In the Army, we always said there are two types of rangers “strong rangers” and “smart rangers.” While it’s always an option to make something happen via brute force there is often a smarter way.
As I moved up through the ranks and took on more leadership roles, we’d also talk about how someone who works a lot is someone who doesn’t work well. Before some training events, my buddies would show up hours before I did and obsessively lay out every little piece of kit (body armor, rifle, pistol, breaching charges/tools, ladders, gloves…). They’d scurry around grabbing this and that and tweak things all the way up until we started training—often working right through breakfast. Although meticulous preparation is certainly warranted for a no-fail combat mission, doing that for every single training event allowed the Army to consume many of my friends lives. Their personal and mental health took hits, and their families suffered.
Like all salaried jobs, a soldier gets paid the same no matter how many hours they work, but in the private sector not working hard on the right things and wasting time crushes you mentally and physically and comes with a financial cost as well—especially when you’re running your company.
It wasn’t until I was out of the Army that I truly realized how much I needed to improve at working well. When I began running my own companies I started to realize that I was 100% responsible for how I spent 100% of my time. I became keenly aware of how failure to work smart impacted my bottom line and my ability to be a good husband and father.
The key is to consistently execute the essential task for each day.
I discovered that the key is to consistently execute the essential task for each day. Like anything in life, it’s the compounding of this consistency effort over time that is significant. You don’t get in shape by joining a gym and immediately working out for eight hours day. You’ll burn out and probably get injured. Work is the same way. You have to have a simple plan for each day and minimize anything that distracts you getting it done. This plan should also include activities that nurture your physical, mental and spiritual health as well as fulfill your family responsibilities because all these areas all impact your ability to work well.
Today, I roll my eyes every time I see social media post about how working 120+hrs/week is what’s required if you really want to succeed. If you are working hard on the right things—being the smart ranger and working well —then you don’t need to work 120+hrs/week. If you’re working smarter then you’ll be mentally smoked after only few hours of effective, productive work and will actually accomplish more in that time than most people do in several days. This rigorous prioritization leaves room for sleep, exercise, and quality time with friends and family that will enable you to do your best work day after day after day.
The question is: are you a strong ranger or a smart ranger? Are you obsessing over details that don’t matter and getting burned out because you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture? If so, take some time to clarify the critical focus areas of your life so you can cut out what’s unnecessary. Remember, this is a process, and it takes time to re-prioritize your life. Identify your essential tasks, complete them, and then move on to the next thing. This single habit is crucial for taking ownership over what’s important to you so you can work hard on the right things.