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Success Mindset

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Written by Jim Burgoon
Founder of The Everyday Leader
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Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

What Is Hard Work?

So, what really is hard work? We’ve all heard it somewhere sometime that we need to work hard if we want to achieve anything in life. I started hearing this before I even started elementary school.

However, for all the fuss about working hard, no one ever really explained to me what hard work is. Again, what is hard work?

This is one of the questions where you don’t need a universal definition. Hard work can be whatever you think it is. It may be in the form of putting extra hours at work, or working more intensely, or taking a second job – I’m sure you get the point.

While there is no fixed definition for hard work, there is usually a general meaning the word conveys. It typically means putting in extra efforts and strenuous hours for doing certain tasks.

Many people have had their say in what hard work is, and one thing that always resonates is linking it to success. Consider the words of Colin Powell, “there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”


Whenever any successful person says anything about hard work, it always seems to be linked to success. And, I can confirm it too – success usually accompanies hard work.

Keeping that in mind, I want to revise that earlier definition. Hard work is about putting in extra efforts and strenuous hours for doing certain tasks and not giving up until you succeed.

Hard Work or Talent?

After considering the definition of hard work, the question that may pop up in the head of many is, “so, where do you put talent?”

Well, talent is also critical. In fact, some people believe it is more important to success than hard work. While I wouldn’t like to be drawn into any such debates, Tim Notke apparently does. He had this to say – hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

And, quite frankly, he couldn’t have put it any better. Both are important to success in the long run, but talent without hard work will take you absolutely nowhere.

So, the summary of all of this is – it is not “hard work or talent,”; it is “hard work and talent.”


Benefits of Hard Work

There are tons of benefits that accompany hard work. So many that we cannot possibly fit them all, even if we were to write a separate article. However, below are four of the most relevant benefits of hard work to you.


Yes, of course! The primary goal of working hard is to become successful, and with the right dose of hard work and smart work, that goal is very achievable. Hard work means not giving up and increasing efforts to complete a task. When the right tasks are in place, it is only a matter of time before one makes an actual and true breakthrough.

According to Napoleon Hill, “some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.” This again reiterates what you already know – you need hard work for success.


One underrated aspect of working hard is the mentality change that follows it. Success is usually what everyone sees on the outside, but self-development is the part no one ever really notices but yourself. You have that strong conviction that you are always improving, doing better than you were some time back. As people commonly say, the only room that is never filled up is the room for improvement – the room for self-development. Hard workplaces, you are solidly on the right track for this.

Build Confidence

Hard work often brings, along with it, success, which, in turn, builds confidence. This is why successful people take more and bigger risks than others. They already have such confidence in their abilities that they are not afraid to make tough decisions. All of this all boils down to the results of working hard.

New Opportunities

One thing hardworking people notice is the abundance of opportunities that come their way. From the outside, no one really gets it. You hear side talks and murmurs of, “what is he doing right?” “why is she so lucky?” If you find out well enough, hard work is in the mix somewhere.

Hard work will open doors of opportunities for you, setting you in a prime position to be even more successful. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I am a greater believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more of it I have.”


Developing Great Habits is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.


We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the by products of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.


How to Motivate Yourself to Work Hard

Motivation, in itself, will get nothing done. You can be motivated and still not channel that motivation rightly. However, motivating yourself to work hard can lead to you actually working hard. And this is the beginning of success. Below are tips that can help you motivate yourself to work hard.

Surround Yourself with Hard Workers

If you want to remain motivated to work hard, surround yourself with hard workers. “Show me your friends, and I will tell you who you are” is the perfect phrase that illustrates this. If you are always around lazy and unmotivated people, it is only a matter of time before it rubs on you.

Stay Focused

Stay focused on the goals. This is one of the secrets to working hard. It is easy to derail or lose focus in the face of failure, but you need the discipline to focus on your goals. Constantly ask yourself why you need to work hard in the first place and, more importantly, remain focused on those goals.

Reward Yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself every time. There are days where you just need to cool off and appreciate where you have reached and what you have accomplished. Reward yourself. This may be with as little as a drink in a bar or a year-long vacation – the principle remains the same.

4 Daily Rituals to Help You Work Hard And Work Smart

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals:

  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.


Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.


Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.


“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.


    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines


    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com


    [1]The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”
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