11/17/2014 06:53 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Stop Working Yourself Harder: 3 Steps to Working Yourself Better


From a young age we've been told that if we work hard, we will be successful. We've been conditioned to believe that a prosperous life is the direct result of working hard. Work hard, play hard. Whether we are working at our job, for our business, at a relationship, for a healthy body, or just trying to get everything done in a day, we are trained to believe that if we work harder, things would eventually get better.

I believe that hard work is an ingredient for success on any dimension of our lives. But, I also believe that our culture has elevated the idea of hard work to an alarmingly harmful place. Our global connectivity and access to information keeps us working harder and harder just to keep up, much less stay ahead of the game. Fitness advances claim that working our bodies to a state of exhaustion prior to resting will result in having the body we've always desired. The "working hard" ideal we learned as children has only multiplied over the years of humanity's advancements, to a point of diminishing returns.

But this ideal of 'working hard' seems to be rooted in how much we work. How many hours we worked, how many calories we've burned, how many personal commitments we can squeeze in to ensure our place in society. Keeping with my theme from my last Feeling Good Friday (reframing), I'd like to reframe the idea of working hard as a quantity game, and instead, think of working hard as a quality game. Working harder to be successful does not have to be about how much we work, but instead how well we work. Stop working so hard and start working better.

So how do we move from a quantity to a quality mentality? From a how much to a how well mindset? From working harder to working better? Try these ideas:

1. Do not complete your to-do list.
Even if you could make it through your to-do list in a given day, this is not a competition. There is no prize for completing your to-do list. And, even if you successfully crossed off every numbered item on your list in a given day, you will be met with another list the very next morning. The thing is, not everything on your to-do list should be done.

Your to-do list includes many types of entries: items that you want to do; items that need to be done for you/your family to survive; and items that you are doing simply because you didn't want to say no, you feel guilty, or you think you should. These items are the ones you do not need to do to be successful. Take them off your list now, and try to never let them appear on your list again.

2. Learn to say no.
We have a much easier time saying yes than we do saying no. We say yes to avoid guilt or confrontation, feel better about ourselves, and to be responsive. No feels bad, non-inclusive and not helpful.

But if we have a clear idea of our goals in life -- career, family and personal -- then we have to say no to everything that doesn't align with accomplishing our goals. Being successful means being clear about the things you want/need/should be doing, and those that you have to say no to.

3. Rest your body and mind.
The harder you push your body and mind, the more exhausted they become. The more exhausted your mind is, the more mistakes you will make and the longer it will take to complete easy tasks. The more exhausted your body is, the greater chance of illness and death.

Your body and mind work better when they are rested. A rested mind delivers highlighted creativity and strategic thinking. A rested body delivers energy to make it through a long day and increases the benefits of exercise.

Working hard is an admirable quality. Working better is still working hard, but in a smarter, focused, more creative, strategic and energized way.

If you do nothing else... Think about what "working hard" and "working better" mean to you. Just consider the concepts, no action needed.