You Have to Work Hard Before You Can Work Smart

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash
I wrote nearly 2,500 words on the train yesterday.

The last couple of months on Medium have been hard for me. I’m not sure if it was losing my job or seasonal affective disorder. But this week I got real tired of messing around.

I knew that making almost $1000 in December was evidence that I could scale to reach greater goals on Medium.

No matter the reason, I was in a writing slump. Some well-timed advice from my wife helped me see that if I wanted to succeed, I needed to double down on what was already working on.

I’ve been working hard the last few days on a spreadsheet to track my time and earnings for all the many different projects I have going on right now.

I also connected those earnings estimates to how many hours I would need to put in to reach my goals. I found an additional 2–3 hours every day to write on Medium that I hadn’t noticed before.

The only problem was that I felt like I was out of ideas.

I had seen some success with writing 250 words without stopping. Knowing that my best time to write would be on the train, I decided to live in the following question:

How many words can I write, without stopping, while riding the train to and from the office?

It’s amazing what a little self-imposed competition can do for productivity. I surprised myself with how much I accomplished, and I was delighted with finishing two articles in one day.

The best part, though, was that my writing slump is ending. I was afraid I had run out of ideas before my little experiment yesterday.

But after I finished editing and scheduling the two I had written, I filled my article ideas journal with about a dozen or so new and exciting ideas.

For the first time in a few weeks, the inspiration was flowing so well that I had a hard time putting my phone down and going to bed.

It was only by doing the work that I was able to find my writing groove again. You’ve likely heard that to beat writer’s block, in whatever form it comes, you just need to write.

My 2,500 words yesterday were concrete evidence that “just write” is excellent advice.
Put in the work and you’ll figure out what to do.

Working Smart and Analysis Paralysis

After reading books like The 4-Hour Workweek and Essentialism last year, I wanted to take advantage of the 80/20 rule as much as I could.

I began the habit of analyzing my systems and eliminating the ones that weren’t efficient. The only problem was that this practice primed me for analysis paralysis. I couldn’t seem to stop analyzing.

Is this task efficient?
Will it really work?
What is the 20% that will make the 80% difference I want?

As this mentality bled into my writing habit, I found myself becoming ultra-critical of every idea and word I wrote. I wanted to be perfect, instantly.

I had lost sight of the value of working hard.

Yesterday, thankfully, I caught that vision again.

It can be easy to let the temptation of productivity hacks replace the value of good old hard work.

Hard work before smart work

It was working hard, putting in the hours, including some inefficient ones, that helped me see what was going to work and what wasn’t. Often, I find that the solution to finding the best path is to take any route forward.

But you have to commit, even if you’re uncertain of the path you’re committing to move forward on.

I’ve seen this countless times in relationships, finances, and even my health.

A relationship that I thought was the one and jumped into fell apart right before I met my wife.
I tried to dive into my engineering career with both feet, only to burn out and discover writing.
After running a marathon and trying various diet fads, I know better what works and what doesn’t.
And with my mental health, I had to jump into attempting to treat my depression without medication before I realized that I needed more help.

Every time in my life that I was unsure how to move forward but jumped in anyway, I quickly found the right way — much faster than all of my analyzing ever could.

Just begin, it doesn’t matter how

One day, a group of firefighters was on a mountaintop fighting a fire. Upon finding themselves in a dead spot for radio reception, they became unsure of which direction they should go next to extinguish the flames.

Instead of moving forward as best they knew how, the firefighters stopped and waited where they were.

After a while of waiting, they decided to finally move away from the fire and make their way down to base camp. Later that day, they were reprimanded for their mistake.

Had they moved in any direction towards the fire they would have left the dead spot and been able to receive direction about where to go next.

If you move in any direction and put in the work, you will know what to do.

Just begin.