Many people work 10, 12 or even 14 hour days because they don’t want to work hard. Long hours may be exhausting, but it is also the easy way out.
Real hard work is done at the bottleneck. And the tightest bottleneck in your business is… you. And the tightest bottleneck in you… is in your head. It’s the stories you tell yourself, the nonsense like “I don’t have any time!” and “We don’t have a choice,” and “But my business is different,” and “Our market is changing too fast to have a strategy,” and “You just can’t find good people out there..” and so on.
Let’s distinguish between labor and work. Digging ditches is labor. Allow me to suggest that fourteen hours in the office is also labor. Real work, the hard work that will change your business and your life, is the work you do on yourself. And it’s different for each of us.
Your hard work might be something as simple as getting in and out of bed on time. It might be planning your year, quarter, month, week and day.
Hard work for you might be to talk less. To listen to what the people around you are actually saying; to notice how they are feeling.
Your hard work might be to slow down – so you can finally speed up. It might be to turn off your phone so you can work for 90 minutes without interruption. It might be checking your email twice a day instead of twice a minute. It might be to bite your tongue and take a deep breath when you-know-who is at it again. To stop complaining and start appreciating; to play a game of chess with your son or read a book to your daughter.
Your hard work may be – believe it or not – to work less. To step back. To listen. To enjoy. To let go. To give up those delusions of control you imagine you have, or imagine you need.
If your job is knowledge work, your hard work isn’t physical labor. It’s discipline and focus; it’s mental work.
Shut your computer and go for a walk. Put down the newspaper and pick up a good biography. Become genuinely interested in a competing point of view and hear it out until you understand the other side. You may not be swayed, but you will learn and grow from it.
Identify what wastes your time and figure out how to stop it or minimize it.
Perhaps you need to say “no” to other people’s best intentions. Or to exercise. Eat a fruit instead of a chocolate bar or a cheese Danish. Get out to a park or a coffee shop with a notepad and pencil, away from phones and internet.
Give up perfectionism. It keeps you from excellence in the small number of areas where you are truly gifted.
Maybe you need to listen to that inner voice. It knows when you do what you do because you are concerned about what others will think. It knows when you redouble your efforts in the wrong direction because you think you have no choice – at the expense of following your calling. It knows when fear is your fuel. And it knows that you will make a profound and lasting impact when you switch your fuel to love.
Slow down and set up systems so you can reduce your labor. Then work even harder. On yourself.
A life of leisure isn’t what you want so stop acting as if it were. You, a body and a soul, want a life of growth, of purpose, of contribution. Let’s stop deluding ourselves. We need to stop striving for the mythical existence fed to us by those whose interests are not our own.
The only way to get there is by working hard on ourselves. It hurts. Oh yes, it hurts. But it is also a great pleasure. Exercise hurts. It also feels great.
Indulgence is no match for the lasting pleasure of discipline and growth; of catching yourself in the act of telling a good and convincing story – to yourself – and changing direction. It is awareness; noticing when that story you tell yourself is one you wouldn’t accept from your own children or employees. Yet, from yourself you swallow it whole.
Real hard work – and the truly smart work – is about knowing thyself.
I will step off this soapbox now. I am reminded that I’ve got work to do…
Dov Gordon helps consultants, experts and small professional service firms build a steady, consistent, predictable flow of ideal clients. For five years his manual called "How to Systematically and Consistently Attract First-Rate Clients" sold for $97. You can now get it free at http://dovgordon.net/manualfree
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