Is ‘Hard Work’ an overrated factor in an entrepreneur’s success?

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Work as hard as you can. Even though who you work with and what you work on are more important than how hard you work.

Naval Ravikant

I know many committed entrepreneurs who worked very hard on their startups. They worked 80-100 hour weeks. They raised millions of dollars in funding.

And yet their ventures failed.

None of these failures were due lack of hard work or commitment. The number one reason for startup failure , as per this Forbes Article is “no market need.” In other words, no customer.

Customer development is important, difficult and time consuming work. An entrepreneur not only has to figure out what customer problems their product solves, but they also have to articulate how their product or service solves these problems in words that resonate with the customer.

But this post is not about customer development. The point is that important work such as customer development is often swept aside as founders get ‘busy’ with ‘urgent’ work. Firefighting internal issues, endlessly revising pitch decks, dealing with customer complaints, obsessing over every pixel on their website and so on.

This is not to say that some of this urgent work doesn’t need to get done. However, if you let this urgent, adrenalin inducing work take over your entire day, it becomes very difficult to recover the time or energy needed for the calm ‘important’ work that is critical to your ultimate success.

The above paragraph was painful to write. I’ve been there as an entrepreneur, in the trenches, putting off important work which has a longer term payoff, for urgent quick payoff work, just because your startup has to survive.

Ironically, prioritising ‘important’ work ahead of ‘urgent‘ work, just for 1-2 hours everyday before the whirlwind of your daily hustle drowns out your energy, is exactly what is needed to survive and thrive. In fact, this type of schedule can let you achieve your goals with a lot less hours per week.

If you can consistently take time out for deeper, uninterrupted work, two things will happen:

  • You’ll start making real progress towards your goals
  • With enough time working on the right priorities, you’ll find that lesser problems and emergencies pop up.

You would’ve prevented most problems from showing up by consistently putting in high quality, deep work on important longer term goals.

For a founder, some things are more important than hard work:

  1. Working on the right long term opportunities
  2. Working consistently on the right priorities aligned with your long term opportunities
  3. Working with the right people
  4. Working with deep, uninterrupted focus
  5. Maintaining a positive emotional state
  6. Maintaining high energy levels

Ultimately it’s not the quantity of the hours we put in, but their quality that determines our outcomes.

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