We often hear the advice ‘work smart, not hard’. In top management, in business and among the most accomplished professionals, it is rare to see any one who only worked smart without working hard.
Early in my career, I saw a training program where a certain CEO had a lot of time on his hands – he could spend time on strategy and was always available to his staff and peers. That is pure fiction. In most countries, the working week for high achievers is between 50 and 100% longer than the minimum work week in that country. For many professions, a total of 70 to 80 hours per week is quite common.
In addition to long hours, productive people:
Plan and execute well to get results. They scope and prioritize work, find the right people, delegate responsibilities, assign resources, track progress, and solve problems, and keep relevant parties informed.
Cope with ambiguity, uncertainty, and paradox. They do their homework to get enough inputs, but can decide and act even though not all information is available. They thus are able to see the need for change, respond quickly, and learn on the fly. They can manage conflicting signals and goals.
Care about staff, peers, and bosses and manage them effectively but are able to stand-alone, have good self-knowledge, and self-develop continuously.
Avoid unproductive habits. Example: insensitivity to people, lack of openness and approachability, betrayal of confidence, defensiveness, lack of composure, arrogance, and excessive ambition.
See also: Practice the 80:20 rule.
Caveat: Many people overwork and suffer a breakdown – I have seen too many cases. Learn to relax deeply and know your own limits.