100 Best Idioms for Hard Work

When it comes to hard work, there are tons of idioms that capture the sweat, the long hours, and the elbow grease you’re putting in.

Have you ever heard of “burning the midnight oil” or “hitting the nail on the head“? These aren’t just fun sayings; they help us express the nitty-gritty of working hard in a way that everyone gets. So buckle up as we dive into the colorful world of idioms that show just what it means to give it your all!

Popular Idioms

1. Burning the Midnight Oil

When someone is “burning the midnight oil,” they’re working really late into the night to finish something. Just like an oil lamp needs to burn oil to provide light, people use this saying to talk about using their time and energy to get work done, even if it’s really late.

2. No Pain, No Gain

This saying means that you have to work hard and maybe even suffer a bit to get the results you want. In other words, the “pain” of hard work and struggle is necessary if you want to achieve “gain” or success.

3. Break Your Back

When you’re “breaking your back,” you’re working extremely hard, almost as if you’re hurting yourself in the process. It’s often used to describe physically demanding jobs, but it can also be used for any kind of hard work.

4. Go the Extra Mile

This idiom means to do more than what’s expected of you. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, you’re willing to put in that extra effort to make sure things are done really well.

5. Blood, Sweat, and Tears

When you put “blood, sweat, and tears” into something, you’re giving it your all. This phrase emphasizes that achieving something important often takes a lot of hard work and emotional energy.

6. Roll Up Your Sleeves

This phrase suggests getting ready for some hard work. Just like you roll up your sleeves before doing something physically demanding, using this idiom means you’re preparing to dig into a difficult task.

7. Hit the Ground Running

If you “hit the ground running,” you start a project or job already prepared and eager to work hard. This phrase is often used in business settings to describe someone who starts a new job or project with lots of energy and ideas.

8. Put Your Nose to the Grindstone

This idiom means to focus and work hard on a task. The idea comes from the old way of sharpening tools or grinding grain, where you had to keep your nose close to the grindstone to focus on what you were doing.

9. Bite the Bullet

This means facing a difficult or unpleasant task without complaining. You just do what needs to be done, even if it’s hard.

10. Sweat Blood

To “sweat blood” means to work extremely hard, almost to the point of physical or emotional pain. People use it to emphasize just how much effort they’re putting into a task.

11. Knuckle Down

When you “knuckle down,” you’re getting serious about completing a task. It’s like you’re tightening your grip and focusing all your energy on getting something done.

12. Pull Out All the Stops

This means to do everything you can to succeed. The phrase comes from organ playing, where pulling out all the stops would make the music as loud and grand as possible.

13. Take the Bull by the Horns

This means facing a difficult or risky situation head-on. Just like taking an actual bull by the horns would require a lot of effort and courage, so does tackling a challenging task.

14. Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders

This idiom means you’re dealing with a lot of stress and responsibilities. It’s like you’re holding up everything that matters, which is a really hard thing to do.

15. Leave No Stone Unturned

To “leave no stone unturned” means to do everything possible to find a solution or achieve your goal. This phrase suggests that you’re looking in every possible place, just like you would turn over every stone to find something hidden.

16. Bend Over Backwards

This means to try very hard to do something, even if it’s difficult or causes you trouble. It’s like you’re stretching yourself to your limits to get something done.

17. Elbow Grease

When a job needs “elbow grease,” it needs a lot of hard work and effort. This phrase often refers to physical tasks, but you can use it for any job that requires hard work.

18. Paddle Your Own Canoe

This means you need to work hard and take control of your own destiny. Imagine you’re in a canoe: if you don’t paddle, you won’t go anywhere.

19. Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

This saying means not to assume that all will go well with your plans; you still need to work hard to make sure they succeed. Chicken hatching is not guaranteed, just like your plans aren’t guaranteed to work out just because they seem good.

20. Give It Your Best Shot

This means to do the best that you can, to work as hard as possible to achieve something. When you give it your best shot, you don’t hold back; you give all you’ve got.

Work and Career

21. Climbing the Corporate Ladder

This idiom means you’re working hard to get promoted and succeed in a company. Just like climbing an actual ladder takes effort and focus, so does moving up in a corporate setting. You have to show dedication and hard work to ascend in your career.

22. Put the Pedal to the Metal

This phrase suggests working at full speed or giving your all to complete a task. It comes from the idea of pushing a car’s gas pedal to the floor to go as fast as you can. In the work context, it means you’re working as hard as possible to meet a deadline or achieve a goal.

