A large part of success is putting in the time each and every day. It comes from sitting down at your desk to work and keeping up with the daily grind. You can gain a lot from a consistent effort that you can’t get any other way.
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I was reminded of the importance of a habit and a consistent effort by a John Steinbeck quote I found on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings site.
In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration.
Inspiration for the work comes after you start. You start the work first and once immersed the inspiration will join you. It’s one reason, but not the only reason showing up every day is important.
I thought I’d talk today about some of the different ways consistency helps you and how working at something day after day, year after year pays off.
Become a Professional
When you start a business or a project it can be hard to see how all the work is going to be worthwhile when most of what you need to do is in front of you. It can be hard to put in the effort today when the reward is so far into the future.
When there’s no near term payoff it’s easy to get distracted with other things. You skip working on the project on days you don’t feel your best and often choose to work on other things when you do.
Life distracts you. It interrupts you. Your energy wanes, especially on mornings after late nights. Any number of things get in the way of the work you need to do.
Suck it up. You’re in business. You work for yourself. Successful people don’t show up only when they feel like showing up. They work whether they want to or not. They show up to work every day regardless of how they feel.
I know I don’t have to work every day. Who’s going to know? Still I show up and make myself work. Some days, often on Monday’s, work is the last thing I want to do. Still I sit in front of the computer and write or design or code or respond to email or any of the many different things I do to run my business.
No one wants to work every day, but we do. It’s part of what it means to be professional. It keeps projects moving forward. Even on days you don’t want to work, you can find something to do to keep a project progressing. You can find 15 or 30 minutes to get something done. A little here and a little there add up.
You have no idea which day will produce your best work. Odds are you’ll be more productive on days you feel great, but that’s not always the case.
I’ve done great work on days where I felt my worst to start the day. I didn’t think any part of the day would be productive, but somehow I managed to get a lot done and done with a high amount of quality. I’ve also had days where I felt great, but produced neither quality nor quantity of work.
No one is going to do the work for you, unless you pay them and I’m guessing, like me, your budget for hiring isn’t all that large. Even if you do hire someone there’s still going to be work only you can do. The work has to get done and you have to do it. Going into business isn’t supposed to be an easy ride.
That’s what it means to be professional. You show up to work every day and you get the job done whether you feel like doing it or not. The work has to get done or the business closes.
Improve Your Skills
Of course, whatever you’re doing others are likely doing it too. You can’t just declare you’re a web designer or developer or copywriter or accountant and expect people to hire you. Why should someone hire you over all the other people offering similar services?
At a minimum you need to possess the skills and ability to do whatever it is you’re selling. You probably want to know more, but that’s the minimum. That minimum learning doesn’t come overnight and no matter how much you think you know about what you do, there’s far more you don’t know. That’s the case for everyone.
Even if you do know more than you don’t, the skills and knowledge necessary to do your job will change over time leading to new things to learn and master.
A certain amount of your skills will come simply from doing the same work over and over. Whether it’s physical or mental work, you get better by doing the same thing again and again. Without realizing it, you’ll encounter patterns and figure out ways to work through those patterns more efficiently and with better results. You gain muscle memory through the daily repetition.
I’m sure you’re familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of needing 10,000 hours to master a subject. I know I mention it from time to time. The number itself is irrelevant, but the general concept is sound. The more you do anything, the better you get at it.
To get better you have to consistently do the work and practice to get your muscle memory going. You might not have the skills to convince people to hire you on day one of your business. You might not be able to do certain things well enough to offer them as services.
However, if you stick with it, you can look back in a few months (or years) and see where you are. See how far you’ve come. You need to put in a little work every day to reach that goal of getting better.
Understand Your Business, Industry, and Market
The benefits of a consistent effort go beyond learning new and different skills and mastering old ones. The more you can understand how your industry works beyond your one business, the better you can operate within the industry.
You learn how other businesses operate, what the market wants and needs and why people hire someone in the industry. The more about the industry you know, the better equipped you’ll be to sort out the good ideas from the bad ones.
You have to do this consistently. You can’t read or skim through a single book or pop into some blog feeds for a few day and know what’s going on. You have to pay attention to things on a daily and regular basis. It doesn’t literally have to be every day, but it should be most days.
A lot to running any business successfully is unknown when the business starts.
- What does the market really want?
- What are best ways to reach them?
- How much should you charge for your work?
- How can your product or service be improved to appeal more to customers?
These questions take time to answer and it helps to be paying attention to not only your business, but the entire industry.
You’ll gain a certain amount just by being in business and experiencing the ups and downs over time. There’s an ebb and flow to client work. You might be worried the first time you’re in an ebb. You might wonder what you did or where all the clients went.
Experiencing the same thing a few times over the years, leads to less worry. You see it as part of the natural cycle of your business. It’s less scary when you’ve seen it before. You know to put aside a little extra money during the flows to cover the ebbs. Working every day lets you know your corner of the industry.
However, you probably know your industry as a whole less than you think, especially when you’re first starting. You don’t know all corners of the industry. You see it only from your perspective.
