How To Know If You Are Working Hard Enough

Posted by Devin Riley

Guest speaker: Jones Loflin

See if this series of events ever happens to you:

  • You have lunch with a friend who has started their own business, and just listening to all the activity in their world makes you tired. “Am I working hard enough?” you ask yourself.
  • You sit in a meeting listening to your boss humblebrag about all the work he does on the weekends. You think to yourself, “Am I working hard enough?”
  • You pass a neighbor’s house and see them loading up for yet another daily sports practice with their child, and you wonder, “Am I working hard enough as a parent?”
  • Another day you see Chad and Pam taking their daily “couple walk” and ask yourself, “Am I working hard enough as a spouse?”
  • Later that week you hear from a friend who has been diagnosed with a serious health issue, and as you text them encouraging words you reflect again on the question, “Am I working hard enough to take care of myself?”

The difficulty in answering this question, regardless of the situation, is defining what “hard enough” looks like. We definitely know what working too hard looks like, don’t we? It includes things like:

  • Being unable to define what “done” looks like for your day or week
  • Using “I’ll do it this weekend” as your default mode for handling overload at work
  • Lacking the physical, mental, and/or emotional energy to be fully present with others
  • Failing to invest time in relationships with others who fulfill you
  • Continually discounting the value of personal renewal

So what does “hard enough” look like for you? What are the indicators that you are putting forth the appropriate amount of effort in all areas of your life? Because I believe the answers are person-specific, I’ll share my thoughts below in hopes you will begin to invest the time to find your own answers.

You are making consistent progress on clearly defined goals.

Notice the two descriptors in the statement: Consistent and clearly-defined. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who don’t have clearly defined goals. How can you expect to answer the question about working hard enough if you aren’t even sure what you’re supposed to be working on? And even if you have such goals, they have to be the guide for the choice of actions you take on a daily basis. You can then assess your progress and identify where you might be working too hard, not hard enough, or giving the right amount of effort for the results you’re seeking.

I also think this idea of clearly-defined goals has to extend into all areas of our lives. Case in point: I was recently talking with a parent struggling with all the things they wanted their student to be involved in, but just couldn’t figure out where they had the time. I asked the dad, “What do you want Jared (not actual name) to be?” He looked at me and said, “Don’t you mean ‘do?'” “No,” I replied. “I mean be. What do you want him to be? Give me adjectives.” Once the dad shared a few with me I asked, “Are the activities Jared is currently engaged in building those characteristics within him?” After an affirmative nod from the dad, I said, “Then why are you trying to overload his (and your) schedule?”

You are busy, but not rushed.

You can read my blog about this topic for a deeper dive on the subject, but in general, busy means “full of action” while rushed means “to urge to an unnatural speed.” If almost every day feels like you are pushing yourself beyond a natural rhythm of work and rest, you’re working too hard. If you notice your days are full of intentional activity but there’s not always a heightened sense of hurry, you’re probably in a good place with your effort. Especially when you combine this idea with the previous one about goals.

You have to plan-and you typically follow it.

When I say “plan” I mean that you have an appropriate number of activities you want to have happen in your day to move you toward accomplishment of your goals. Being able to frequently follow that plan means you aren’t trying to pack too much into your day or week.

You are fully present for an appropriate amount of time.

Do you know someone at work who seems to look for opportunities to avoid doing their job? They definitely aren’t working hard enough. And then there are the individuals who you talk to who seem ready to jump out of the conversation the second you stop talking. They probably have piled too much on their plate.

Those who have figured out what working hard enough looks like know the value of being fully present in conversation. They aren’t distracted by too much to do or feeling confused about what to do next because of a lack of meaningful goals. These people also don’t linger in the moment too long because they know their next task awaits-and is important.

You are pleasantly tired at the end of the day or week.

The key word here is pleasantly. People who work hard enough look back on their day or week positively because they have aligned their choices with their goals. They are tired because they had to expend lots of energy, but it was toward outcomes that were worth the effort. (NOTE: These types of people also know the value of using the weekend to recharge)

You have temporary periods of overload.

Regardless of how well we plan, there are always those unexpected events at work and in our personal lives that take us out of our normal routines. They might also occur because of a desire to grow professionally or personally. I have a friend who just started work on their MBA, and he is visibly strained by the additional work required by this new venture. He knows, however, that it is temporary as he adjusts his schedule to accommodate the change. If you are constantly feeling overloaded, however, that’s a sure sign you’re working too hard at something.

You have the desired impact on your world each day.

I ask myself this question at the end of each day: “Did I do my best to have the desired impact on my world today?” If the answer is “Yes,” I celebrate. If it’s “No,” then I reflect on where I need to work harder, or not as hard, to improve tomorrow. What’s the question you could ask yourself to help assess your daily level of effort?

As I said earlier, I think the answer to the question of “Are you working hard enough?” is specific to each individual. While looking outside ourselves at the success (or lack thereof) of others might bring the question to us, I believe the answers have to be based on the purpose, values, and goals we have within us.


Jones Loflin is a global keynote speaker on innovative yet practical solutions to help with the struggle of too much to do. He is the author of several books, including Always Growing and the award-winning, Juggling Elephants. Jones is a leader in solutions for individuals, groups, and businesses dealing with lack of engagement, satisfaction and retention and all the tools to support balanced, productive lives.


Posted by Devin Riley

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