Hard or complicated?
Running a marathon is hard, but it’s not complicated.
All you have to do to complete a marathon is put one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. Depending on your fitness level it might take a very long time, but if you're physically able to walk, you will eventually cross the finish line. Everyone understands how to run a marathon.
Hard things can be completed through some combination of effort, willpower, and time.
Making 100 sales calls, working a 10-hour warehouse shift, raking a yard full of leaves—hard, but not complicated.
Conversely, managing a sales team or designing a new warehouse inventory system is complicated.
Complicated things are difficult to understand or explain. There may be multiple stakeholders with competing priorities or you might uncover more and more obstacles once you start. There will be moments that are hard, but navigating multiple, intricate steps is the real challenge.
This might sound like semantics, but treating a complicated thing like a hard thing is a recipe for disaster. Unlike hard things, you can’t just grit through a complicated thing. You might not even know where to start.
You probably don’t mind hard things. In fact, if you’re anything like me you procrastinate on complicated things by finding a hard thing to do. (I always seem to find time to clean my entire house or get to inbox zero when I have something complicated looming like say, writing this piece.)
This productivity martyrdom is doubly dangerous because not only is it exhausting to continually tackle hard things, but finishing complicated challenges is also how we make progress toward our most meaningful goals. When you avoid the complicated by throwing yourself into things that are simply hard, you're left both tired and unfulfilled.
That’s no way to live.
Thankfully, complicated challenges are nothing to shy away from. They are overcome with systems and structure like checklists and written procedures. When you make plans and execute them step by step, complicated things will eventually feel rather simple. The same goes for a complicated thing done multiple times.
Hard work pays off, sure. But complicated work is where we make the biggest impact.
And isn’t that what this (complicated) thing called life is all about?
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