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Working Hard is not Working Well

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There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment we feel when we finally finish a project we’ve been working on for a long time. To see our hard work come to fruition and know that we can put that project to rest is a satisfying feeling. But while it’s great to hear that you’re working hard, that doesn’t mean you’re working well.

While there is of course nothing wrong with having a devoted work ethic, confusing hard work with good work could not only be a waste of time, it could holding you back. Although you may be working hard, if you’re not delivering quality results, you’re not going to move forward. But with the right direction, you could take the energy you put into all that hard work, and make sure it’s only used for good work.

The Rule of 52 & 17  

There are two major problems with working hard: the first is that it could be representative of poor planning. You should be working hard, but not 100% of the time. The second problem is that working hard can lead to burnout, which could be bad for your career and the quality of your work. The rule of 52 & 17 addresses both of these.

This rule was developed by tracking the working habits of a number of employees, and identifying any significant trends. What the researchers found was that the most-productive employees spend about 52 minutes working before taking a 17 minute break. This puts a very clear structure in place, and will serve as an incentive to complete tasks in a timely manner. Taking so many breaks may make you feel as though you’re slacking off, but the research has shown that the end result is ultimately better if you rest.


The 52/17 rule can also help you eliminate some of the biggest distractions in the workplace. According to the research conducted for our first 2016 Employment Monitor, 23% of employers say that emails are the biggest distraction, while 20% of respondents said the same of meetings. By leveraging your 52 minutes on, you can cut down on the amount of time you waste on this type of superfluous communication.

According to Business Insider, there are more people who check their emails a maximum of 3 times a day than those who check them constantly. A lot of the time, an issue that could be emailed about for days could have been solved in minutes with a phone call. Emails allow us to respond slowly, ramble on and on to people who aren’t interested in what we have to say, and make us feel as though our work is progressing just because we’re doing something. If you want to increase your efficiency, allocate some time into your 52 minute slots throughout the day to do so, and stick to those times. You’ll be surprised at the amount of stuff that people no longer consider urgent when they have to call instead of email.


A similar approach could be taken to dealing with excess meetings. We all know how meetings usually go: the wrong people show up to tell us that we’re almost ready to go, and we spend an hour going over whatever we can because that’s how long we have the room booked. Now you can’t do away with meetings entirely, but setting a shorter time limit will at least prevent you from sitting around listening to irrelevant updates. If you set yourself a 20 minute deadline, people will know what they want to say before those 20 minutes are up. Usually this ends up being enough time, and if not, you can extend the meeting and still finish well below an hour.

If you were to ask an employer what characteristics they value most in an employee, “hard working” would probably be one of the top responses. Hard workers are a great addition to any business, but working hard and working well are two different things. No matter how hard you work on a project, how much time you put into it, or how good the result is, the reality is that working hard does not mean you are working well. But if you are a hard worker, then it should be no problem to work hard at working well.   

Working too hard? 

Check out our whitepaper “A Rested Worker is a Productive Worker” for more information. 

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