As you sink into the couch, or slide inside your favorite pub for a drink, at the end of an exhausting workday, it’s hard not to feel good about the effort you added after investing time, effort to complete your to-do list and get things done.

As per the recent study, psychologists have suggested that when it comes to judging other people’s work, people generally are more focused on how others did the job? Did they do it quickly and well? But in reality we want to feel did they did the work to the core? This phenomenon is also sometimes called the “labor illusion”.

Once, this locksmith was penalized for getting better at his profession. He was tipped better when he was an apprentice and it took him longer to pick a lock, even though he would often break the lock! Now that it takes him only a moment, his customers complain that he is overcharging and they don’t tip him. What this reveals is that consumers don’t value goods and services solely by their utility, benefit from the service, but also a sense of fairness relating to how much effort was exerted. – Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely

In 2011, a study by the Harvard Business School researchers Ryan Buell and Michael Norton found that people using a flight-search website actually preferred to wait longer for search results—provided they could watch a detailed progress display to see the site “working hard” to canvas each airline’s database.

This would be no more than an intriguing quirk of consumer behavior—if it weren’t for the fact that we apply the same twisted standards to ourselves. It’s dangerously easy to feel as though a 10-hour day spent plowing through your inbox, or catching up on calls, was much more worthwhile than two hours spent in deep concentration on hard thinking, followed by a leisurely afternoon off. Yet any creative person will tell you it’s the two focused hours that pay most—in terms of satisfaction, money and fulfillment.

In Mason Currey’s 2013 book Daily Rituals, which is quoted as “a compendium of mini-biographies is its revelation of the infinite variety, unpredictable zaniness and inimitability of artists’ routines”, reveals artists’ and authors’ work routines, almost nobody reports spending more than four or five hours a day on their primary creative tasks. Indeed, meaningful work doesn’t always lead to exhaustion at all: a few hours of absorption in it can be actively energizing—so if you’re judging your output by your tiredness, you’re sure to be misled.

It’s very hard to avoid the this trap because our culture so strongly reinforces its deceptive message:
Hard work is ultimately what matters.
From childhood, parents and teachers drum into us the moral virtue of effort, and the importance of “doing your best”, not by doing the smart way but the hard way. Numerous approaches to productivity—even the best ones, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done—encourage a “cross-it-off-the-list” mindset: They’re so preoccupied with clarifying and keeping track of your to-dos, you forget to ask if they’re the right tasks to begin with.

And too many workplaces still subtly communicate to employees the idea that intense effort, usually in the form of long hours, is the best route to a promotion. In fact, though, if you can do your job brilliantly and still leave at 3 p.m. each day, a really good boss shouldn’t object. And by the same token, you shouldn’t cite all the effort you put in when making your case for a raise. Why should a results-focused boss even care?

To reach creativity heaven, though, you’ll need a different approach—one that prioritizes doing the right things, not just lots of things.

The well-known advice to do the most important tasks first in the day is probably still the best; that way, even if you do lapse into busy work, you won’t be wasting your best energies on it. And if your work situation permits it, experiment with radically limiting your working hours: The added constraint tends to push the most vital work to center-stage. You could set electronic reminders through the day, as a prompt to ask if you need to change your focus.

But above all, remember that tiring yourself out—or scheduling every minute of your day with work—isn’t a reliable indicator of a day well spent. Or to put it more cheerfully: The path to creative fulfillment might take a lot less effort than you think.