Hard Work vs Hard to Do Work

Climbing the hill at SterlingI read an interesting article some time ago about the difference between hard work and hard to do work. In it they break down a study of comparison between two groups of violinists; the first being future professional players, called the elites, and the second the ones more likely to become music teachers, called the average players (hey, I didn’t write the article).

The study was based on a series of interviews with the players, as well analysis of diaries the players kept for every hour of the day. The hypothesis was that the elites spent more time practicing their craft, where as the average players did not. The question was “Why are the elite players better than the average players?”

The conclusion of the study was:

  • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
  • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
  • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.

After reading the article, I instantly compared it to cycling and how cyclists train, especially myself. Before working with a coach I used to just go out and ride. I didn’t really have a purpose for the ride except to turn the pedals; it was more about the trip than the destination. This is all well and good, and I still have those kinds of rides, but it isn’t where my focus needed to be. I wanted to be faster and stronger, and sure, riding a lot will get you there to a degree, but I saw immediate and vast improvements when I started working with a coach on a structured plan. You don’t need a coach, but structure is important.

Nowadays I have a plan for every workout. Thankfully I don’t need to think about what that plan has to be, it’s already in TrainingPeaks for me, and I go out and do the workouts, and I see the results. My workouts can be kept relatively short (usually an hour or less) and because I’m more efficient with my efforts, I have more time to do other things. I get my workout down in the morning before work, and can spend the rest of the day after work playing video games or hanging out with the dog. I also get more rest, and appreciate the rest days more.

The article’s definition of hard work and hard to do work is as follows:

  • Hard work is deliberate practice. It’s not fun while you’re doing it, but you don’t have to do too much of it in any one day (the elite players spent, on average, 3.5 hours per day engaged in deliberate practice, broken into two sessions). It also provides you measurable progress in a skill, which generates a strong sense of contentment and motivation. Therefore, although hard work is hard, it’s not draining and it can fit nicely into a relaxed and enjoyable day.
  • Hard to do work, by contrast, is draining. It has you running around all day in a state of false busyness that leaves you, like the average players from the Berlin study, feeling tired and stressed. It also, as we just learned, has very little to do with real accomplishment.

I agree with those definitions very much, and I’m working on incorporating hard work instead of hard to do work in other things besides cycling. For now, I’ll leave you with one final quote.

Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.

Go read the article here and then come back and tell me what your thoughts are.


4 Responses to Hard Work vs Hard to Do Work

  1. I known that is why I am getting a coach/trainer to prep me for Leadville next year. I ride a lot. But it is usually without thought or reason. I am changing that so that I can see how good I can be.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! You’re already good, so with even more focus this year you’ll be great. I look forward to reading about the journey, and maybe some day I’ll get to get out there and crew.

  2. I found your site through coffeeneuring … Thanks for this useful, well-said post. I’ve trained with a plan and structure, but only of my own making (using books) and know it hasn’t been as useful as it might be. Am just now trying to put a more effective cycling training plan together and will look next at your online site. Happy pedalling!

    • Hey Suze thanks for the comment! Having any sort of plan is better than none at all, though riding your bike is better than sitting on the couch. I hope other articles of mine are helpful, and feel free to ask me any questions 🙂 Whereabouts are you riding? I’m in eastern MA but am often in NW CT.

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