The most common advice I hear about how to be successful is “grind, grind, grind.”
But when I hear the word grinding, my mind immediately goes to untrained wanna-be bodybuilders who spend hours in the gym on monotonous, repetitive exercise with no thought behind it. It’s almost like they’re working out with no rhyme, reason, or goal in mind.
For some, this actually yields results. Do enough bicep curls, for example, and your biceps will eventually get bigger. But there are big problems with this approach—bigger than your biceps ever will be.
If you fall into the trap of bicep “curls for the girls,” you don’t learn how to target other muscle groups. And not knowing the safest or most effective way to get stronger can lead to injury. All in all, doing only curls makes you lose sight of your big picture goals for your arms, and your overall physique.
Working hard (or grinding) in one area simply isn’t an efficient use of time and energy, most of the time.
In fact, it’s the polar opposite of productivity.
Being productive requires you to thoughtfully approach tasks and strategize how to get things done. For instance, the 80/20 rule tells us 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. So, you want to be using your time wisely to achieve your aims, rather than just working nonstop to look or feel busy. Personally, I couldn’t have achieved anything I have in my life without this strategy.
Here’s why you shouldn’t be grinding to accomplish your dreams:
Working too hard makes you lose sight of what you’re working toward.
The way to avoid aimless grinding is to pursue a well-defined goal.
You can do this by cultivating a mindset of strategic persistence—a way to approach everything with patience and an open mind: what you need to learn, how you can gather intel, and what steps you need to take to reach your destination.
Once you have a goal in mind, you can start working in earnest toward it. But you have to devote your time to making real progress by:
- Clearly defining the goal
- Laying out a roadmap for achieving it
- Focusing on working smarter and harder
You still put the time and manpower in, but you do it in a deliberate, 80/20 way.
A big component of working in this strategic way is planning. For me, I didn’t stumble into industries like digital marketing, mobile apps, logistics, blockchain, and others by accident. Rather, I researched and reflected first. My drive and determination alone wouldn’t have gotten me closer to my goals—I also needed to know my destination.
Grinding doesn’t spur learning and growth.
Many successful leaders tell us to work hard, put in long hours, and never give up.
But this mentality creates “cavemen,” people mindlessly hitting a hammer over and over, trying to strike gold. While it’s important to cultivate a good work ethic, hard work is useless without the knowledge and skills required to reach your goals. You have to take a step back to critically think about how you can best strike gold.
After all, repeatedly doing the same task in a rote way, whether it’s writing or hitting a hammer or creating marketing campaigns, likely won’t make you any better at it.
To improve, reframe your attitude to grind for knowledge. Work hard to learn your craft, and find a mentor in your industry. Educating yourself like this helps you become more well-rounded and makes it easier to figure out how to approach your work in the smartest way. So if something isn’t working, you’ll have the awareness to identify it, analyze what to do differently, and realize what information gaps you need to fill.
But don’t forget: there’s not always one “right” way to achieve success.
Taking a literal approach to work can make you miss out on valuable ideas and emotions.
Grinding requires a logical, black-and-white view of the world. You’re either working hard, or you’re not.
When you’re mindlessly grinding away, you don’t have the mental acuity to notice how you’re actually feeling. This lack of awareness can make you miss out on insights about what you’re creating or how to pivot to better achieve your goals.
A smart work ethic, on the other hand, can be less literal and more based on feelings.
I’ve discovered something interesting with a lot of companies I advise. After watching a video or analyzing their user interface, I’ll tell them my impression. If something feels off about it, it’s because I’m picking up on the energy behind a literal message. It’s the vibe or tone. We all notice this thanks to our EQs—and it’s critical.
Emotions are important and all-too-often ignored in business, even in customer-facing companies. So I always tell people to look at emotion like a data point because it allows them to work smarter and increase their EQ.
No matter your industry, working for the sake of working is not an effective use of your time. Because if your head is down, grinding away, you’ll miss a lot of opportunities if you don’t look up every once in a while.