workWhat do we mean by hard work? It can’t be about banging our head against something.

Instead, genuine work involves a depth of focus that comes from that sense of being fully engaged. I’ve always likened that focus to the spirit of play, the same play that we find in a toddler focused deeply in learning and building. But how do we reconcile play with hard work?

At its core, hard work is a series of regular decisions. There are at least four key decision points:

  1. The decision that some work will be your focus.
  2. The decision to actually be with that work.
  3. The decision to sit with that work through pauses and not wander off.
  4. The decision to do all the above regularly.

The first stumbling block is deciding to work on something at all. Making this decision seems obvious, but it is not. It is at least a process of deliberately mourning the loss of all the things you will not do in the meantime. It is about a likely sense that you do not want to do that thing, despite its importance. For many reasons, there may be a strong emotional association related to the work. As a result, procrastination can easily derail this first aspect.

Second, we put that work in front of ourselves, and possibly move irrelevant items elsewhere. Just being with the work, without pressure of having to do something, is a powerful way of encouraging a curious, playful state of mind.

Third, often while working, we need to pause. Frustration often beckons a mind to wander. Some of that wandering is very useful in creativity. Associations to the material, the feelings and thoughts, are often ripe subjects for folding new ideas into the work. Many “aha” moments are born here.

Just being with the work is about finding that rhythm between work and pause. Sometimes it is useful to push forward. Other times, it may not be clear where to go next. By allowing the mind to wander, without leaving the work, we can better invite the work to comes to us.

In those pauses, we must decide to continue or close the session. Continuing into challenge can bring a greater depth and richness in the work. Or it can bring frustration. At some point of diminishing returns, one becomes bitter, if not error prone. Meanwhile, other obligations press.

These moments of staying with the work, through frustration and confusion, where it could be helpful, create some of the more difficult pressure points of decision in doing hard work.

The pauses to make these decisions are fragile times. We can easily prefer to end a session of work, opting for some other greener pasture, something that we feel could give a faster response, a more immediate sense of accomplishment. We may be tempted to check a website in the name of research, or “just check” email or some social networking site.

But “hard work” means being able to return from those natural pauses in order to remain with the work. We can decide to stay with the frustrating emotions, at least before we begin to make errors.

Lastly, hard work is about doing all of the above repeatedly. Sitting daily, or at whatever frequency allows for better and smoother engagement. Each visit makes the work easier and more available to our inner selves.

Overall, then hard work is then about learning how to structure your environment so that you can better engage the strong emotions that can come with any or all of these steps.

For an in-depth course on how to manage hard work, to make it easy when possible, to bring your playful and genuine self into the things you do, and to get to the places you want to be in general, consider Being Productive. Play, due dates, and avoiding procrastination are not incompatible. It’s a matter of learning how to put them together.