we have to work hard to be successful then what the hell is the point?

Working smarter, not harder


If we are doing something we love and enjoying ourselves, then surely there is no need for it to be hard.

What if being successful didn’t have to be about working hard and instead was about working smarter?

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if being successful involved working less hours in the day, not more?

What if in order to be successful, all we had to do was let go of the unnecessary crap we’re carrying around and embracing the things in our life that make us feel fulfilled?

What if being successful meant living a healthy and balanced life?

You might be reading this and thinking ‘Yeah right!’ Well, I am here to tell you that it is all possible. All it takes is a few simple changes.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Maya Angelou

The minute I changed my mindset from ‘working hard to succeed’ to ‘working smarter to succeed’ I began bringing in more money in my business. I started attracting clients that were perfect for me. I began working shorter days and prioritising my time so that I focused on just one thing. When I adopted this strategy I noticed that when I work for shorter stints at a time I was more productive. I was able to focus on what I was doing and enjoy myself in the process. I was able to be present to the task at hand and in turn was more efficient and effective in my work.

“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” 

Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Not only this, I began to take care of me. After all, I am the one running the business. If I don’t have my health and wellbeing looked after then I won’t have a business. This meant exercising, taking breaks, enjoying my morning meditation, yoga and breakfast. Eating away from my computer, and, as I said, working less.

You only have to look at those of us who advocate working smarter (Timothy Ferriss, David Cummings, Timo Kiander, Cyril Peupion) to know that this thing works. We have learned the strategies involved in being successful that cultivate creativity, effectiveness and productivity. Here’s some tips for working smarter, not harder.

Tips for working smarter, not harder

1: Organisation is fundamental when working smarter


Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author, talks about ‘smart organisation’ for everyday life in his book “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload”. He argues that organisation improves our memories and attention and makes us more imaginative and clear sighted. Organise your tasks, organise your office space (tidy space, tidy mind), organise the folders on your computer, keep everything organised and you will be more productive. Period.

2: Allocate productivity hours


Being productive is essential to working smarter. An article written last year by Kevin Kruse outlines 15 ways to double your productivity using the habits of millionaires and having allocated times to work is one of those. If you believe that being successful means working harder and working harder involves working more than 8 hours in a day then you might want to rethink your success strategy. Research has shown that people who work less hours in a day are more productive. What this means is that you really, really, don’t have to work overtime. In fact, it is utterly pointless and anyone telling you different is stark raving mad. You’re better off going for a bike ride, switching your mind off, and coming back to it tomorrow.

3: Learn to prioritise


Daniel Levitin also notes that humans tend to put off things that don’t provide immediate reward. This means that searching social media and liking posts is more rewarding than doing the task in front of us as it doesn’t (always) bring us immediate reward. If we don’t prioritise we will find ourselves going cray cray from too much multi-tasking when what we’re really doing is attempting a whole bunch of tasks in a mediocre fashion.

The best way to prioritise is to write down all the things in your diary that are pressing (or that have deadlines looming). Then number them from 1-5 with 1 being ‘most important and 5 being ‘not important’. Next, get out your diary and allocate time to actually do the tasks. Be realistic and have deadlines written up too. This will free up time, space and energy to focus on just one thing.

4: Focus on just one thing


There is a question I ask every client at the end of our session and that is: “What is one thing you are going to focus on moving forward?” Not five things, just the one. The less we focus on, the more effective we will be. Don’t put unnecessary crap in your mind. Clutter and busyness stifle creativity (which I have written about before here) and stillness and simplicity cultivate it.

Your brain has a daily processing limit and multi-tasking leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which clouds thinking and creates mental fog. Searching the web for hours on end and having too many things on your ‘to do’ list only takes up mental space and adds to this mental fog.

Instead, focus on one task for a small chunk of time and write things down on a piece of paper as they pop up in your mind so you don’t have to give them any thought. When you have finished the task you are working on you can send that email or find out that yoga class that you wanted to go to.

5: Implement a reward system


One of the best ways of inspiring effective and smarter work is through implementing a reward system for yourself. This is something that you do after you have completed an important task. For example, I just sent off a course overview proposal and so as a reward I am going to relax, go to a yoga class, and eat some delicious food. This small act of acknowledgement to myself means that I feel good after the completing of something important. It comes back to the work of Ivan Pavlov in the 1980s. Through stimulus and response we can learn to associate positive rewards with behaviour if we consistently receive these rewards. In this case, doing a task that is important or meaningful to me will result in an immediate reward for that task and so I will continue doing this in order to receive the reward. Make sense?! Goooood.

The reward doesn’t have to be monetary based and can be anything from getting some fresh air to splashing out on a relaxing massage. Whatever blows your hair back babe.

Finally, ask yourself the following questions:

What does success mean to you?

What will it feel like, be like, and mean to be successful?

How do you want to spend your work day?

What will it take for you to enjoy your work day?

How can you work smarter?

There you have it, a way of worker smarter not harder, so who is with me?

Let me know in the comments how you plan on working smarter this coming week.

Tess x

ps if you liked this post and want to receive more information that will help you live a fulfilling and creative life head over here and download your free PDF with 5 Tools to Help You Get Unstuck.

5 comments on “Why working harder is not the answer

    • Thanks Rebecca, that is exactly what I have experienced and what can be seen with all my clients. When we ‘let go’ and stop the pushing we are open to receive and things just happen. How beautiful is that? Thank you for your comment. Tess x

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