Categorized | chew on this

The daily chew-on-this toy for March 15

Today, I’m passing on a little nugget that, back in my halcyon days teaching at university, I used to say at least once to every class I ever taught:

Effort doesn’t count. Success counts. You don’t succeed by making an effort; you succeed by making the right effort.

Even at the university level, at least one student in each class would dust off the old “reward-me-for-making-an-effort” plea, so I always kneecapped that doe-eyed strategy on the first day of every class with my “effort doesn’t count” line. Which I’d follow with: “Working really hard, I mean, really really hard, to produce a C paper does not get you an A. It gets you a C. Producing an A paper gets you an A.”

Right effort means learning from successful people and, most importantly, it means flexibility and adabtability. Now, I spend two to three hours a day at the gym because I do crazy things like run marathons and bike centuries and double centuries. I know tons of people at the gym who have all kinds of goals, usually “losing weight.” And I see and talk to them every day as they faithfully put in the sweat on the treadmill or exercise bike or elliptical trainer. And, after years of “effort,” they’re no closer to their goals than when I met them. If you want to lose weight, going to the gym for hours each day for years doesn’t count. Losing weight counts.

Everyone who has successfully lost weight knows this.

All successful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with know the exact same truth about their effort. They approach “effort” in terms of measurable goals and are always ready to change that effort if it doesn’t measure up. All business owners and entrepreneurs know that the most valuable asset they have is their time — time as effort — and wasted effort drains away the most valuable competitive asset anyone has.

And nothing takes a person’s eye off the ball faster than what I call the “accounting” trap. Think back to all those folks who, year in and year out, troop to the gym and dutifully pedal to nowhere on the stationary bikes and climb to no place on the stairmasters. Most of them just as dutifully record their efforts in little books they shlep around the gym with them. But nothing they record in their little ledgers has any meaning: only the ultimate goal matters. That’s what they need to record, day in and day out. All that other “accounting” only has value if it gives insight into how to reach the ultimate goals. In other words, recording your “effort” only has value in that it helps you separate “right effort” from “wasted effort.” If you’re out to achieve fitness, lose weight, or run a marathon, the last thing you want are notebooks filled with your faithful “effort,” but little to show in the way of fitness, weight loss, or getting to that first marathon.

On the business side, I have the same problem with “time management.” It’s a great skill and pretty darn necessary for busy managers and entrepreneurs. But it’s no different than recording your daily workout and food intake; it’s about “effort” and not “right effort.” The only thing that matters to a manager or an entrepreneur (just as it is the only thing that matters to dieters, exercisers, or athletes) are the ultimate goals. “Time management,” which is only focussed on organizing and accounting for “effort,” only has value when it provides insight to how that effort relates to achieving goals. In other words, “time management” has no meaning unless it’s all about separating “wasted time” from “right use of time.”

Successful people — from athletes to entrepreneurs — never substitute “managing their time” for “achieving their goals.” A well-managed effort that produces a C result means you get a C. Every time, no matter how well-managed that time.

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