The Daily Stoic for May 30th. “Working Hard Or Hardly Working?”
“I can’t call a person a hard worker just because I hear they read and write, even if working at it all night. Until I know what a person is working for, I can’t deem them industrious. . . . I can if the end they work for is their own ruling principle, having it be and remain in constant harmony with Nature.”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 4.4.41; 43
I worked for seven years at a cubicle. There, I soon realized that there is a whole bunch of people who are pros at pretending to be working. It’s a refined art. Every big company has them and governmental offices in most countries are filled with them. Like a plague.
Well, with big companies, it happens mainly for two reasons:
First, on many big companies, and almost always if you work for the government, your job responsibilities dilute in your team or department. Perhaps your job is not that crucial, or you are part of a big machinery. On these situations, your job becomes a sequence of repetitive tasks that you do day after day, and deadlines lose their relevance or completely disappear.
Secondly, In big companies, there’s plenty of middle management personnel to be found: directors, managers, deputies, the directive staff… Their job is basically organizing and managing other people. While these people may be busy doing a lot of stuff, they are not being “productive”.
Working Hard Or Hardly Working?
Now, obviously, if your organization is large, you need these middlemen. I am not stating here that their job is not necessary. However, as the paperwork and hierarchy of organizations grow, many of these people tend to master busyness as opposed to business.
In other words: they look busy, but they are doing nothing.
One of the most interesting books I’ve read lately: “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World“, discusses the difference between shallow tasks and deep work.
Shallow tasks are those who don’t require any technical skill or mastering any complex discipline. They don’t require a great deal of focus either. We are talking about sending emails, attending meetings and organizing the calendar.
Deep work, on the contrary, requires highly qualified professionals and the ability to focus for hours on the task at hand. It’s very hard for one of these professionals to “pretend” they are working while they are not.
I have talked before about how to achieve deep work by quitting social media or becoming unreachable. And that’s because for me it’s important, when writing, or working on my business, to be able to focus. I value this ability, and value people who, like Epictetus mentions, are hard workers.
Our work should make us proud. It should be meaningful in some way, even for us. If it’s not: stop doing it. Find something you can do that makes you proud.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Working Hard Or Hardly Working?”, discusses the difference between “working hard” and “hardly working”. When I worked at a cubicle, I learned that difference, and how there’s a lot of people who spend their lives pretending to be working instead of doing something they can feel proud of.