The Diligence - Camille Pissarro 1877
“The person who decides to go to bed late, already decides to waste the next day.”
What is Diligence?
Diligence is careful and persistent work or effort.
Through its connection to effort, it involves the will and the virtue of fortitude, which helps us both attack and endure difficulties. To work diligently, we must persist in our work over time, through the ups and downs of our mood, setbacks and roadblocks, and do so with constancy.
It is closely connected to being earnest, which is being sincere and showing conviction through actions. Being diligent also means being concerned with the quality of the work or task one is engaged with. In this way, it is closely connected to prudence, which entails reasoning well about our actions so that we know what to do, when to do it, and in what manner. We can easily work begrudgingly, or on auto-pilot, with little desire to do it well, or with regard for those who are affected by it. When we work diligently, we are sincere in our care and concern for what we are doing, and those who may be affected by and through it.
We do not say that work has been done diligently when it is done in a shoddy way, or it seems incomplete. Diligence means being attuned to what working well would look like in the context of our task, so it essentially involves being thorough and attentive to completeness.
When we lack diligence, we can be said to be acting negligently. Negligence involves the lack of the proper care and concern due to someone or something. Ultimately, it is a failure to recognize something’s importance, and give it one’s proper attention.
Lastly, to work diligently, we must have affective care for our work. If we see work or effort merely as something to get done as quickly as possible, or that we do for the sake of an accomplishment, accolade, or outcome, we will never be fulfilled by it. Working this way will always end up being tiring, frustrating, and draining. If, on the other hand, we see work as a means of doing good, we will be inspired, and energized by it. By focusing on growing in virtue and skill, and serving others through our work, we will be able to work with a spirit of love.
Written by: Peter Copeland
Interview on Diligence with Maria Lucas
How do you define diligence?
To me, diligence means you take responsibility for what you commit to and that you take great care in the details when carrying out those commitments.
How does the virtue of diligence relate to work?
I think the virtue of diligence is very integral to work. Diligence helps us determine what tasks to prioritize, what steps are involved to ensure successful completion of those tasks, and then it moves us to execute those steps efficiently and effectively.
Why is it important in a work context?
Work is often a space where we serve others. Diligence in how we carry out our tasks at work is a way we can demonstrate care not just for our work, but for those who benefit from our work. I think we should always have in mind those we serve when we undertake our work.
How have you personally built on this virtue?
I try to live "heroic hours" throughout the day, meaning I try to work intentionally with limited distractions for an hour and a half to two hours at a time before taking a break and then attempting another round of "heroic hours".
Did somebody mentor you on this? Have you mentored others about diligence?
I grew up on a farm, so from a very young age I have managed competing tasks between my house chores, my farm chores, and school and extracurricular activities. This experience has allowed me to develop a strong work ethic. I think much of my diligence came from my parents, and particularly my father who is the hardest working person I know. He was the first person to show me how diligence "gets the job done" and "gets it done well".
Do you have any examples of failing to live this virtue at work, and did you overcome that?
I'll start by saying that diligence is not a virtue that comes naturally to me (it probably doesn't come naturally to most people). It requires energy and focus to live well. I often fail to live diligence when I am tired, which I know is obvious, and I am sure we can all relate to this. When we are tired, we have trouble focusing. I think there are many factors that can interfere with our ability to focus, but one obvious factor is ensuring we get enough sleep every night (I know this varies from person to person). Life is often much more demanding than we anticipate. We have many commitments that compete for our time. For me, to make sure that I fulfill all these commitments, sleep is usually the first thing that is sacrificed. This then impacts upon my ability to be diligent and productive. So long-term, sacrificing sleep is not an effective strategy if one wishes to live any kind of virtue at work well, including diligence.
Do you have any examples of friends or colleagues living this virtue at work?
I am a lawyer and my work and that of my colleagues is often deadline oriented. To meet these deadlines, which often compete, diligence is required. I am very blessed to see this virtue lived out by my colleagues. For them, I don't think it's just about meeting a deadline so that you can move on to the next task. I know my colleagues care about the work they do. As a lawyer, you are in a very unique and privileged position to help people who often are not in the best of circumstances. So diligence not only helps us "get the job done" and "get it done well", but it also in turn helps us to serve our clients well too.
Maria Lucas is a lawyer who practices Aboriginal law at Goldblatt Partners LLP.