Thoreau on Hard Work by Cal Newport

Thoreau on Hard Work

April 4, 2020

Writing in his journal in March of 1842, at the precocious age of 24, Thoreau noted the following about the difference between quality and quantity in work:

“The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.”

At the age of 27, having just finished writing a book concurrently with my doctoral dissertation, I was afflicted with a similar revelation, which I captured in a blog post published in the summer of 2009, titled: “Focus Hard. In Reasonable Bursts. One Day at a Time.” The main distinction I emphasized in this piece (admittedly, with much less eloquence than Thoreau) is that there’s a difference between “hard work” and “hard to do work.” Deep endeavors are often difficult, but they need not be exhausting.


For the past three weeks, I’ve switched over to a daily blog schedule. My idea, as explained here, is to be the one source of information in your life that is not specifically about public health concerns (if you want more on my take on that particular topic, see this post or my recent interview with GQ). Now that people are settling down into a regular rhythm of socially-distant living, I’m thinking of adjusting my post frequency for now to be roughly every other day, so that you’ll still hear from me regularly, but not so fast that you’re unable to keep up!


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