People who are successful but don’t work that hard usually display these 10 behaviors

“Work smart, not hard” is probably my favorite motto.

Well, at least you shouldn’t just work hard. 

And I know all these hustle culture influencers who tell you to devote every single second of your day to hard work will get mad…

But, in fact, it may not even be necessary for you to work hard. 

Some of the most successful people are where they are not because of how hard they worked—but how efficiently they worked.

Because here’s the thing: no matter how hard you work, if you’re not working effectively, then all your effort will be for nothing. You’ve burnt yourself out without achieving anything.

Here are 11 tips that I’ve learned from these people about working effectively and efficiently without working yourself to the bone.

As a rule of thumb, people who are successful but don’t work that hard usually display these 10 behaviors.

1) They prioritize growth and learning

Successful people are always looking for ways to learn, grow, and improve. 

Once they get good at something, they want to expand their horizons, get good at another thing, or approach the next level.

They don’t settle in their comfort zone and keep working there until they die.

Because you can be the hardest-working burger-flipper at McDonald’s in the world. 

But, realistically, you probably won’t progress your career just doing that for the rest of your life. 

That’s why it’s important to devote time and energy to learning and exploring your potential as well. Don’t tire yourself out at work so you have enough energy to spend learning new skills.

And, sure, sometimes the best way to learn and improve is to keep doing something over and over again (like, say, if you’re an athlete). 

But you also need to determine whether your current job is like that or if it’s a dead-end with little to no room for growth.

2) They say no

And they say it regularly.

Successful people have always had clear goals in mind. They want to spend their limited time and energy working towards those things.

Setting boundaries isn’t just an important thing in relationships. It’s just as crucial in your career.

Because let’s be real: there are too many abusive bosses out there who try to exploit their employees. I’ve been there, and I’m sure you’ve likely been there too.

Saying no to unpaid overtime or tasks that weren’t in the job description is well within your rights.

(And if they say no to your no… then, well, that’s not a place you should want to be working at, no?)

By doing these things, they’re able to manage their workload and still have time and energy to spend on their other priorities. 

Even Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

3) They stay true to themselves

And you know what makes it easier to say no? Staying true to yourself and prioritizing your own values.

After all, too often, we are pressured to conform to what others think is best for us. 

We’re so afraid of disappointing other people that we don’t realize that we’re disappointing ourselves in the process.

Trying to copy other people’s path to success is a path to failure. Remember that you’re a unique individual with largely different circumstances. We all have different:

  • Field of expertise or interest;
  • Strengths;
  • Weaknesses;
  • Connections.

By all means, learn what you can learn from other people. But blindly copying their ways is a great way to self-sabotage your own journey.

Staying true to yourself also means pursuing work that aligns with your values and interests. 

Nothing is more soul-draining than working a dead-end job you have zero interest in. There is no growth or success to be found there—no matter how hard you force yourself to work in those fields.

4) They’re creative

I think that in order to be successful with anything, you need to be at least somewhat creative.

As I said above, you can’t just copy other people’s path to success. You’ll likely face your own unique set of challenges.

And you’ll probably need to think of creative solutions to these problems as well.

This is where much of the growth actually happens. 

When we allow ourselves to experiment and try new things in our craft, we arrive at new breakthroughs and innovations.

That’s when we ascend to the next level or stand out from others. 

And that’s when new opportunities, like a promotion or someone in your field introducing themselves to you, arise.

5) They don’t take anything for granted

pic2288 People who are successful but don’t work that hard usually display these 10 behaviors

These people are hyperaware of just how finite their time and energy are.

And because of this, they are incredibly grateful for every opportunity that they come across. They maximize these opportunities, learning from them as much as they can.

In the same vein, they cherish every precious moment they have outside of work, like the time they spend with friends and family.

Why is this important?

Well, in my opinion, I think nowadays we’re too caught up in “sacrificing” for our careers. Parents miss out on their kids’ events. We miss out on that weekend trip with friends. 

But these moments are just as important to our success as work itself.

