How to Work Hard

We all know people who seem to be working hard all the time. They’re constantly busy, stressed, complaining about their crushing workload. But when you look at their actual output, it’s surprisingly mediocre. They toil away 60, 70, 80 hours a week, and yet, they don’t get half as much done as someone working just a fraction of that time.

On the flip side, we also know people who don’t seem to be putting in half the effort. They stroll into the office, take their sweet time on breaks, and don’t seem to give two hoots about deadlines. But here’s the kicker—their output is somethin’ else, somethin’ phenomenal. Just a few hours of smooth, effortless work yields results those other poor souls couldn’t match in a week, maybe even a month.

Clearly, raw hours logged is not the best measure of output or productivity. I’ve learned that there are two very different modes of working: the hard mode and the easy mode.

In hard mode, you’re sitting down, gritting your teeth, and forcing yourself to work through sheer willpower. It feels like you’re out there in the sun, breaking rocks. In easy mode, well, you slip into this kind of flow, where time melts away. The work is challenging, sure, but it almost feels effortless, like a river flowing downstream.

Hard mode is slow, like wading through molasses, and it drains your energy faster than a leaky faucet. Easy mode, now, that’s where it’s at. It’s fast, it’s creative, it’s energizing, like a shot of espresso on a Monday morning.

In hard mode, you’re dragging your heels, dreading the work ahead like a long, dusty trail. You procrastinate until the anxiety of looming deadlines finally lights a fire under your backside. Progress is a painful, uphill slog. You’re working in fits and starts, forcing yourself through tasks like you’re walking against a gale. Just getting started seems like a major hurdle.

Easy mode? Now that’s a whole different ball game. You’re drawn to the work, diving in like a kid into a swimming pool. You’re making smooth and steady progress, the work pulling you into a state of flow like a good melody. Distractions don’t stand a chance. Hours pass by unnoticed, like you’re lost in a good book. You’re driven to push through roadblocks by a spark inside you that just won’t quit. You feel clearheaded, energized, fully engaged, and productive, like you’re cruising along on a freshly paved highway.

Now, you and I, we naturally prefer this easy mode. As kids, we lived in it. We could spend hours lost in drawing, puzzles, building stuff. Work felt like play. But then they go and put us through school, and then the corporate grind, and they drill this hard mode into us. Slowly, we forget what it feels like to work in easy mode.

The secret to doing great work, my friends, is rediscovering that easy mode. It’s about treating it as a skill you can cultivate, not just a lucky break. Here’s how:

Choose work you’re intrinsically interested in. This is key. If the work bores you, you’re gonna be stuck in hard mode. But if it piques your curiosity, well, that’s when easy mode kicks in. It seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t realize interest is something you can choose and cultivate. It’s not handed to you by fate.

Split big problems into smaller ones. Get into the habit of breaking down amorphous tasks into concrete actions. This prevents us from procrastinating and makes getting started easier. It also creates a constant stream of micro wins to keep us going.

Establish rhythm. Get into a daily routine that dedicates specific blocks of time to specific types of work. Our minds, they love routines, they love rituals. It’s like dancing—once you find the rhythm, the rest comes naturally.

Eliminate distractions. Hard mode happens when your mind’s being pulled in a hundred different directions. Easy mode, now that’s when you’re zeroed in on a single task, like a marksman lining up a shot. Remove anything that interrupts you—apps, websites, noisy folks. Each distraction is like a speed bump on your highway to success.

Maintain momentum. Once you get the ball rolling, keep it going. Don’t stop at an arbitrary point, like a cowboy lost in the desert. Always wrap up your work sessions at a point when you know exactly what comes next. Stopping when the path ahead is unclear is like parking your car in mud. Next time, you’ll have to rev up and grind through hard mode again.

Stretch yourself, but make it slow and steady. Don’t take on challenges big enough to make you choke. Keep stepping up to slightly harder tasks, like climbing a ladder one rung at a time. You want your skills to stay just ahead of the work, right in that sweet spot between yawning and sweating.

Get immediate feedback. Easy mode is like steering a car—you need to make adjustments based on what’s happening right now, not five miles back. If your tasks only come together way down the line, you won’t be able to correct your course. Try to find ways to get frequent updates on how you’re doing, even if it’s just asking someone to give your work a once-over.

Take real breaks. Don’t just switch between different types of work and fool yourself into thinking you’re resting. Your brain needs genuine downtime, time to wander and recharge. Especially make time for some good, old-fashioned exercise. Getting your body moving releases chemicals that shift your work mode into high gear.

Working in easy mode is like the difference between a lazy river and a rough sea. It’s more enjoyable, more empowering, and it’s where you’ll do your best work. You can get there by setting yourself up for those flow states. The most dangerous belief is that easy mode is just for the lucky few. In truth, it’s something you can train, like learning to ride a bike. It’s a skill. Master it, and you’ll be blown away by what you can accomplish.