23. Earn Your Stripes

To “earn your stripes” means you’ve proven yourself through hard work and dedication. It’s a military term originally, where soldiers earn stripes as they get promoted. In a work setting, it means you’ve gained respect and maybe even a promotion through your hard work.

24. Pull Your Weight

This means doing your fair share of work in a team setting. Imagine if everyone is pulling a heavy object; if you’re not pulling your weight, others have to work harder. In a job, it means doing your part so everyone can succeed.

25. Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

This means investing all your efforts or resources into a single task or project. It’s a risky move because if it fails, you lose everything. But it also means you’re working incredibly hard on that one thing, hoping it will succeed.

26. Keep Your Eye on the Ball

This phrase means to stay focused on your tasks or goals. In sports like baseball, you need to keep your eye on the ball to hit it properly. Similarly, in your job, you need to stay focused and work hard to achieve your goals.

27. The Early Bird Catches the Worm

This means that if you start your work early, you’re more likely to succeed. It comes from the idea that birds who start searching for food early in the morning have a better chance of finding it. In work, it means getting an early start can give you an advantage.

28. Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

This means taking on more work or responsibilities than you can handle. While it shows ambition, it also means you have to work incredibly hard to manage everything you’ve committed to.

29. Crack the Whip

This means to use your authority to make sure others are working hard. While it can sound harsh, sometimes a team needs a leader who will push them to give their best effort.

30. Throw Your Hat in the Ring

This means to volunteer or apply for a new opportunity, which will usually require hard work and effort. You’re essentially announcing your willingness to take on a new challenge.

31. Run a Tight Ship

This means to manage a project or team in a disciplined manner. When you run a tight ship, you make sure everyone is working hard and efficiently to achieve the team’s goals.

32. Jump on the Bandwagon

This means joining a popular activity or trend. In a work context, it might mean adopting a new strategy or project that requires a lot of effort but promises success.

33. Have a Lot on Your Plate

This idiom means you have a lot of responsibilities or tasks to handle. Just like a plate full of food, a full “work plate” requires a lot of effort to “digest” or complete.

34. Nail It

This means to perform a task perfectly or succeed in an endeavor. When you “nail it,” you’ve put in the hard work and effort required to excel.

35. Hold Your Feet to the Fire

This means holding someone accountable for their responsibilities making sure they put in the work required. It’s a way to ensure that everyone is working hard and fulfilling their roles.

36. Hustle and Bustle

This phrase describes a busy and active environment, often one where hard work and quick movement are required. If you’re part of the hustle and bustle, you’re working hard in a fast-paced setting.

37. Cut to the Chase

This means to get to the point or to focus directly on the task at hand. In work, cutting to the chase involves ignoring distractions and putting in the hard work needed to complete a job quickly.

38. Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

This means to work extremely hard on a difficult task. Imagine pushing a heavy cart—you’d need to put your shoulder on the wheel to move it. Similarly, you have to put in great effort to accomplish challenging work tasks.

39. Move Mountains

This idiom suggests doing something that seems impossible, which requires immense effort and determination. If you can “move mountains” at work, you can achieve extraordinary results through hard work.

40. Get Down to Brass Tacks

This means to focus on the most important details of a job. When you get down to brass tacks, you’re zeroing in on what needs to be done and are prepared to work hard to complete it.

Sports and Fitness

41. Go for the Gold

This means to aim for the highest possible achievement. In sports, “gold” usually refers to a gold medal. This idiom suggests that you’re not just participating but putting in hard work to actually win or achieve the best outcome.

42. Step Up to the Plate

In baseball, stepping up to the plate means it’s your turn to bat. In a broader context, this idiom means it’s your turn to take action and give it your best effort. You’re ready to work hard and take on whatever challenges come your way.

43. in the Home Stretch

This idiom comes from horse racing and means you’re in the final phase of something. When you’re in the home stretch, you’ve already done a lot of hard work, but you need to give a final push to complete your goal.

44. Give 110%

This means to give more effort than the maximum expected of you, as if going beyond 100% effort. The phrase is commonly used in sports to emphasize that you need to put in extraordinary effort to excel.

45. Par for the Course

In golf, “par” is the standard number of strokes you should take to complete a hole. In life, “par for the course” means that hard work and challenges are to be expected. It’s normal to have to work hard in sports or fitness regimes.

