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I'd be curious to hear stories of people who have successfully become more hard-working, especially if they started out as not particularly hard-working. Types of things I can imagine playing a role or know have played a role for some people:

  • Switching roles to something that is conducive to hard work, e.g. a fast-paced environment with lots of concrete tasks and fires to put out.
  • Medication, e.g. ADHD medication
  • Internal work, e.g. specific types of therapy, meditation, self-help reading, or other types of reflection.
  • Productivity hacks, e.g. more accountability, putting specific systems in place
  • Motivational events, arguments, or life periods, e.g. working a normal corporate jobs where long hours are expected
  • Switching work environment to something that is conducive to hard work, e.g. always working in an office with others who hold you accountable

This curiosity was triggered by realising that I know of very few people that have become substantially harder-working over their late adolescence/adult life. I also noticed that the few people that I know successfully and seemingly permanently increased their mental health/work satisfaction always were hard-working even when they were unhappy (unless they were in the middle of burn-out or similar).

People becoming more hard-working seems really useful but I haven't seen much in terms of evidence that it's feasible or effective methods. If there are books or studies on this topic, those would also be welcome. Thank you!




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I became significantly harder-working in ~June 2018, age 22-23. This was not the case beforehand and has persisted for years afterwards. Some highly-overlapping-so-hard-to-disentangle things that happened around the time:

  1. Moving to the US.
  2. Moving to an elite university town.
  3. Living or working with hard-working people.
  4. Living or working with people who were ~smarter than me.
  5. Having professional mentors who modeled (what to me at the time were) novel work behaviors.
  6. Being thought of as a smart/hard-working person by people I met for the first time.
  7. Working on interesting problems.

All of these improved quite sharply around the time boundary.

Some possible answers that haven't seemed to have had large effects on hard-workingness for me:

  1. Switching roles (to the extent that this doesn't come with one of the above factors).
  2. Medication. (ADHD meds had a very sizeable short-term effect, but not a persistent one.)
  3. Internal work.
  4. Productivity hacks.
  5. Exercise, diet, and sleep.

(Several of these had important impacts on my mood.)

Thanks for sharing. I think the above are examples of things people often don't think of when trying new ways to be more productive. Instead, the default is trying out new productivity tools and systems (which might also help!). Environment and being in a flux period can totally change your behaviour in the long term; sometimes, it's the only way to create lasting change.

Thanks for sharing. I took a look at your CV:

"Top of cohort; first-class honours; thesis prize; highest ever mark in Applied Econometrics."

Sounds like you were incredibly hard working before you made this move!

Out of curiosity, what were the "novel work behaviours" specifically?

I think you've revealed that my thinking was muddled in the earlier response! The sequence of events from my POV is:

  1. Before university, I did extremely little academic work. (Can expand; I really think it's outlier-low.)
  2. For my first 2.5 out of 3 years at university I did as close to zero work as was feasible. (For example, I attended very few lectures.)
    1. If I sat down to try to work on this (without an impending exam in <2 weeks time), it felt like I was physically unable to work.
    2. During this period, I spent lots of time on side projects/nascent businesses, and internships related to these things. I am describing this situation as 'not hard working' above because I think about 'hard working' as more or less meaning 'hard working [on traditional academic or professional pursuits, not part-time, barely paid sports analytics side-projects].' I would describe hard work on side projects as part of me being 'intense' or something -- if you want to describe it as 'hard working', fair enough.
  3. At the 2-2.5 year mark, I had been very fortunate to have obtained some strong grades. I don't think this is false modesty -- I just just had a lot of variance (on both sides). One of my friends' parent
... (read more)

Motivation and productivity hacks made it for me.  It all started with a traumatizing event and I ended up developing technics to make it last.

I started a PhD because it was a great opportunity, and I observed two types of PhDs : those who work a lot but not always efficiently, and those who work less but very efficiently. A study shows that women who become mothers during the PhD work less than others but much more efficiently because their time is very limited. Conversely, many people have lots of time (all day) to work on it and get maybe 3-4 hours of productivity maximum because of all that time.

