7 Actionable Ways to Work Hard Without Destroying Yourself

woman doing yoga representing how to work hard without destroying yourself
Moderate the forward momentum

Let’s not pretend that you don’t have to work hard to get what you want. You need to burn brightly if you want to make it to your goal.

But when you’re working extremely hard, you run the risk of destroying yourself. You can ruin your physical health, your mental health, and your relationships if you don’t work with longevity in mind.

Here are seven actionable ways to maintain an intense work ethic without ruining your life:

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion isn’t the first thing you think of when you’re bleeding and doing sprints up a hill. When you want something so bad you’re willing to die for it, you demand the most of yourself.

But, being good to yourself is crucial too.

Setting extremely high standards, beating yourself up for failures, and telling yourself you don’t deserve what you’re striving for, are all ways to ruin your shot at enjoying the journey. You can’t be proud of anything if you hate yourself.

Action steps:

  • Acknowledge how far you’ve come, and take time to appreciate the effort you’ve put in.
  • Practice gratitude for your life and your abilities. Remember that everyone screws up and that you can forgive yourself for falling short.
  • Treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for caring for, or rather, treat yourself like you would a loved one. Would you punish them as hard as you punish yourself?

2. Give Yourself Rewards

Your intense work periods should have endpoints.

That could be as simple as taking a coffee break, or it could be a trip to Barcelona. The point is, downtime should be planned. And you should reward yourself when you know you’ve earned it.

Action Steps:

  • Plan to (eventually) put something fun in your schedule.
  • Give yourself small gifts, like buying some new clothes for example. As a friend of mine says, “Treat yo’ self.”
  • Respect your breaks and don’t work through them

3. Expect Set Backs

Your work ethic is in your control. Everything else is not. Don’t blame yourself for when your plans fall through, because they will.

If you know that your schedule probably won’t work as you planned it and that everything could go wrong, you won’t take it out on yourself when it does.

Take it from the Stoics: You can’t control the chaos; you can only control how you react to this chaos.

Action Steps:

  • Don’t blame yourself when chaos happens
  • Instead of saying, “I could’ve worked harder to prevent this,” fix your problem, forgive yourself, and move on.
  • Instead of saying, “This must happen now,” allow yourself to improvise your scheduled activities and do them at different times. You can flexible and productive at the same time.

4. Rely on Habits and Systems

It takes more effort to form a habit than to maintain it. Maintaining it requires discipline, but the deeper you carve the habit into your brain, the more natural it will feel.

You should focus more on maintaining doable habits than putting 1000% effort into everything, burning out, quitting, and then starting over.

Action Steps:

  • Focus on systems over goals: Instead of saying, “I’m going to read four books a month,” make a system out of it. Say, “I’m going to read 30 pages every morning at 7:00 AM.” It’s insane how much you can accomplish by putting in small amounts of daily effort and compounding it over time.
  • All you have to focus on is what you can do with your waking hours. You can’t do anything but take it one day at a time. So, take every positive habit you do and call it a win.

5. Work Smart

Sometimes, there’s no way around it. You need to lose sleep, miss events, and just get the thing done.

But, you don't want this to become your lifestyle.

This is why you should focus on maximizing your working hours instead of maximizing your hours worked. This is working smart.

Action Steps:

  • Use Deep Work: Deep Work is an intense period of focus (up to four hours), where you try to accomplish a single task with no distractions. Take the most important tasks of your day and structure them into deep work sessions to get them done effectively.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique: Pomodoro is working chunks of time and taking short breaks in between. You put your work and breaks on a timer. For example: Work for 25 minutes, rest for 5 minutes, for four hours. You take a longer break after 4 cycles.
  • Use Batching: Batching is performing similar tasks all at once. For example, instead of checking email throughout the day, carve out time to check all of your emails in one sitting.

6. Take Inspiration (But Not Too Much)

You’ve probably watched an inspirational youtube video in your life. Maybe you listen to intense people like Jocko Willink or David Goggins.

They preach discipline, hard work, and consistency, all of which are good things. But there’s a problem.

When you’re constantly consuming content like this, it’s easy to feel like you’re never doing enough, even when you’re pushing yourself to your limits. And that’s not good.

Action Steps:

  • Be healthy with how you take in inspirational content. Your life has its own unique brand of issues and challenges. Comparing your life to others will only hurt you.
  • Inspirational videos are nice every now and again, but after a while, you realize they are all the same. You should take more inspiration from yourself, and the challenges you are facing.
  • Motivation is fleeting. Rely on habits and discipline to carry you.

7. Fuel the Machine

Your body needs tune-ups and maintenance. If you want to get where you’re going, you need to keep it healthy.

Physical fitness and productivity go hand in hand.

Action Steps:

  • Rest: Letting yourself sleep is a no-brainer. But you need to rest your mind too. You could make a “before-bed” ritual where you shut off your phone, meditate, or reflect on the day.
  • Food and Water: Water is everything. Drink a lot of it. And remember, diets are permanent. You need to make a lifestyle out of eating healthy if you want to reap the benefits.
  • Regular Exercise: Whatever you like — running, biking, hiking, martial arts, powerlifting. Move your body. Pump blood through it. Even if it’s only 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.

Don’t Lose Yourself

Passion and obsession can be great things. But when you’re striving toward something, you need to maintain yourself, or else you’ll end up getting nowhere and feeling worthless.

To review:

  • Be good to yourself.
  • Reward your efforts.
  • Don’t blame yourself for chaos.
  • Manage your habits and systems.
  • Work intelligently whenever you can.
  • Don’t always compare yourself to the people in motivational videos.
  • Keep yourself as healthy as possible.

If you can stay on your own side, then you can make it.