Hard Work Is Overrated

March 16, 2016

by Ravi Raman

Hard work can pay off for a time. Eventually, however, hard work will just get you stuck and keep you there.

I’ve noticed more and more people in the interwebs talking about the merits of hard work. Just a few years ago, it seems like everyone was talking about how to #hack your way to success by working less. Tim Ferris’s “The Four Hour” empire ushered in the era of optimal minimalism in all areas, especially with regards to work and health.

Now, I’m noticing more and more blogs and posts by people I follow espousing the merits of hard work. Perhaps it’s to be expected that the pendulum would swing back the other way.

As far as I’m concerned, hard work is overrated. Sure, some people slack off and act entitled. They expect to earn five (or six!) figures per month based on their sheer desire with no plan, poorly developed skills and zero work ethic. For those folks, the “hard work” message is vital. However, I’m not one of those people. Neither are most of my peers and friends.

There are legions of people who are miserable at work, in no small part due to excess work at the expense of lifestyle happiness. These are people, many of whom are my friends and former colleagues, that consistently put off things that will make them happy, for the sake of their career.

They don’t lack in work ethic. They lack vision. They don’t have a life strategy that can help them get unstuck and improve the quality of their life, and if they do have some idea of what they really want in life, they don’t have the courage to pursue it.

For these people, working harder will just get them stuck and keep them there. They will be better off learning to set boundaries and improve their efficiency than burning the midnight oil for another year (or ten).

Lots of people, especially those who learned to do well in school and are academically inclined, have no trouble working hard. It is the self-awareness to know that there is more to life than work that is the key thing to cultivate.

When you decide what priorities you want in life, including but not limited to your career, big things are possible and you will be in a position to make decisions with no regrets. Amazingly, I’ve witnessed people radically improve their work performance by working less and tossing aside the misguided idea that working harder is the only way to get ahead.

Putting hard work on a pedestal is a mistake. Don’t go down that road. Instead, strive to be proud of what you do – be it a 30-minute burst of creative or an all-day strategy session with your team. Value the focus you can bring to whatever you do, not just the time and effort you put in.

Change your measurement of effort to reflect the quality and results of your activity, not just the time you put in. Ask yourself, “Am I proud of what I accomplished?” not “Did I put in 10 hours of work today?”.

Productive work and smart work are great and necessary. Hard work is not.

Let’s toss aside this idea of hard work like an old computer that’s done its job but is no longer good enough run the apps and create the experiences we really need.

It’s time for an upgrade. Don’t delay and make it happen. Your life is waiting.


  1. James Robert Walker

    Thanks…….you make great points, that puts it into perspective. There are times to put in the extra hours for a special goal. But working hard for self flagellation or because you think it will magically get you ahead is bogus…….


    Shoes (James)

  2. James Robert Walker

    Hey Ravi,

    Just curious, and maybe this post will get me in trouble (but you’re such a decent person and we’ve known each other a long time, if not deeply), but didn’t you spend the bulk of your career working 60-70 hour weeks @ MS?

    I believe that was what you reported to me when I asked. The reason I ask it that it APPEARS that some things on the blog are at odds with what you did that got you to the point of blogging and coaching, i.e. you worked your ass off long hours and saved lots of money……You didn’t work a 4 hour week (and you never said you did) Thoughts?

    • Ravi Raman

      Hey James!

      Thanks for the comment and you are not at all in trouble. I welcome all opinions on this blog and not everyone has to agree with what I write.

      Did I work very hard and very long hours for many years???? Of course! That was the entire motivation for this blog! I now know what it cost me. At some point I will write a blog and share the gory details. It wasn’t pretty and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

      The idea that I had to “word hard to get ahead” was a story I had for much of my career. I used to think that this was necessary, but I was sorely mistaken. In fact, I strongly believe that my inability to set healthy boundaries (work less, enjoy life) actually held me back at many points in my career and life overall.

      Many of those weeks and months I spent in the office working 80+ hours were not effective or efficient uses of my time. Some of those weeks were necessary and actually fun (e.g. when our entire team was working diligently ahead of a big product launch) but most were self-imposed. If I had a different belief (e.g. I need to work smart to get ahead) instead of “I need to work hard to get ahead” I would have done much better, been far healthier and potentially have even stayed at my old company instead of leaving to travel for an extended time.

      In looking back in my career, the times when I did the best (in terms of promotions, quality of work and quality of life) were when I did have strong boundaries, and worked less “hard” but much more effectively. e.g. When I taught yoga in addition to my day job (~2008-2011) or when I first started at Microsoft and was active in the Ironman triathlon community – routinely leaving work before 5pm to swim, bike and run. (2000-2003).

      Boundaries are critical. The hard work mentality might work for a short time, but it eventually got me stuck and kept me there.

      Now, in working with my coaching clients, I witness the same thing. People are working so hard…they are burning out. It doesn’t need to be this way. With the right strategy and plan (and proper boundaries) sky really is the limit.

      BTW – What I like about Tim Ferris’s books is that he stresses doing things effectively and efficiently. I’m all about that, even I though I have no desire to only work 4 hours a week….if you do what you love for work, why not do it a lot?



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