It took a shaking event--being almost fired--to learn to be hard-working. 6 months in the PhD my supervisors told me that I had to redo the report I had worked on until then. In half the time. Otherwise they would fire me. Fine, I did it. Worked 9-12 and 13-17, then 18,30-21. Taking breaks was essential. Work, walk, eat a thing, repeat. 

Now I organize my life to work efficiently, as I often realize that I do 80 percent of my work in like 50 percent of my time. So I have deep-work time (3 hours every Tuesday and Thursday), and light-work time where I use pomodoros and most specifically https://www.focusmate.com that is the best productivity I have ever used! Focusmate allowed me to finish my PhD in covid time (read : no motivation at all).

+ one last tip : if you can, put one thing you like to do in your day. Reading an article on the forum, talking to this kind co-worker...At least one thing. It helps a lot mentally.

Enormous +1 for FocusMate, which transformed my (limited) ability to do cognitive work and improved my mental health a bunch.

Thanks for sharing, Vaipan!

A study shows that women who become mothers during the PhD work less than others but much more efficiently because their time is very limited.

Feel free to link the study.

It was a classic topic at lunch when I was doing my dissertation and people often cited this study but it's been a few years now. I found a study that shows that organization and determination were the first factors for pregnant women to succeed  'Discipline and  organization. Many  participants (n=18) described  a high  level of internal discipline and organization that helped them to manage the competing demands of pregnancy/parenting and doctoral work. Participants described carefully organizing their responsibilities and their time in order to be able to complete all required doctoral tasks. For many participants, this organization began during—or even before—their pregnancies. In planning pregnancies, participants looked ahead at program milestones to ensure that a pregnancy would not delay their progression.' Determination 'In  fact,  many  participants described an increased  determination after they  had a  child, which  motivated them to reorganize their lives or give up leisure time to complete the necessary tasks' [...]  'For participants like this one, persisting in the program became not just an individual achievement, but something they were doing for their children as well' [...] Negative experiences,  such as  the stress and loss that accompany  infertility and/or pregnancy loss, also had the potential to motivate participants to persist  In Mirick, Rebecca & Wladkowski, Stephanie. (2020). Making it Work: Pregnant and Parenting Doctoral Students’ Attributions of Persistence. Advances in Social Work. 19, p. 358. 
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I think I've become substantially more hardworking!

I think I started from a middle-to-high baseline but I think I am now "pretty hard working" at least (I say as I write this at 8 am on a Tuesday, demonstrating viscerally my not-perfect work ethic).

the big thing for me was going from academic philosophy to working at 80k. Active ingredients in order of importance:

  1. Sense of importance of the work getting done and that if I don't do it, just less stuff I think is good will happen.
  2. Sense of competence and being valued.
  3. teammates to provide mix of accountability for and celebration of my getting stuff done.
  4. Having a manager vs. not
  5. Culture that values and celebrates hard work while also celebrating taking care of yourself and your mental health.
  6. Positive feedback cycle to my identity about being hardworking. when I started to succeed at working hard, started to feel like "I am a hardworking person" --> easier to work hard and feel psychological rewards for it.
  7. Systems and tools it made possible: e.g. for a long time I posted my to-do list each day in a public slack channel #daily-check-in, which enhanced (3) above.

Other things I can think of helping over the years:

  • Pomodoros with friends is huuuuuggge. doing them online is great. I have a few whatsapp groups with people for spontaneous poms, and we also do them at 80k. I hear focusmate is also great. sidenote that poms are also a good way to stay in touch with hardworking friends that live far away.
  • cold-turkying reddit in 2011.
  • spoiling myself vis a vis my working environment, which for me means not forcing myself to work in the office (or thinking back to student days, libraries), but rather wherever i most like to.

