Why Effort Is Not The Key To Success

How many of us get caught up in the whirlwind that is today’s life, spending hours answering emails, returning phone calls, running around with so called ‘busy-work’ without realising how unproductive we are really being, or noticing that we haven’t actually completed anything worthwhile all day?

Being ‘busy’ isn’t the same thing as being ‘productive’. If you’re not accomplishing goals, then your effort is irrelevant and wasted.

The glorification of busy is a common affliction, and no wonder, when the majority of us are stuck in the effort trap. This is something that has been ingrained in us for years by society. Our parents and teachers drilled it in when we were too small to have our own opinions, and we can’t really blame them, as it was forced on them too.

So what is the effort trap? I like to think of it as a form of unconscious blackmail – and before you dismiss that as over the top, just hear me out.

The effort trap is the feeling that we have to work hard in order to achieve anything worthwhile. That we have to break our necks to have our work recognized in the office. That simply completing tasks with ease, is somehow not quite good enough.

Work hard.

Do your best.

Give it your all.

I am sure you have heard phrases like this many times. But where did this labor illusion come from? Some say it has roots in the ‘Protestant work ethic’, which states that we have to work hard if we want to go to heaven. Now that’s deep.

So I guess it’s not really surprising that we confuse the feeling of effort with the reality of result. This is put brilliantly in the video below.

So what about the 2 focused hours of work that allowed you to create a fantastic piece of work before lunch? Should you have to remain at your desk until 5pm in order to make that meaningful?

Of course not, surely labor is only as good as the value it creates. If you create great work quickly and efficiently you shouldn’t feel like you are slacking if you don’t fill up the remaining hours of your day toiling. As a freelancer you can liberate yourself from such crazy beliefs.

So this is for everyone who is thinking of freelancing, and also those who are freelancing already – but exhausting themselves. And please, if you are someone who judges your output by how shattered you are, then you must take this to heart, read and repeat until it sinks in.

Studies have actually shown that a few hours of absorption in a task that you enjoy can in fact be actively energizing! Let us show you why you should choose a line of work that makes your heart sing, work with your own unique productivity style and choose your own hours. As long as you deliver excellent results to your client, who cares how hard you work?

Employer Trap

Those of you currently employed in a traditional, corporate role are probably shaking your head right now in frustration. Unless you have a very good, and unusual boss, you are likely to find that a set amount of hours at your desk is what’s expected, regardless of your output.

To put it another way, you are measured by how much effort you expend rather than the results you produce. You are expected to be at your desk until 5pm – otherwise you will be considered a slacker – even if you have finished everything you were supposed to.

Say you actually finished at 4pm – could you imagine knocking off early? I doubt it. Instead you would have to make sure that you look like you are still busy – now that is seriously absurd – and one of the biggest reasons that more and more people are turning to freelancing.

With freelancing, the expectation is to deliver the results that you have promised – and to some extent that can be done in any way that you want to do it. There is no expectation to still be at your desk ‘the end of the business day’ – unless of course that is when you produce your best work.

A client doesn’t get to withhold pay for a great finished piece because you weren’t exhausted by the time taken to complete it. This is why we love it, and encourage you to get on board! If you are unsure of where you should be starting then take a look at this Upwork.com Starter Kit that we have put together for you. How much you effort you put in shouldn’t matter if the result is great- you don’t have to follow these flawed norms and deal with a boss watching the clock all day.

Click Here to Start your Freelance Journey Today: Learn about the 5 freelancing tasks that even beginners can have success with on Upwork.


When we started looking into the labor illusion we came across a bizarre quirk, that is pretty astonishing when you see it in black and white. The great news is that you can use this trick to your advantage…..

Clients and customers of service providers like to see that people are working hard on their behalf, so the illusion works both ways. They don’t only place value on a job done efficiently and well. They actually like to feel that the provider wore themselves out a bit in the process.

This was demonstrated in a study by The Harvard School in 2011, where the researchers found that people using a flight search website actually felt they received greater value when they were made to wait longer for the search results. There was one condition though – they needed to see a detailed progress report of what was happening. In other words, they wanted to see the site ‘working hard’. This worked just as well even if it was just the appearance of effort.

Searching for flights
Searching for flights

In fact customers prefer to wait if they perceive effort, and are more satisfied than customers who don’t have to wait.

This is happening across the board, with baristas steaming one cup of milk at a time so that customers can see the effort, typing sounds added onto automated phone responses and animations of cashiers counting bills at ATM machines.

Conversely, when a key cutter improved his efficiency at work, performing more quickly and with ease, he found that he received fewer tips and more complaints about cost. So, even if you are actually doing better work, customers don’t necessarily perceive the value if they don’t see the effort.

Understanding this psychology can work to your advantage. Ensure that your clients see the process that you go through in order to produce the final work that you submit. Tell them about the brainstorming, the avatar creation, the outline, the drafts and every other step on the path to a finished piece of work.

Transparency is key. Clients perceive more value, but you don’t have to do more work. Bingo!

Work Routines

So now we know that struggling at your laptop for hours on end doesn’t necessarily equate to a job well done. Let’s look at what does. Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals is an interesting compendium of artists’ and authors’ work routines. They all vary, but it is clear that hardly any of them spend more than four or five hours a day on their main creative tasks.

That is plenty of time to do your most important work, and do it well. Follow their example and do your most valuable task when you have the most to give to it – those golden hours of focus!

Just check out this awesome quote from Mason’s book:

“The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Of course this works for all freelance work, not only writing. So figure out how you work best, you can check out our post on the different styles of productivity for more guidance on this.

Then it won’t matter if you gradually slide into the lesser tasks, checking emails, dawdling on YouTube – you can go ahead play around online for hours – or read a book – or go for a walk. It won’t matter because you have spent your best effort wisely.

You can really enjoy the benefits if you limit your work hours, get the good stuff done and then go and have fun 🙂

The important part of that sentence was of course – GET THE GOOD STUFF DONE. You need to deliver the results – your earnings, business, family, let’s even say happiness, depend on the results.

“One can be very fertile without having to work too much. Three hours in the morning. Three hours in the evening. This is my only rule. – Jean-Paul Sartre”


So while it is true that no-one SHOULD care how hard you work, they unfortunately do.

S0, use that to your advantage, show the full process of your efforts, be transparent, but get it done efficiently, at the best point of day that works for you – and then pack up for the day and do something else!

Deliver results in a way that is beneficial to you. Take good care of yourself, incorporate exercise, breaks, meditation, and play time. Get organised, prioritise your workload and make sure you are working towards your goals.

Always keep in mind that tiring yourself out, and filling your day with work isn’t an indication that you are spending your day well. You should be pleasantly surprised to realise that you may need to put in far less effort than you thought to get some brilliant work done.

We have a tonne of resources to help you increase your productivity with our Upwork.com Starter Kit.

Click Here to Start your Freelance Journey Today: Learn about the 5 freelancing tasks that even beginners can have success with on Upwork.

I help talented Freelancers use Upwork to leverage explode their online careers, add a serious boost to their sales and develop their ideal dream lifestyle. All of the strategies and techniques that I teach to others are ones that I have used myself and things that I have learned from building my very own multiple six figure content marketing agency. Gingerbread Marketing.

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