When I was a kid, my parents often emphasised the importance of hard work. My mother would even say, "It doesn't matter if you score badly in your exams, so long as you had studied hard and tried your best". At first sight, this philosophy sounds plausible enough. However, upon closer scrutiny, you might find that it doesn't quite hold up.
Consider your workplace. Make a list of the most successful people (those who are on the promotion track, those who got the biggest bonuses, and so on). Then for each of these people, write down what you think are the top 3 reasons for his or her success. I suspect that you'll end up with quite a variety of different reasons. For example:
"good interpersonal skills",
"smart and talented",
"handles the high-profile work"
"outstanding problem-solving ability"
"because he has plenty of important clients"
"excellent communication skills"
Less politically-correct reasons (which is not to say that they are invalid) may include:
"his skin is of the right colour"
"sucks up to the Boss"
"very good at taking credit for other people's work"
"her father is the CEO"
"PSC scholars always get promoted even if they are idiots"
Anyway, my point is that there is little correlation between hard work and career success. People who actually get ahead in the workplace may get ahead for a wide variety of reasons, other than old-fashioned hard work.
Laziness is probably detrimental to your career progression. But diligence is definitely no guarantee of success. To see if this is true, check your workplace again. Make a list of the most hardworking people. You'll probably notice that some of your colleagues work very hard, but don't seem to even get appreciation, much less achieve career success.
(Actually, this is true of our education system as well. There are plenty of students who slog very hard and produce only mediocre grades).
Unfortunately, many Singaporeans are culturally conditioned to work hard. I say that this is unfortunate - because as I've already pointed out, hard work doesn't necessarily get you anywhere. On the contrary, there is a personal price to pay for hard work (think migraines, heart disease, stomach ulcers and hypertension). And excessive diligence at work will also deprives you of your personal time, including time with your family.
Come 2012, I am going to launch a new personal project. I call it my 6 p.m. project. My mission is to leave the office at 6 pm sharp as often as possible. Ideally, 5 days a week, for most weeks. I'll even keep a log.
On average, in 2011, I left the office around 8 pm. So if I now succeed in leaving at 6 pm instead, I save 10 hours per week, or 40 hours per month. That sounds pretty good to me.
I don't intend to get sloppy with my work. I do intend to become more efficient and productive. I plan to find good ideas and clever ways to get all my usual work done on time and done well, despite my working 40 hours less per month.
How exactly will I do that? Stay tuned. I'm still figuring it out myself. As the 6 p.m project progresses, I'll let you know the details.