I don't think I've become a lot more hard-working, but definitely more. A few things:

  • Finding work I enjoy and which I'm good at. A cliché but probably still underrated. When I'm working on things I find interesting and which I'm good at, I'm noticeably more productive (10–100% more).
  • Strangely, I had overly strict work-life boundaries that actually backfired for me earlier in my career. If I thought I had to work post 6 pm to finish something, I'd start to become stressed and would worry about burning out. In fact, when I stopped worrying about that and worked later when I needed to, I became less stressed and more productive. Conversely, I'd feel very guilty about running errands during the day if it cut into my work day. I'm also more relaxed about that, and it hasn't hit my productivity. I still value work-life balance, I'm just more flexible about what that looks like.
  • I use RescueTime which gives me actual data on my productivity. It's striking that sometimes when I feel unproductive, I actually wasn't and vice versa. That's helped me notice what works (reducing meetings, bunching meetings together, avoiding unnecessary travel etc.) and what doesn't.
  • Being around other (hard-working) people. I'm noticeably more productive when I have a neighbour, especially when they're a colleague. You pick up on their habits and you get some background social accountability (they'd notice if you e.g. wrote long forum comments instead of working).
  • Blocking distracting apps. I use Limit and I know people who love Freedom, the paid version.

Setting Beeminder goals for the number of hours worked on different projects has substantially increased my productivity over the past few months.

I'm very deadline-motivated: if a deadline is coming up, I can easily put in 10 hours of work in a day. But without any hard deadlines, it can take active willpower to work for more than 3 or 4 hours. Beeminder gives me deadlines almost every day, so it takes much less willpower now to have productive days.

(I'm working on a blog post about this currently, which I expect to have out in about two weeks. If I remember, I'll add a link back to this comment once it's out.)

Update: This strategy only worked for a few months before I got pretty burnt out; having non-negotiable deadlines every day eventually became more draining than motivating. Beeminder has still helped me a ton overall, but it's very important to get the goals right and tweak them if they stop working!

Being in a relationship with someone equally dedicated to hard work has been immensely beneficial. We frequently collaborate and motivate each other, which has proven invaluable.

The collaborative framework we've established contributes an additional 5-10 productive hours for each of us each week, yet it feels just as manageable as before, thanks to our joint efforts. We start with several hours of pomodoros every morning - delaying meetings until the afternoon only - and keep each other accountable.

We've also transitioned to working six days a week, up from our previous five-day routine.

 Together, we figure out our most important work and troubleshoot issues, amplifying our efficiency per hour in addition to working more hours.

A few things, selected somewhat randomly and somewhat for being possibly useful to others. They're mostly marginal, but I think overall I have been able to make a noticeable change to my hard-workingness over time.

  • Co-working with others. In particular, working in 'pomodoros' where each person sets an intention for the next half hour and then reports back. Some combination of social accountability and comraderie. 
  • Thinking through consciously how many hours I endorse working. I went through a period after having a kid where I felt both guilty for not working hard enough and for not being a good enough mother. That led me to set up my life with insufficient childcare (because it felt like more would make me a bad mother) but was then often wanting to somehow make up for that. Thinking directly about what I thought it looked like to be a good parent (and talking to people I trusted about it) led to me setting up a system I better endorsed and was more sustainable, with more childcare and more hours deliberately set aside for work. 
  • Planning ahead and having policies for ways of making time productive
    • For example, I have a personal policy of buying internet on long haul flights. In the moment it feels expensive and dubiously worth it given that it's not that reliable. But I think it's a significant motivator for me to continue working for at least half of a 10 hour flight, which I'm reliably happy I did. (Though I'm answering this as part of my work time on a flight, so it's not clear it causes me to prioritise optimally ;-) ). 
    • Other things that helped on this trip: thinking a couple of weeks in advance about who I ought to meet with while in the Bay and setting that up while people still had space in their calendar; having a battery pack with me for my phone so I could use it continuously including to hotspot; getting a data plan for while I was in the US so while I was at places where I didn't have wifi I could still work
  • Using melotonin and a podcast I find soporific so that I'm more liable to fall asleep easily and don't need to stop working as long before bedtime 
  • Asking for help on things that are causing me to work less / less productively: 
    • Debugging an aversive thing with a friend / colleague
    • Tech help eg to figure out how to listen on my phone to something I need to read/watch while travelling to use that time better.

a podcast I find soporific so that I'm more liable to fall asleep easily

Huh, I find the 80k podcast pretty interesting.


Parental effort can spur career effort.

