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Good old fashioned hard work
Not all work is the same. There’s work we do to show that we’re working. There’s the overtime we put in. And then there’s nose-to-grindstone work, the sometimes dull, but necessary, part of a job. If you think about it, that’s often where we make real progress and get real results. It’s this last kind of work I want to talk about today.
I couldn’t find a satisfying definition of this type of work. Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of “deep work”: the kind of concentrated, revolutionary labor that Cal Newport lays out in his book of the same name. Deep work is the work that earns you that promotion. The work that makes it all worth it.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is “shallow work”, work that adds no new value to the world, according to Cal. But between these two extremes, I see another category. If I had to draw the spectrum, it would look something like this:
There’s something in between deep work and shallow work
One of the most challenging goals for me at Blendle at any given time was finding new people to join the team. How do you do that? Well, it takes time – time to plow through countless profiles on LinkedIn, time to draft a good recruiting message. And then time to wait and hope you get a promising response.
Is this deep work? I don’t think so. It’s not visionary or innovative or pioneering. But is it shallow? Certainly not. If I’ve learned one thing it’s the importance of having the right people on your team. People make or break what you can achieve and the speed with which you can do it. Finding someone who completes the team can take all the work to a new level.
For lack of a better term, I call this “hard work” – the grueling, often repetitive work that’s unlikely to get you a promotion or a prize. But hard work is essential to moving the ball forward and achieving your goals. Diligence. Dedication. Fixing all the baseboards instead of continually having to repair a section. Tackling 50 pages of edits instead of a few here and there. And in my case: devoting three hours of my workday to writing prospective team members.
Striving for more deep work is a beautiful and productive thing. The more shallow work you eliminate, the more effective you’ll be. And yet hard work – good old fashioned hard work – has to get done. So how can we get better at doing it?
Recognize the value of hard work
I wouldn’t say we’re lazy by nature. But let’s just say we’re energy-efficient. Hard work demands lots of willpower – to get started and to keep going. If you can gauge the value of hard work, you belong to a select group of people. Meeting and emailing about hard work may feel productive, but it doesn’t get the job done. Once you understand the effects hard work can have, it’s easier to dive in.
Set aside time for hard work
Hard work doesn’t just happen; you have to set aside time for it. But there’s an upside: chunks of time in your calendar have a clear starting point, but also a clear finish line. That makes even the most mind-numbing task doable. If you schedule these tasks, you can ensure you take them on at the hour you’re most likely to succeed. Scheduling boring work at the end of the day, for instance, doesn’t work for me at all. So think strategically about when you choose to do the hard work.
Remember: there’s always someone in charge of your time. If you don’t take charge yourself, you’re relinquishing control to others.
Anticipate the boredom
A long drive can be dull, but sometimes you can power through, knowing it’s the start of a great vacation. Soliciting five complex bids instead of one can be tiresome. But what if that’s the way to find the best candidate? Then the result makes it all worth it. You know that this kind of hard work won’t generate some earthshaking breakthrough; but it is the way to get closer to your goal, step by step. Anticipate the boredom, and it loses its power to derail your efforts.
Stop looking for a breakthrough, a shortcut, or some other distraction from the task at hand
At Blendle, we used GitHub to keep track of prospective candidates and where they are in the hiring process. It’s not a perfect system, but it did the job. And still: every time I worked with it, I found myself wanting to build a better system for tracking applicants.
Just the idea of building a system myself – one that might save me a couple of steps per applicant – served as a powerful distraction from the job at hand. And while this new, imagined system would make my job easier, it does absolutely nothing to solve my actual problem: hiring new people now.
When it comes to hard work, it’s not a matter of making things easier. It’s a matter of getting things done.
To get the job done:
Don’t make your work harder than it is
Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel
Resist any excuse for not putting in the work
Don’t focus on making hard work easier. Focus on sticking with it and producing consistent, high-quality results.
And don’t forget: loads of people try to get out of hard work. Few have what it takes to simply get things done. However unsexy hard work may seem, it’s a great way to stand out. Do you always deliver high quality when you take on hard work? Then you’re steadily building a solid reputation for being dependable, and more and more people will come to rely on you.
Have a good week!