You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 34 - the difference between hardworking and overworking - and how to ensure your teen can work hard without burning out - so they achieve great things and still have a great life balance.
Hello wonderful VIPs, I’m so excited to talk to you about today’s topic of hardworking vs overworking. Obviously it’s especially relevant in relation to the name of this podcast - parents of hardworking teens - but also in terms of what I know many of you may be concerned about as your teen starts their new year group.
Perhaps they’re starting their senior years and all the stories of exam stress and the increased workload are playing on your mind. Or maybe last year’s assignments or homework or assessments caused some issues or stress and you’re worried about - or even dreading - that happening again, especially with the up-leveling of a new year group. And I so often hear from parents or myself see students spending way too much time and effort and stress on certain tasks or assessments - especially I see this happening with research assignments and essays - or they’re staying up all hours to revise longer and harder for exams - and so I want to talk about the difference between hard work, which I believe is often necessary to accomplish certain things - AND can be super beneficial when it comes to building a solid work ethic, building confidence and commitment, self-belief and pride - and providing that great feeling of having put in a hard day’s work and having accomplished what you set out to do, and doing it to a high standard.
The difference between that and overworking - which is what leads to burnout, is often demoralising and stressful and can but doesn’t always lead to actual accomplishment of the thing we set out to do. And I’ll share with you my experiences and observations of both over the years - both in students and in myself I will say - so that hopefully you can identify the difference and have your teen avoid overworking and embrace the hard work when it’s necessary.
Because there are distinctions that show up no matter what year group your teen is in, in high school, so if you know anyone else who’d find this helpful, then please forward it to them. Either take a screenshot and message it to them, send them the link www.rocksolidstudy.com/34 so they can hear this for themselves.
Okay, so first of all, I’m going to share with you my personal definitions that I’ve come up with to distinguish between hardworking and overworking. Because there are certainly some similarities between the two. Now, I may well continue to tweak these definitions over time, but right now, I would say that:
Hard work is doing what’s exactly required for a challenging task, either in terms of quantity or level of cognitive challenge. So it could be that the amount that has to get done in a certain time is a challenge, or it could be that the level of difficulty is a challenge, BUT here’s the key - it gets completed with the optimum amount of effort and in the minimum time, in - importantly - a controlled and strategic and organised way.
Now I do kind of want to say minimum effort there, because the exact amount of effort required (whether that is in physical or mental effort) IS ideally what’s put in, but not more.
But if I say minimal, that might sound like I’m talking about taking shortcuts or skimping on things or not truly working at the level that’s required and those will likely not produce a high quality result. So I’m using the word ‘optimal’ for effort because the key point here is that they aren’t putting in way MORE effort than is required, which is what I know a lot of you see happening for your teen, I definitely know I did that too as a student, and still do sometimes now - I don’t think we ever perfect this stuff - it’s all a work in progress - put in more than is required is what often end up happening when things aren’t being done in a controlled and strategic and organised way.
Which takes us to the definition of overworking:
Overworking is doing more than is required to achieve a certain outcome or result. That might be by going over and above with no reward for it, or by doing things that aren’t needed (which often did used to be rewarded in the lower year groups). Or it might be that extra energy is exerted just through stress and confusion, or time is used up through mistakes and having to re-do things, or like I said, by doing things that aren’t giving any pay off.
And I see two key differences in how these actually show up.
The first way is the feelings behind the work or that are driving the work.
When we’re working hard, we feel feel confident and in control of what we’re doing. We likely have a schedule or at least some timings in mind and we’re on schedule. We’re not doing something in a panic or last-minute. We’ve planned it, we know what we’re doing and we know how to do it.
Now, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. We will feel like we’re putting in effort, it will feel hard, but it’s at good level of challenge. We can get in the zone, use our brain and really feel focused.
I talked more about this ‘appropriate level of challenge’ in episode 30: If it’s not difficult, it’s not doing anything. If something is easy, then it likely isn’t going to produce any great results. If there isn’t that level of challenge, if the work doesn’t feel hard in some way, then we’re likely not growing our skills or abilities or confidence, even if we still get a good mark at the end of it.
Now, overworking feels very different. We feel stressed, either due to time pressure or due to feelings of confusion or uncertainty about what we’re actually doing. We have that feeling of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’m never going to get this done’. Which can also lead to feelings of panic, we are rushing and then of course, we often end up making mistakes which either go un-noticed and bring down the end mark or result, or have to be re-done, taking up more time and energy. Hence the overworking.
Or, we might have a subtle feeling of desperation and end up trying to impress by going over and above what’s required.
OR we end up doing more than is required because we aren’t sure about what to actually do, or what needs to really go into that answer, so we hedge our bets and put in everything we can think of - what I call spaghetti-throwing. Throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
And this almost always looks like frantic work, rushed work and a stressed teen.
