Let’s talk about effort. Usually, when someone gets an “A” for it, that’s just a nice way of saying they’ve failed to achieve their goal. That may sound a little harsh, but the danger is real. Starting and running a viable business isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Most people know it requires hard work. What many don’t realize, though, is that it can’t be just any hard work. It requires the right kind of hard work—the kind that’s measured in results, not sweat.
This issue is hard to discuss. To suggest that someone’s business isn’t making it because they’re not working hard enough dismisses a whole host of other factors, some of which are beyond anyone’s control. While hard-working people do fail in business, it’s obviously not because they’re not working hard. It’s often because they’re not working hard correctly.
Work That Works
While there is a minimum amount of effort required to make a business work, not all effort is created equal. Different kinds of effort yield different results. Efficient effort powers a successful business, while inefficient effort creates fatigue, frustration, and little by way of profit. That statement may have caused your Obvious Alarm to dance itself off the shelf, but knowing the difference is trickier than you might think.
Mainly, it comes down to your use of time. The same number of hours used in two different ways can produce wildly different results. That’s not to say that 5 hours spent working hard is better than 5 hours spent half-assing it. We know that already. It’s not to say that 5 hours spent on top-priority work is better than 5 hours spent on less important things—we know that, too. It’s to say that 5 hours applied in a consistent, focused manner is better than 5 hours spent busting your hump without a specific goal in mind for those 5 hours.
For example, if you were to take a 5-hour period in which you worked on your blog, your web design, and your product development, all while catching up on emails, answering phone calls, and keeping an eye on analytics, you would be working very, very hard. You would also be wasting a great deal of that effort. 5 hours spent multitasking is a productivity killer. Any time spent multitasking is a productivity killer. Overwhelming yourself with a heaping handful of various tasks with divergent goals is unlikely to move your business forward. You’ll put a dent in each broad goal while only “moving the ball” a yard or two.
Imagine instead 5 hours spent blogging. 5 hours devoted single-mindedly to writing a week’s worth of quality blogs, as part of a well-scheduled overall production strategy, would do more for your business than 10 hours of doing whatever comes up. 5 hours alone, without an Internet connection, simply zoning in on a week’s worth of writing would mean two things: vastly better blogs, and the complete removal of something from your very crowded plate.
Of course, 5 hours of focused work will feel different from 5 hours of multitasking. It may even feel easier. It may seem like not-as-hard work. The frazzled multitasking might make you sweat, but it’s the focused, mindful work that’s more effective. It’s the classic definition of working smarter as opposed to harder: calmly knocking tasks off the list one at a time instead of flailing in multiple directions without an endgame in mind.
Measuring Hard Work
Are you doing everything you can? Are you working as hard as you can? The answer is more complicated than how tired you are, or how little free time you have. Hard work shouldn’t be measured in human suffering. It should be measured in terms of consistency and results. Instead of asking how many hours you’ve put in, ask what you’ve gotten out of those hours.
Chart your progress in terms of production. How much closer to your yearly goal did you get this quarter? How much closer to your quarterly goal did you get this month? How much closer to your monthly goal this week? Your weekly goal today? If you’re simply “working hard” by tiring yourself out, the answers to those questions may be sobering.
The scary truth is this: there are entrepreneurs who give it their all, who put in 12 to 16 hour days, and still fail. They put in the work, but it’s unfocused, and most importantly it’s out of context. What you’re doing with each hour should fit into a grander scheme for how you plan to realize a specific set of sub-goals, within another set of sub-goals, maybe even within another set, in service to your overall mission.
Consistency is Key
Rather than asking yourself how much sweat you’re putting in, or even how much time, ask yourself how consistently you’re working week after week. How consistently you work will have a far greater impact on your business than how much you work. One, two or three hours of work every day, consistently, will move you closer to your business goals than the same number of hours spread scattershot over the course of the month. It’s also more effective than the massive but unsustainable level of effort many new business people put into their goals at the outset, only to taper off as the weeks go by.
Again, working a moderate amount of hours consistently may not feel as “hard” as going all-out does. You may not feel as stressed. You may not feel as drained. But your productivity in the long term will reflect this smarter approach to working hard. That’s because real progress in business requires one thing that only consistency can build: momentum.
Momentum propels business in a way that sheer effort never can. It’s the difference between pushing something forward and rolling it: one is definitely harder, but the other goes way, way farther. By working consistently, you build and sustain a momentum that becomes multiplied by its own energy. It’s less stressful, but it takes a level of commitment that can sometimes be more of a challenge than “harder” work done inconsistently.
The reality is that no matter how smart, well-intentioned, or even hard-working an entrepreneur may be, no independent business can succeed without the right brand of hard work. It’s simply the price of admission. Honestly assess the amount of work you’re doing, but also the way you’re doing it. With the right understanding of the concept, your hard work will yield the results you deserve.