One Hundred Hours of Work and Ten Hours of Time

There is so much more to do than there is time. Every day, we think about all the things that have to get done and as soon as my mind wanders to all we have to do, it seems like a daunting task. In this lesson, we help you manage this feeling and use some tools to keep you moving forward.

Every entrepreneur, at some point, will face some pretty harsh math. You have one hundred hours of work and ten hours of time to get it done. It is an impossible equation, right? Some tasks are big picture, some are tactical, some are immediate and some are longer term. For many entrepreneurs, you are years from revenue. Regardless, there are many daily items that need to get done and the ratio of tasks to time can be daunting.

It is not surprising then that entrepreneurs come to work, and instead of focusing on the tasks of the day, we worry about what is not getting done, or the big picture items must occur for the business to succeed. This is counterproductive. Focusing on the ninety-nine things that you can’t do that day or mentally jumping ahead to task that require multiple days is wasted time and effort.

Your Change In Perspective

So how do you actually stay on track for the day?

  • Choose and Go. Once you have decided on your tasks for the day, stop worrying about other tasks and finish the ones in front of you.

In the movie Apollo 13, the spacecraft suffers damage and the astronauts move through a series of procedures to prepare the spacecraft for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Given the damage, success is hardly assured. While they are working, Bill Paxton (who plays astronaut Fred Haise Sr.) questions whether Mission Control in Houston is giving the astronauts accurate information. Tom Hanks (who plays captain Jim Lovell) says: “All right, there’s a thousand things that have to happen in order. We are on number eight. You’re talking about number six hundred and ninety-two… We’re not going to go bouncing off the walls for ten minutes, because we’re just going to end up back here with the same problems!”

  • Work the Problem. Don't spend your time thinking about what it. Spent your time and energy on the issue in front of you.
  • Focus. Focus on the items you have determined require your attention that day. The entrepreneur’s path to success is rarely built with “giant leaps for mankind” but steadily won with, determined, daily progress. When we chip away at today’s to-do list, we build powerful momentum for our business.

The more time you spend on the ninety items not on your list, the more you stunt the growth of the business. First, you are still not getting the ninety done. Second, you probably are doing a bad job with the ten you need to and actually can get done.

Choose How to Focus

You can see how focusing on the wrong things can undermine the success of your efforts:

  • Brotherhood and The Crisis. During the height of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, my brother and I really battled. I would speak to my Mom and Dad on the phone and my Mom would say, “You guys are brothers and have to figure out a way to work through this.” Each time we would talk, she would make that same point. One day I told her that I thought this was a waste of time. Every minute that we spent talking about how we had to fix our relationship was time not spent fixing the business. The day we fixed the business, I told her, would be the day we could fix our relationship. There was no point of focusing on what could go wrong, all the things we needed to do or about ruining my relationship with my one brother instead of spending every waking minute fixing the business. I put my head down and worked from five in the morning until midnight for nearly two years and got us to a better point. Had I spent my time focusing on the family issues or anything other than moving the business forward, it would have prolonged the struggle. There were times when my mind would wander and think about what had happened between Dan and I. Whenever I would, I turned back to the task at hand. When the business recovered and we sold the business in 2013, Dan and I got back to being brothers. I am happy to say today that we are closer than ever.
  • Bar Exam. When I was studying for the bar exam, there were hundreds of hours of material to cover. It’s probably the only time in my life when I felt if the testers wanted me to fail, I would fail. Think of it as a test on any class you had, or any textbook you read, or were supposed to read, throughout college. Anything was fair game. It was hard not to spend at least some time thinking about what would happen if you failed. I was confident, but the volume of information the test could leverage, was massive. I got some advice from a friend: “You can spend time studying, or you can spend part of your time studying and part thinking about failing, but if you spend all your time studying you increase your chances of passing.”

When you focus on overall risk and big picture concerns, it can be debilitating. If you focus on your present to-do list, you offer yourself the remarkably satisfying and motivating experience of completing the tasks before you. When so much is out of your control, the chance to finish something each day is priceless. And if you continue to prioritize each day’s list, your sense of accomplishment will grow exponentially. After all, each day’s work is a piece of the puzzle that will eventually become your “big picture.” But if you worry about the big picture first, you’ll never assemble its parts and reach your ultimate goal.