How to Work Hard

Key takeaways

  • You need natural ability, practice, and effort to do great work.
  • Great talent and great drive are both rare, so individuals with both are extremely rare.
  • One challenge in most complicated lines of work (like research) is that the goals are not clearly defined or externally imposed.
  • For certain types of work (like writing/programming), you should not aim to spend every waking hour on the activity. There’s usually an upper limit after which quality starts to decline.
  • You’ll need to find ways to measure both how hard you are working, and how well you are doing.

I can’t be sure I’m getting anywhere when I’m working hard, but I can be sure I’m getting nowhere when I’m not, and it feels awful.

Many problems have a hard core at the center, surrounded by easier stuff at the edges. Working hard means aiming toward the center to the extent you can.

A deep interest in a topic makes people work harder than any amount of discipline can.


Working hard is not just a dial you turn up to 11. It’s a complicated, dynamic system that has to be tuned just right at each point. You have to understand the shape of real work, see clearly what kind you’re best suited for, aim as close to the true core of it as you can, accurately judge at each moment both what you’re capable of and how you’re doing, and put in as many hours each day as you can without harming the quality of the result.