It can also look like a lot of activity is happening, but not much is actually getting done. I know this is a common issue. Lots of note-taking or lots of ‘study’ - in inverted commas - but not much in the way of accomplishment or results. Or just a lot of busy work that gives a false sense of accomplishment or being in control, but it doesn’t actually make much difference at all. There isn’t much bang for buck or return on effort.
And here’s an interesting point to note on that: The tasks being done, the actual work being done COULD be the same. Stick with me here! Let’s say your teen could be doing extra practice questions in Maths. And the hardworking version of them is doing this very strategically and intentionally. They’ve pre-determined exactly which questions will give them maximum bang for buck in terms of how those questions will advance and reinforce their understanding and ability in a particular Maths concept or topic.
They know how much time they are going to spend on those questions - or at least given it their best estimate - and they know how that task will benefit them. But the overworking version of your teen will be doing questions randomly in a panic. They might be stressing about a test they have tomorrow or feeling uncertain about the topic and are doing extra practice questions in the hope - and hope is not a strategy or a plan: a future podcast episode right there! - in the hope that it will help them. So, the questions have not been selected strategically, their time has not been planned and they are working from a frantic energy and a stressed mind. They think that just doing more questions is the way to more marks. And more hours, more study does not necessarily, in itself guarantee more marks or higher grades. There is no straight line graph that directly links time and effort to results.
And that is a good thing!
Because here’s the other key difference…
Overworking is not sustainable.
Hard work is.
That’s because hard work is planned and strategic. There is a start and an end to each task. And there is not extra energy exerted with stress, panic or worry. All energy and effort is directed at the task at hand. Work is getting done in a calm and controlled manner. Because calm is not the same as lazy. Paramedics and nurses and firefighters have to be calm in their work. Yet it could be argued that they are some of the hardest workers.
Hard work is about getting things done in an efficient and effective way.
And the more effective and efficient we are, the more time we then also have for rest and relaxation, creating a positive cycle.
When we’re inefficient, things take longer than they should do. And of course that leads to the negative cycle of then having less time for rest, and more feelings of rushing, stress and too much to do and not enough time.
Remember, stress is not from having too much to do, it’s not knowing how you’re going to get it all done.
I said ‘remember’ there, but I don’t actually know if I’ve said that on the podcast before.
I’ve definitely said it on a webinar before.
And I have a brand new parent webinar coming up - I’ll share more about that at the end of this podcast and if you want your teen to do more of the hard work and less overworking, then you definitely need to come to it, but I’ll say that sentence again. Stress is not having too much to do.
If we have a lot to do, but know exactly HOW to do it and how to get it done in the time available, we can feel calm and in control. We might still have to work hard, but it’s not stressful. Stress can be caused by having even just one thing to do and plenty of time to do it, but not knowing how we’ll do it, feeling out of our depth.
This is why I’m all about giving students the HOW in their study. I think there are a lot of students who get the ‘what’ - but they don’t have the how. They get the idea of ‘study smarter not harder’ but they don’t know HOW. They want to be able to actually answer the question, or give more detail, but they don’t know HOW. And for students who push themselves and are committed, this can lead to overworking and burnout and unsustainable study.
But the truth is that they just need the skills and strategies to do this for themselves to be able to study efficiently and effectively - and do it independently. Which is great news for them - and of course for you as the parent.
So, on that note, if you’d like to discover more of that HOW and have me explain everything in detail with real life examples of tasks, essays and exam questions - then that’s exactly what I’m doing in my free parent webinar on Wed 1st February.
It’s called - your teen’s new year group, how to have them nail it and it’s particularly for parents of teens starting in Year 9 - 12 or 10 - 13.
And I know that some of you listening have teens not yet in those year groups, but of course soon will be and just want to get a head start and that’s great. You’re really welcome. And any of you who have teens willing to watch this with you, definitely have them join in the fun with us too.
Now it’s a live webinar so definitely go register right now if you’re listening to this before 7pm AEST on Wed 1st Feb - so that’s 8pm sydney time, 10pm New Zealand, 5pm Perth and actually, when you go to the registration page - it’s at www.gradetransformation.com/new- it will show the time in your own time zone, which is super-handy. And if you’re listening to this after that date, we’ll be recording the webinar and the replay will be available to get access to there until Monday 6th - but - the replay won’t have all of the live features in there, including - I mentioned earlier the time-sap that research projects can be - including a special give-away for all attendees of my top 6 Google tips to have your teen easily find information the information they actually need, fast. That’s just one of the extra bonus additions. And there are lots more - so definitely be there live and move around whatever you need to, to make that possible.
So, here’s to a year of your teen feeling confident and in control, to less overworking and having their hard work pay off. Have a wonderful week, I’ll see you back here next week AND hopefully see you at the webinar - www.gradetransformation.com/new. It’s going to be jam-packed, I can’t wait.