I started working a lot harder after having my first kid (in 1996), to gain the financial and career security needed to raise a family. 

For years before that, I'd procrastinated about turning my PhD into a popular science book. Then when baby arrived, I knew I'd have to make enough for a down-payment on a house, so I quickly secured a much better book deal, and finished writing the book pretty quickly thereafter (this was 'The Mating Mind', in 2000 -- which ironically was about mating effort rather than parenting effort.)

Many such cases. Of course, parenting takes a lot of time. But it can motivate people to allocate more time and energy from leisure activities (eg watching TV, social media, gaming) towards career activities.

My hard-workingness is really dependent on my work context (e.g., whether I have a job or not). A graph of my hard-workingness over the past year peaks really strongly from Jan-March when I was working on EAGxCambridge, because of the soon and immovable deadlines, and being the main person responsible for it. I tracked 70 hrs/wk of work in the last month (unsustainable). In the meantime I've been far less hard-working (which I prefer). I think if I had a baby, I'd also become really hard-working, because I'd be one of the people most responsible for the 'project'.

I switched to a much more motivating job, and then later began taking ADHD medication, each of which was a major boost. The change in motivation (when I switched from an academic lab to a small nonprofit) has more interesting factors, so to break those out:

  • I received more feedback and demonstrated interest from colleagues.
  • My colleagues respected me more--the new workplace allowed for more specialization, and was less hierarchical...
  • ...which made it much less intimidating to ask for in-depth explanations, so I probably learned a lot faster.
  • Projects had much more clear-cut checkpoints and endpoints.
  • Individual tasks didn't have severe failure points, so if a detail was wrong, I didn't have to start from scratch.

I have fluctuated between extremely hard working and not hard working. The key factor for me is being physically with other people who are also working, with a set time you need to arrive. 

Interesting question to think about! 

I'm not 100% sure, but I think I got more hard-working when I started university. I think this was basically because at school I found it easy to do well, and was also a teacher's pet/people pleaser, so I didn't really have the notion of 'doing less well at schoolwork than was physically possible' (ie 'half-assing it with all you've got'). But at university stuff got harder, obviously. So basically the bar for quality was raised but I didn't lower my expectations of myself accordingly: it didn't occur to me that I could just submit a shitty essay, or submit it late. I also really enjoyed the work and found it stimulating and gratifying, which helped. (I'm sure this is the rose-coloured glasses, but I kind of miss sitting in the library at 3am feeling full of adrenaline and Insights).

Since then, my hard-workingness has fluctuated. I think things that affect it most are:
-interest in what I'm working on
-accountability to others, but it has to be real and not just a thing I've set up as a productivity hack (so deadlines set with academic supervisors or clients = motivating, self-imposed deadlines/beeminder/accountability buddies = not motivating)

 I think stuff like productivity hacks haven't helped much, and inner work has generally taken me in the opposite direction) (ie, it's made me more aware of the costs of working too hard and neglecting other values).


Frequently asking for feedback.

I realised a while back that if I don't know whether I'm doing a good or poor job, it increases the number of tasks I find ughy and how much I procrastinate. 

To help with this, I've included a prompt in our weekly meeting templates at work to give each other feedback or "half-baked thoughts" at every meeting. We have performance reviews every 6 months, and I'll very often feel a boost in motivation and productivity after those. I also have a document bookmarked in my browser called "Feeling down?" with a checklist for what to do when I'm feeling particularly low mood, and asking for positive feedback is on that list.

Frequently change and adapt the methods I use to be productive. 

How productive I am changes substantially throughout the day, but also throughout the month. I think of myself as three colleagues: "Morning Eirin" who is decisive and internally motivated, "Afternoon Eirin" who needs a lot of productivity tools to stay on task, and "Evening Eirin" who enjoys deep work. They all need different tools, systems, and sources of motivation. 

I'll also reliably have some days each month when I feel negative about everything and will have low motivation, self-discipline, and self-confidence. I've gotten better at realising when I'm in that mood, which makes it easier to work with it rather than against it.  During those days, I need more time to reflect, and will for example do more walking meetings with myself. Change of scenery will have a larger effect on me, and so I'll for example go to a cafe for a couple of hours to do the most important but boring tasks (usually emails). I also need more words of encouragement, and will look at comments in a complement channel we have on Slack or other positive feedback I've received.