When we recharge and remind ourselves of why we work so hard, we get re-inspired to give it our all, boosting the quality of our work.

6) They prioritize their health

“Health is wealth” is a famous saying for a good reason—it’s 10000% true.

Unfortunately, too many of us are compromising not just our physical health but also our mental and emotional health in pursuit of financial wealth.

And let me tell you: there’s only so much money can do to aid in health outcomes. 

It helps, sure (as it does with anything), but to what extent will you enjoy your success if you’re bedridden with a dozen health complications? 

Not much, I say.

Besides, a healthy worker is always an exponentially more effective worker, no?

Just stick to the basics of…

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet;
  • Exercising regularly;
  • Getting adequate sleep.

…and you’re already living a healthier life than most people. 

Because unfortunately most people don’t do these things with enough consistency. And I firmly believe that’s one of the biggest reasons why most people don’t achieve their potential. 

7) They willingly help others

One of the saddest misconceptions hustle culture is promoting is that you need to be selfish in order to be successful. 

We’re told to hunker down, lock ourselves in a bare room for a year, ignore our social life, and build our online business from scratch.

Or something like that.

We’re told to ignore others in order to focus on ourselves. 

And honestly? 

I used to believe this, too.

But I’ve seen the exact opposite of successful people.

Most of them go out of their way to help others. They’re always seeing how they can provide value for other people.

And because of that, they build connections, and exciting new opportunities arise.

They don’t see the world as a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game. They believe that we should all be helping each other rise up—only then can we all flourish.

8) They don’t chase validation

When I was young, I was obsessed with chasing validation.

I was seeking awards or compliments from people in my field. I thought that was the only way I could build connections or get others to notice my potential.

But I’ve since learned that, in the end, those things don’t matter much in isolation. It’s important to have your own metrics for success as well.

So, put your head down and focus on your goals.

And trust me, the right people will notice even if you’re not announcing it to the world.

9) They’re not afraid of failure

Did you know?

  • Michael Jordan didn’t even make his high school’s basketball team.
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job.
  • Henry Ford’s first two car companies went bankrupt.
  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter was finally published.

Anyone who’s telling you that they got it all figured out from the very start is a liar. 

Behind every success has been numerous failures. Trials and errors, honest mistakes, failed experiments—these are crucial to the success journey.

Because behind the fear of success is an opportunity. A once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. A chance for you to know yourself and what you’re truly capable of.

So go! Go out there, try, and fail. Fail as many times as you will—it’s the only way to succeed in the end.

10) They’re humble

Most people have this image of successful people in their heads:

They’re loud and boastful. They’re full of themselves, and they’re always bragging about how much they’ve accomplished.

And yeah, I won’t lie—some of them are like that.

But most of them? Most of them are actually humble and open-minded. You’ll be surprised once you meet them since they listen more than they speak.

As I’ve said above, they do this because they’re always willing to learn. They want to hear other people’s perspectives on things (without treating them as gospel). 

At the same time, they’re also looking out for ways they can maybe help them. 

It’s the main reason why they have so much insight when they do speak. 

It’s the culmination of all the listening they’ve done!

Conclusion: So how do you work smart?

In the end, it’s actually pretty simple. Ask yourself:

Is this worth working for? Am I working efficiently? Am I making progress every time I’m working?

If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right path. Keep going!

Keep these tips in mind and emulate them to the best of your abilities. You’ll be less burnt out while still remaining effective.

Picture of Anna Dovbysh

Anna Dovbysh

With 8 years of writing experience and a deep interest in psychology, relationship advice, and spirituality, Anna’s here to shine a light on the most interesting self-development topics and share some life advice. She's got a Master's Degree in International Information and is a life-long learner of writing and storytelling. In the past, she worked on a radio station and a TV channel as a journalist and even tought English in Cambodia to local kids. Currently, she's freelancing and traveling around the globe, exploring new places, and getting inspired by the people she meets and the stories they tell. Subscribe to her posts and get in touch with her on her social media: Facebook & LinkedIn

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