46. Shoot for the Stars

This means to aim for very high goals, even if they seem unattainable. In sports and fitness, shooting for the stars would mean setting and striving for goals that require an immense amount of hard work.

47. Throw in the Towel

This idiom originally comes from boxing, where a trainer might throw a towel into the ring to stop the match if it’s going too badly for their boxer. But if you decide not to throw in the towel, it means you’re committed to continuing, no matter how hard you have to work.

48. Go the Distance

This means to complete something, typically a challenging task or period. In sports, going the distance often refers to finishing a race or game, requiring hard work, stamina, and perseverance.

49. On the Ball

Being “on the ball” means you’re alert, quick to react, and performing well. In sports, this means you’re actively participating and giving it your all, constantly working hard to stay ahead.

50. Full-Court Press

Originally a basketball term, a “full-court press” is a strategy where defending players apply pressure all over the court, trying to stifle the opponents’ movements. In a general sense, it means to make a strong, concerted effort to achieve your goal, dedicating all your energies to your aim.

51. A Game of Two Halves

This means that things can change over time and that outcomes are unpredictable. Even if you’re losing now, if you put in the hard work, you might end up winning. It’s often used in team sports like soccer or football.

52. Knock It Out of the Park

This baseball term means to do something exceptionally well. In sports or fitness, this would mean performing at a high level due to hard work, preparation, and skill.

53. Down to the Wire

In horse racing, “the wire” is the finish line. If a race is “down to the wire,” the outcome is uncertain until the very end. This idiom can mean that you have to keep putting in hard work until the very last moment to succeed.

54. Toe the Line

In running races, “toeing the line” means positioning your feet on the starting line, ready to run. In a broader sense, it means to prepare for a challenging endeavor and to perform according to the rules, often requiring hard work and discipline.

55. Swing for the Fences

In baseball, swinging for the fences means trying to hit a home run. More generally, it refers to taking a big, ambitious swing at achieving your goals, knowing it will require a lot of hard work.

56. Raise the Bar

This idiom means to set a higher standard or aim for higher goals, requiring more effort and hard work to achieve. It could be improving your own personal best in a sport or setting more challenging workout goals.

57. Play Hardball

This means to act strong or uncompromisingly, often used in the context of negotiations. In sports and fitness, playing hardball would mean training rigorously and competing fiercely, not giving an inch to opponents.

58. In the Long Run

This idiom means looking at long-term outcomes instead of just immediate results. In fitness or sports, it can mean that consistent hard work will pay off eventually, even if you don’t see immediate results.

59. Get a Second Wind

A “second wind” is a new burst of energy during a long, strenuous activity. This idiom signifies the phenomenon where an athlete who is out of breath and tired gets a new surge of energy, often through determination and hard work.

60. Grind It Out

This means to work hard and diligently over a long period of time. In sports and fitness, grinding it out would mean consistently putting in the effort, even when you’re tired or unmotivated, to achieve long-term goals.

Family and Home

61. Keeping the Home Fires Burning

This idiom means to work hard to keep things going at home, especially when other family members are away or busy. It signifies the effort required to maintain a stable household.

62. Wearing Many Hats

When you “wear many hats” in a family, you take on multiple roles or jobs. This could include being a parent, a cook, a cleaner, and so on, all requiring hard work and dedication.

63. Juggling Balls in the Air

This means you’re handling many tasks at once, especially at home. Like a juggler, you need skill and hard work to keep everything balanced without dropping the ball.

64. Pulling Up One’s Socks

To “pull up your socks” means to improve your performance or behavior in some way. In a family, this could mean working hard to be a better parent or partner.

65. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

This idiom suggests that taking care of problems before they get big will save time and effort in the long run. It’s a nudge to work hard now to prevent more work later.

66. Batten Down the Hatches

To “batten down the hatches” means to prepare for trouble. In terms of hard work, this means doing all the prep work so that you’re ready for whatever comes your way.

67. Carrying the Weight of the World

If someone is “carrying the weight of the world,” they’re dealing with a lot of stress or responsibility, often because they’re working hard for their family.

68. Climbing the Walls

This means you’re extremely busy or anxious about something. You might use this phrase when you’re working hard to prepare your home for guests or for a family event.

69. Sink or Swim

This idiom means you have to adapt and work hard or else you’ll fail. In a family setting, maybe you’ve got to juggle work, chores, and childcare, and you’ve just got to make it work.

70. Move Heaven and Earth

To “move heaven and earth” means you’re doing everything humanly possible to achieve a goal. In a family context, maybe you’re working two jobs to make ends meet or doing whatever it takes to keep the family happy.