Not forcing myself to be productive when I don't feel like it. Recognising when I'm feeling like I need to do nothing for a few hours or even a day, and giving myself allowance to do that. Much better to double down when I am feeling productive, than forcing myself to work when I don't.

(Obviously ymmv, and I'm lucky enough to have a job where I can make this kind of system work for me, I'm aware not everyone does.)


Among the many things I've tried, this has been one of the most useful.

PS: Among the other many things I've tried, one I would not give up is "Sabbath rest" (and I don't move it to some other day of the week depending on circumstances -- it's just a strict rule of no work from dawn-to-dawn or midnight-to-midnight on Sunday). One side effect of this is that it 'gives me permission' to occasionally 'overdo' work during the week since a minimal and basic amount of rest is guaranteed, come what may.

Using physical kanban boards.

I learned about kanban boards at EA NTNU during my undergrad, and it greatly improved my productivity in my studies. It's a physical task management system using a board (or just a wall) and post-its. It involves writing down all your tasks for the day on post-its (one task per post-it) and then moving each post-it between three different columns: 

  • To-do – this is a backlog of tasks where you place all your post-its at the start of the day, ideally prioritised by importance. 
  • Doing – this is whatever task you're doing and it should at most have space for two post-its, ideally one.
  • Done – for all the tasks you've completed.

It helps me a lot to have to write down each task on a post-it, and then physically move each post-it between the three categories. I used to use a kanban all the time, but I now only use it when I have generally lower productivity. I highly recommend using it religiously at first, however. As a general rule, I think it's best to become well-versed in a system or productivity tool before straying from it or substantially adapting it.

Co-working with others.

This works so well that I sometimes don't want to do it because I know it will work.

Doing online pomodors (25 min working, 5 min break) is basically how I got through the pandemic without a huge hit to my productivity. Back then, I benefitted from co-working the whole day. Now, it's only counterfactually beneficial for a few hours each day or week, so I only do it a few times. 

Peer-mentoring and coaching calls.

I'm not sure if this has made me work harder, but it's definitely helped me work better. There are two types of mentoring calls I've tried and found helpful:

  1. Coaching calls with someone more experienced. These have been really useful for learning about best practices and getting external input from someone who has experience with the types of issues I'm experiencing at work. For example, I first learned about situational leadership in one of these coaching calls, and that greatly changed how I did management and helped me improve at managing up. 
  2. Peer-mentoring calls with someone in a similar position. For the last 4-5 years, I've had biweekly or monthly peer-mentoring calls with the same person. They've been really helpful in discussing object-level issues in my job and sense-checking how I'm approaching different projects at work. A big part of these calls is setting goals for how we want to develop professionally, and holding each other accountable to those. 

Regular productivity check-ins.

The past 1-2 years I've had a 30-minute productivity check-in with the same person every week. These have increased my productivity on average, and because of them I very rarely have more than half an unproductive week.

Sometimes, the thing that helps most is just writing down what I'm thinking about, and figuring out a solution myself by writing. Other times, it's the other person asking questions like "How important is it?” and “What would you tell someone else in your position to do?”.

I've tried many things but by far the biggest contributor to me working hard was working on something that I truly believed in. I find it much harder to work on something I don't actively believe in (to the point where I will quit or pretend to work) and now that I do what I believe in it's hard for me to not work on it.

I am currently at 60-70 hours per week (although I intend to optimise to 50 hours per week because it's more sustainable over an entire career) and I receive no pay (I'm a profit for good startup founder) and I used to be at 40 hours per week with pretty good pay. 

The second thing that has tremendous effects on me are sleeping well, excercising, having stable relationships with my GF, friends and family and eating well, in that order of importance. 

Other things that worked for me to work smarter or harder, which might be only 10% where the others above are 90% for me:
- focusmate.com
- telling people I will do X. It's more likely I do X when I promised it to someone else than when I promise it to myself

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