Whenever I hear the term "hard work" what I really hear is "hard times." Whenever I've found myself engrossed in a job, a client project, or a writing assignment that felt like hard work, I was struggling in some way that made the work unenjoyable. Same goes for work in my home, whether it be chores or child-rearing.
I used to be what could easily be labeled as a "workaholic." I worked 18+ hours per day, and certainly did not follow the six steps below. I was extremely stressed, my projects were not turning out according to my well-laid plans, and I knew that something needed to change.
So I put a new plan in place in my life and transformed not only the way I work, but the way I live in each moment. And the results have been tremendous in both my professional and personal life. So tremendous that I'm writing a book about it, so I can remember exactly how I did it.
For me, hard work doesn't necessarily lead to good results, but hard work usually does yield exhaustion. Some people say work is supposed to be hard, that's why it's called “work.” But I disagree. If work is hard, I think something is off. Others feel that you have to work hard to get where you want in life, but again, I disagree. I think you can also get to where and what you want easily, while having fun along the way, even despite your circumstances.
And maybe you've heard the expression, "Don't work harder, work smarter," but what does that actually mean?
I've found that my best quality work — my most brilliant and most effective strategies, plans and writing — come in short but inspired bursts that feel so easy, they are practically effortless. And when I'm "trying" or "pushing" hard, my creative and cognitive flow gets blocked.
So I'm following these six steps to turn hard work into fun work, and seeing my productivity and my joy increase every day:
1. Trust: Worry won't help anything.
Repeat the mantra, “Everything is working out. I don't have to know "how" right this minute.”
Trust is a daily practice and I’m grateful that I’ve finally figured out its importance to a successful and happy life. For some people, trust comes in the form of faith — in a higher power or in a greater part of oneself. I think wherever you need to turn to find trust, it’s worth going there and finding it. Because once you trust that everything is working out, the rest is easy.
2. Delegate: Find good people and then get out of the way.
I have definitely fallen into the trap of trying to do everything myself, but I’ve learned that lesson. My work is most successful when I do what I do best — which is also what I love — and find other people that love and excel at the things that I don’t.
3. Make having fun a priority.
Just because whatever you are doing is intense, requires a lot of time, or is fast-paced, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Sometimes the attitude of “making things happen” rather than “letting things happen” makes work feel too serious and too hard.
Work can feel like play when you're in your flow, doing what you love, and loving what you do. And if you aren’t currently engaged in your life’s calling for work, you can still listen to music, stop for a dance break and in general, lighten up.
4. Pay attention to your resistance ... what is it telling you?
Do you feel like procrastinating because you actually don’t enjoy the particular task at hand? Does your work feel hard because you are afraid of failure? Whatever the source of your resistance is, it would be good to address it and then to delegate, clear up any fear, or do whatever it takes so you can work with more ease.
I once worked with a client where the biggest contribution I made — what turned their whole business around — was changing the attitude of the CEO, who had massive fear that the business was going to fail. Once the resistance from the top was released, the flood gates opened and success could flow in.
5. Lean in.
There will be times when you don't know the solution, the challenge seems insurmountable and a deadline feels unrealistic. I think a surfing metaphor is useful in these cases. Just like surfing a big wave — once you're in it, there are only two choices — either lean in, make the drop, and do your best to surf the wave, or wipe out miserably.
You might wipe out either way — but it's your attitude that counts. “Let's do this!” is very different, and feels more empowering than, "Oh no!"
6. Take care of yourself.
Don’t let work take precedence over sleep, food, water, exercise, nature and the ones you love. All work and no play will not only make your life feel hard, it will take a toll on your body, mind, and spirit that can have long-lasting effects.
So instead, to quote some wise masters — be like the Seven Dwarves and “whistle while you work,” and embrace the attitude of the Beastie Boys: “My work is my play, because I’m playing when I work.”