In learning about your industry you gain additional perspective. You’ll learn from people in similar and different situations as you. The similar will reinforce or correct things you do and know. The different will teach you things you might not be aware exist. You’ll learn to see things from other perspectives.
I keep tabs on the industry mainly through a feedreader, though a feedreader is hardly the only way. You can follow things through social media or by signing up for newsletters or whatever to keeps connected to others in the industry.
When you follow what the industry is saying over the long term you see the bigger picture and longer term patterns.
Years ago when I started developing websites everything was table based, but moving toward CSS. Some people were making the change. Others weren’t sure and questioned if they should stick with the status quo or try the new methods.
If you were paying attention to the industry it was easy to know what to do. There was a point where ESPN redeveloped their site using CSS and they shared the incredible savings they saw in load times. The news spread beyond the industry and it wasn’t long before clients asked for CSS driven development.
If you weren’t paying attention, you might have been caught off guard, but having paid attention to the industry you could easily be prepared when clients asked. The first time a client asked me about CSS I had already been developing with CSS for a good year or two.
A similar thing happened recently with responsive design. I think it was the Boston Globe site that was the initial showcase for responsive design. News spread and those that were already prepared transitioned easily into the responsive era. Those who didn’t pay attention struggled and possibly still struggle to catch up.
It’s irrelevant whether you agree with CSS over tables or responsive over fixed-width. There comes a point when your market expects the new and you better be able to deliver.
Paying attention to an industry day after day will help you predict the future of that industry and help you see potential opportunities it offers.
The more you learn and understand your industry, the better you can recognize opportunities when they arise. Staying connected daily allows you to see the fads, trends, and long term foundation. It will help you identify the opportunities that are worth pursuing.
Like ideas, opportunities are everywhere. Also like ideas, most opportunities will turn out to be less than you hope they’ll be. As you stay in an industry longer and have a better vision for where it’s been and where it’s likely heading, the better you can sort out the good from the not so good opportunities.
By showing up every day, week, month, and year you learn about the pain points of your clients or customers. You see the solutions that work and those that don’t. You see the problems that don’t yet have solutions of any kind.
The consistent daily effort helps you identify what could potentially disrupt your business and your industry. It helps you understand where markets are being underserved and helps you tailor your own products or services for the market.
You see potential business opportunities further in advance and can take advantage of those opportunities before others do.
Prepare for Future Opportunities
Sometimes you can recognize an opportunity but you’re not prepared for it. Maybe the opportunity requires more than you can give it in the short time. Maybe it’s time sensitive and you just can’t get the work done in time.
It’s not a big deal or less of one than you might think. Sure, some opportunities are once in a lifetime, but the more you sustain attention, the more you see that many opportunities come and go.
There will be more opportunities than the one you missed. They might not be the same opportunities, though they could be. The important thing is that you’ll feel confident opportunities will come again. You see that only after paying attention over longer time spans.
The more you understand and follow your industry, the more you can see in advance where opportunities will be. You don’t need them to smack you across the face. You can see where things will be in a few years and you can prepare yourself to take advantage of the next opportunity.
You might not have been ready for the one opportunity, but now you know what’s required to take advantage of it the next time around. You can prepare. Maybe an opportunity fell through because you didn’t have the money to invest in it. To prepare you might save more money to invest in future opportunities.
Perhaps what was lacking was a specific set of skills. You can prepare by learning those skills for the next time. The further in advance you can see what skills will become necessary or desirable, the sooner you can start learning.
An opportunity might require the right connections so you can prepare by building your network before you need it.
Putting in the work to keep this site filled with new content week after week is hard work. It also prepared my business for an opportunity to make a living selling informational products like books.
When I started there wasn’t a clear reason for blogging every week. I had a vague reason about search engines and marketing, but no specific reason. Over the years the content has helped an audience grow around the site and if you like the content here it stands to reason you’ll like the content in the books too.
The grind of writing daily prepared me for writing books and for the time when I could sell them. I worked hard at something in preparation for something else and it never would have happened if I wasn’t here working each and every day.
The longer you pay attention and show up day after day to fight through the grind, the further out you can see potential opportunities. The further out you’ll be able to predict where they’ll be, how long they’ll take to get there and the more time you have to prepare for them.
One of the biggest differences between successful people and not so successful people is that the former show up to work every day even when it’s the last thing in the world they want to do.
Pushing yourself to work when you don’t want to helps you become a professional. No one else is going to do the work while you avoid it. The daily consistency helps you improve your skills and develop muscle memory.
Putting in time to understand the industry you work in will give you different perspectives. It will help you understand more about what your market wants and needs. A consistent daily effort helps you see opportunities as they arise. The more you pay attention the further in advance you can predict where those opportunities will be.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.
This is good work you are doing.
I found your site when I was searching for the author of the quote “Success comes to those who are prepared when the opportunity arises”
I say that quote several times a day.
It fulfils my goals. Its taken two years to make the last $500,000 profit but its been because of being prepared, and all the work principles you’ve shared here. Good on you. good work. and Thanks.
A good thought on value of effort. Until now i thought only big matters but no small changes can lead me to big goals. Thanks for the enlightenment.