As the driven, innovative, informed Entrepreneur reader I know you are, you already know you need to put in the hours to make your idea successful. If you’ve read my writing or watched my show, The Pursuit, you know that nearly every successful person mentions the power of hard work.
If you haven’t come across my work before, allow me to explain that this article comes from over 4,000 hours of the study of success in under two years. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing today’s leading entrepreneurs, celebrities and influencers — people like Larry King, Tony Robbins, Barbara Corcoran, Seth Godin, Kathy Griffin, Simon Sinek and HGTV’s the Property Brothers. Usually these insightful, once-in-a-lifetime conversations happen in person in the guest’s home or office, giving me a sneak peek into their day-to-day life.
Following the interview — and the prior hours of listening, reading and watching everything I can about them and from them — I break down what I call Success for the Rest of Us. How do we apply the tactics of millionaires in our everyday lives? How can I — a midwestern mom, wife, writer and media entrepreneur in suburbia — implement what I learn from someone like Gary Vaynerchuk?
Let’s dive into those questions, specifically as they pertain to hard work. Is simply putting in long hours enough? What if I don’t have the capacity to work 18 hour days? What about “work/life balance”?
Here are my top five keys to success for the rest of us when it comes to hard work and work habits, in order to produce your best work and become your best self.
1. Find the hours.
When New York Times bestselling author and speaker Jon Acuff was building his first blog, he woke up in the wee hours to write before work. Memoirist Glennon Doyle Melton did the same in order to work before her children woke up. Successful entrepreneur Natalie MacNeil called this her “5-9 plan.” Notice she used the word plan — create structure for when and how you will squeeze in the hours to build your business.
I think it’s worth noting here that even though many successful entrepreneurs prioritize their health now, back when they were building their businesses, most of the moguls I’ve talked to, like Tony Robbins and Chalene Johnson, admit that they slept very little.
Before you claim you don’t have the hours, I’ll leave you with this quote from my chat with successful blogger and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi, “Give me a break. If you say I don’t have time, that’s a politically correct way to say ‘this is not a priority.’”
2. Focus on high ROI tasks.
Whether you have four hours a day or fifteen, successful people learn early how to make each minute count. Focus on the work with the highest return on the investment of time, which is usually the hardest, most meaningful work, or what Seth Godin told me is the “scariest” work.
New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt shared that he focuses on “the things that I do the best, which is content creation, so that’s almost exclusively what I work on. I’m either working on a blog post, shooting a video like this, doing a podcast — and this work is batched — so we shoot 13 episodes in two days.”
It’s tempting to focus on getting exposure, finding your “big break” or to spend time tweaking the latest marketing tactic in order to hit a “tipping point.” Successful entrepreneur Amy Porterfield shared that’s a mistake, and progress in your business comes from “putting your head down, creating your content, finding out who your audience is and serving them . . . . Not all that other stuff that feeds our ego.”
I particularly like how Melton, recently added to Oprah’s exclusive list of recommended authors, put it.
“[Success comes from] showing up… It’s your butt in the chair. It’s the un-sexy stuff. The people who work hard at that get found.”
3. Focus on one thing.
Overall, it’s important to stay mission-focused. Dave Ramsey wants to get American families out of debt. Gary Vaynerchuk wants to buy the New York Jets. Simon Sinek wants to change the way corporate America thinks about work.
On a more tactical level, within your mission, focus on one high-ROI task at a time until it’s done. This may mean days of batching work, or spending all of your day on primarily one task. Don’t keep stopping and starting, with multiple great ideas but nothing to show for them. Don’t let incoming email, social media and other pings throughout the day distract you. New York Times bestselling author and high performance coach Brendon Burchard calls these “faulty obligations.”
He went on to explain, “Sometimes entrepreneurs, successful people, need to put their blinders back on. They’re losing their day to distraction.”
4. Focus on consistency.
Because I interview multi-millionaires and influencers who reach hundreds of thousands, at first it seemed like what we should aim for is giant projects with massive results. Instead, I’ve learned consistency is the key, even if the daily contribution is small. MacNeil explained she would spend “a few solid hours every day [focusing]on just doing two or three things to move forward . . . just small baby steps.”
Multimillionaire real estate mogul and sales expert Grant Cardone explained that his early years were spent on doing the simple things, day in and day out. “Show up,” he advised. “Do the simple things — call a customer, call someone you want to be a customer.”
Crystal Paine, founder of the giant blog and community site MoneySavingMom.com, said she focused on small wins every day, recalling, “I remember, I would take my shower and I’d think, what can I do to bring a little bit of traffic to the blog today?”
In our fast-paced, on-demand culture, it may feel like slow and steady no longer wins the race, but my guests repeatedly reveal it indeed still does.
5. Forget about balance.
As a wife, mom to a toddler, writer and TV personality who frequently travels and produces multiple new videos a week, I get asked about work/life balance quite a bit. I always answer that I prefer to strive for what Tony Robbins calls work/life integration; including my family in my mission, getting everyone involved so that the pieces of my life are not competing. I also like to mention what Al Roker told me.
“It’s more like work-life average,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got a lot of time with your family, other times because of their schedule, your schedule, it just doesn’t work out . . . . It comes in spurts.”
Another brilliant way to think about this comes from an illustration Chalene Johnson gave me about juggling multiple large projects in a year. Think like a farmer, she explained; we need to work in seasons.
“Farmers know this. When you are growing a crop, there’s always a field that’s resting,” she said. “You can’t have all those crops growing at once. If you do, you get below-average produce.”
6. Fix the effort to match the goal.
I want to add this last point because I don’t want you to get discouraged if you don’t have 18 hours a day to give. You may still have a full-time job or work multiple jobs to pay the bills. Like me, you may still be raising a family. I remember I was discouraged after real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran admitted that she is sure she would not have been able to put in what she called “endless hours” to build her empire and be a mother at the same time.
But then I realized — I am not trying to build a $60-million real estate empire in New York City.
You are probably not trying to buy the New York Jets.
The key is to make sure your effort matches the goal. If you want to be the absolute best personal trainer, consultant or realtor in your city, put in the amount of work it will take to achieve that. If you’re not sure what it takes, ask someone who has done it in another market. There’s no shame in asking; in fact, many of my guests have expressed the importance of reaching out mentors who have achieved what you are hoping to achieve. The bigger the goal, obviously, the more hours and effort you’re going to need, so set your expectations accordingly, knowing success might take you longer than you thought.
No matter the size of your dream, find out what it will take and begin to put in the work, because the payoff is worth it.
“Getting through to the other side, to be the best in the world, is underrated.” — Seth Godin
“This is the most exciting, amazing, wonderful thing that I’ve ever done. My life is surreal . . . . I’m grateful for every day.” — Simon Sinek
“What you get for being able to actually have the power and the experience of making your dream come true — just like you see in the movies! — is such a gift in life.” — Barbara Corcoran
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