71. Pounding the Pavement

This phrase usually refers to looking for a job, but in a family context, it could mean doing hard work like running errands or doing chores for the family.

72. Raising the Bar

Setting higher expectations or standards. As a parent or family member, this means working hard to improve the family’s quality of life.

73. Spinning Plates

Similar to “juggling balls in the air,” this idiom means to work hard at maintaining several activities or tasks at once, especially at home.

74. Putting One’s Back Into It

When you “put your back into it,” you’re working very hard, often physically. For example, doing heavy yard work or house renovations.

75. Tightening One’s Belt

This refers to cutting down on expenses and living more frugally, which often involves hard work and discipline.

76. No Rest for the Weary

This means that the work never stops, especially for those who are already tired or burdened. This often applies to parents or caregivers.

77. Running a Tight Ship

To “run a tight ship” means to manage a household or family in an organized and disciplined manner, which requires hard work.

78. Holding Down the Fort

Taking care of the home and family responsibilities, especially when others are away, demanding great effort and focus.

79. Building Castles in the Air

Although this usually refers to daydreaming, in a hard work context, it can mean setting high aspirations for your family and then working hard to turn those dreams into reality.

80. Playing Hardball

This means to act aggressively to achieve one’s goals. In the family, you might play hardball to protect your children or to get them the resources they need.

Fun and Humor

81. Burning the Candle at Both Ends

This means working really hard for long hours, possibly sacrificing sleep or personal time. Even if the work is fun or exciting, it’s still exhausting.

82. Painting the Town Red

Normally, this means going out to enjoy yourself. But when applied to hard work, it could mean putting a lot of effort into organizing a fun event or celebration.

83. Jumping Through Hoops

This means going through a lot of difficulties or tasks. In a fun context, it could refer to working hard to solve a puzzle or win a game.

84. Knocking Oneself Out

This idiom means putting in a lot of effort or hard work. For example, you might knock yourself out trying to win a board game or solve a challenging riddle.

85. Going Full Tilt

This means putting maximum effort into something. In a fun context, this could refer to playing a game or sport with all your energy.

86. Taking the Bull by the Horns

This means to take decisive action in a difficult situation. If you’re playing a challenging game, you might take the bull by the horns to try to win.

87. Running the Gauntlet

This refers to enduring a series of challenges or difficulties. In a fun setting, it could mean participating in a tough obstacle course for entertainment.

88. Break a Leg

Usually said as a good luck wish in show business, in the context of hard work, it means giving your best performance, even if it requires a lot of effort.

89. Busting One’s Chops

This means working extremely hard. You might use this when describing someone who’s very committed to mastering a hobby or game.

90. Throwing One’s Hat in the Ring

This means deciding to join a competition or challenge. It involves the hard work required to prepare and compete.

91. Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

Usually, this is risky, but it also implies that you’re committing or working hard on one particular thing, like perfecting a trick or skill.

92. Running on All Cylinders

Imagine a car engine working at full speed. That’s you when you’re running on all cylinders: fully engaged and using all your energy to complete a task.

93. Swinging for the Fences

Trying very hard to achieve something big. In a game context, it means giving your best effort to win, even if the odds are against you.

94. Getting Down to Brass Tacks

This means focusing on the most important details. When playing a strategic game, you might get down to brass tacks to figure out how to win.

95. Taking a Crack at It

This means making an attempt at doing something. You may be taking a crack at solving a complicated puzzle, requiring a lot of focus and effort.

96. Giving It the Old College Try

Even if you’re not sure you can succeed, you still give it your best effort. This could apply to attempting a difficult trick in a game.

97. Pushing the Envelope

This means going beyond the usual or accepted limits. For example, practicing a skill or hobby intensively to reach new levels of performance.

98. Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Challenging someone openly. In a game or fun setting, this means putting in the effort to set a high bar for others to meet.

99. Hitting the Ground Running

Starting something and immediately putting in a lot of effort. If you’re entering a competition or starting a new hobby, you’ll hit the ground running by practicing hard right away.

100. Going All In

Committing fully to something. Whether it’s learning a new game, skill, or hobby, going all in means you’re dedicating a lot of time and effort to it.

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Bea is an editor and writer with a passion for literature and self-improvement. Her ability to combine these two interests enables her to write informative and thought-provoking articles that positively impact society. She enjoys reading stories and listening to music in her spare time.