What’s the best way to surpass your peers and outdo your competitors? Work harder than they do. If that sounds daunting, consider this: Most people dont work very hard. Some people spend their time doing as little as they possibly can. Most do stay busy, but they are not always very productive. They write long memos, discuss issues that dont need much discussion, contest insignificant points, and attend to the tedium. But only a very few apply themselves — long and hard — to the critical business challenges.
According to Saul Gellerman, an expert on the subject, people at work form a bell-shaped curve when it comes to diligence and follow-through. At the bottom are the loafers and goof-offs. In the middle is the silent majority that does just enough to get by. At the top are the relative few who are motivated to achieve. When you understand the dynamics of any such group, you understand that a modest amount of hard work will put you beyond both the terminally slothful and the lump-along middle crowd.
Just by being modestly ambitious, you will rise to the top third of almost any organization. But getting up the last few rungs of that ladder will be tough, because the few you are competing against are competing hard. Chances are they are as smart and talented as you, with the same (or more) basic resources. They may even have better contacts. But there is one thing they don’t have more of — and that is time. If you can use your time more effectively than they use theirs, you will move ahead of them.
Hard workers eventually succeed even against those who have advantages. You can do better than someone who is smarter, richer, and luckier than you — so long as you are willing to work harder than he does. As TH said to me the other night, “Life isnt fair. When it comes to money, beauty, intelligence, and talent, the distribution is uneven and arbitrary. But one thing we all have an equal amount of is time. We each have 24 hours a day.
Even the length of life you get is not fair, but the 24 hours you have each day is the same for everyone — and what you do with those hours will determine your success and happiness.” ETR gives you the chance each morning to plan your day and think about a new way you can use your hours better. People who rise to the top work long hours, but not excessively long. They are at their desks early — at least an hour before others — and they stay later (though it may be only a half-hour later).
But what they do best is work harder when they work. They do the necessary things first, even if they are difficult. They learn what they need to know and dont waste business time learning unimportant stuff. They are willing to harass and cajole, tease and criticize, flatter and pout to get the job done. They spend a few minutes every morning organizing their days and a little while every Monday morning planning their week. They select their tasks based on what will achieve their goals, not on what happens to end up in their in boxes.
They manage their jobs; they dont let their jobs manage them. Hard work is a lot of, well, hard work. But if you break every job down into little, easy-to-handle pieces — as we do with ETR — you can accomplish an extraordinary amount. And once you get into the habit of working harder and smarter than the people you compete with, your success is guaranteed.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]