Americans celebrated Labor Day. So did I. I began my celebration
at 4:30 a.m. by editing the first of six 2005 issues of "Reality
Check" to post on my Web site. My site’s software allows me
to schedule postings in advance. I re-format six issues every Monday
morning. They appear, one per day, for six days in my
site’s Free Materials section.
Then I re-post
all of them in the Members-Only section and start a new batch.
I think Labor
Day is well named. I take advantage of it.
I do this with
every holiday except Christmas. On Christmas, I work only half a
day. If my grandson is around, I actually take Christmas day off.
But this is a late development in my life.
years ago I read something that I take literally. "Six days
shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" (Exodus 20:9). Note:
it does not say "five."
There is another
piece of advice that I have always taken literally. "To be
a success in life, all you have to work is half a day. It doesn’t
matter which half."
two pieces of advice, I have worked 72 hours a week for many years.
It adds up. You can accomplish things that you never knew you could,
because little things add up.
this lesson every time I finish typesetting one of my books. Then
I have to do an index. I hate to index. It takes time. It is boring.
I have to devote about an hour for every ten pages of text.
An index starts
with little slips of paper. It ends as a detailed piece of work
that hardly anyone will use, but which is vital if an author expects
his non-fiction book to be user-friendly. In between, there is very
little visible success. Yet, slip by slip, entry by entry, things
add up. I have to keep telling myself this as I go through the motions.
But eventually, it’s finished. The book is unfinished until the
index is finished.
For my economic
commentary on the book of Leviticus, the index will take about 175
hours. I am about half-way finished. I hate every minute of it.
It takes me two hours a day. I have had this version of Leviticus
in an unfinished state since 1994. I just didn’t get around to doing
the index. (Procrastination kills.) I
did finish a condensed, Reader’s Digest-type version in 1994 — a
mere 750 pages.
This is what
it takes to get projects finished. Every project has its version
of indexing: the boring, seemingly endless part. There is nothing
like a holiday to work on it. It feels so good when you stop.
ON THE COMPETITION
A holiday is
a perfect day for gaining on the competition. Your competitors take
the day off. They can never get it back. Whatever advantage you
gain by working on a holiday need not be surrendered unless you
take a holiday that your competition ignores.
Americans rarely ignore a holiday.
There are religious
holidays, but every religious group has them. Christians have a
big advantage in the West. Everyone is given the day off on Christmas
and Easter, and most people take it. But most people work on the
other religious holidays. So, on the other guy’s high holy day,
I get ahead. That’s why I love Yom Kippur. The day after, I can
tell my Jewish friends, "We gentiles gained on you yesterday!"
and they don’t laugh.
It’s not that
I make great gains by working on a holiday. But I make more gains
than on a regular working day. For one thing, the phone doesn’t
ring. So, I can get caught up on paper work. Writers especially
benefit from phone-free days.
holidays is part of a mindset. This mindset pays attention to time.
This is more important than paying attention to money. That’s because
lost money is replaceable. Lost time isn’t. If you blow it, it stays
It’s also a
lot easier to budget money than time. There is Quicken. There are
monthly savings account automatic withdrawal programs for your paycheck.
These are great. They let us get a handle on our flow of funds.
We can monitor this flow, re-direct it, make it work harder. But
there are no comparable time-budgeting programs.
The few that
there are take enormous self-discipline to follow. They require
a complete mental re-structuring. They are about as effective as
diet books. Almost nobody sticks to them for long. Those few people
who do are able to gain a tremendous advantage on their competition.
It’s not the
big things that provide permanent advantages. It’s the little things
that add up.
That’s a lesson
I have learned over the last half century.
I am convinced
that this is the only thing most people ever get out of homework
in high school. Homework tells us at a young age that the normal
work day is not enough to give us success. It’s that extra work
which provides the crucial advantage.
have the same IQs as other Americans. It’s homework that makes the
difference. Homework is part of Asian culture. This is drummed into
the lives of Asians from a young age. So, Asian teenagers do their
homework, and then do extra credit. Week by week, academic year
by academic year, this adds up. By the time they are 17, they are
ready to fill up seats in the best universities. The
University of California Berkeley is the best example, America’s
premier tax-funded university. About a third of the students at
Berkeley are Asians. Even more incredible, of Californians admitted
who then attend, 45% are Asians.
about 13% of the population in California.
My first full-time
job was at the Foundation for Economic Education. The boss, Leonard
E. Read, required the senior staff to work half a day on Saturdays.
We didn’t do anything specific. The phones didn’t ring. We puttered
or read. In retrospect, I think Leonard just wanted company. He
came in for half a day. We did, too.
The pace was
not intense. The job had one tremendous fringe benefit. Leonard
took a nap after lunch. So, I did, too. I lived in the place for
my first six months. I have always needed an afternoon nap for maximum
time wisely involves honoring your body’s cycle of alertness. If
you fade in the afternoon, and you can’t take a nap, do something
mindless but physical. File articles in cabinets or Windows folders.
Don’t think great thoughts or make grand plans.
The point is,
keep moving forward. This is the tortoise’s strategy that Aesop
praised 2500 years ago. We all know the story. So do the hares of
this life. The outcome is still the same. Slow and steady wins the
race, if the race is a long race.
A LONG RACE
lesson I have learned. The sprints are part of a long race.
There are guys
who hit the ground running early, but they fade in the stretch.
Most of us first came in contact with these guys in high school.
There were plenty of gifted people who got ahead fast and kept ahead
until high school ended. Then they seemed to disappear. They got
overtaken — maybe in college, maybe in grad school, maybe in the
first ten years of business.
It’s not IQ
that makes the difference.
Millionaire Next Door and The
Millionaire Mind, we learn that millionaires tend to be
smart. They scored over 1,200 in the SATs. But they did not score
1500 to 1600. They were not always good students in high school,
mostly because of boredom. They have a capacity for taking risks
that others do not possess. They also work long hours for their
They did not
get rich on a salary. They got rich as business owners — usually
after a couple of business bankruptcies. It was trial and error
that made them rich. They kept coming back. They kept working long
In one sense,
long hours are basic to business success. But nobody who isn’t an
owner will work 60 to 80 hours a week, which is what it takes to
launch a business. Salaried people will not work hard for their
salaries unless their salaries are very high. In a new business,
you can’t afford to pay high salaries. So, you pay with equity —
stock options or whatever. But this makes today’s employees future
owners. They think like owners. They work like owners.
sprint for a long race. You can do a series of sprints, but they
must be cumulative. They must add up.
This is why
you need a long-run plan for your long run. You need to be able
to pace yourself. You need to see progress in your long-run plan.
This keeps you going.
I see my index
slips piling up. Then I alphabetize them into stacks. I can see
progress. This keeps me going.
When you cannot
see progress, it’s tough to keep going. You really have to be self-disciplined
to keep moving forward.
I am writing
a course for a high school home school curriculum I am creating.
Instead of one long textbook for a particular 9-month course, I
am writing a series of 9 books, each 150 to 200 pages long (double-spaced).
This way, I can see progress. When they are done, I will do a series
of lectures on the same topics, chapter by chapter. I will put these
MP3 audio files on 9 CD-ROMs. I also will get 9 books and audio
book mini-courses out of this, which I can sell separately to adults.
I might not
have the oomph to produce one long course. Instead, I break the
project into bite-sized segments — sprints, in other words.
It’s OK to
be a hare and take naps along the way, if you don’t sleep too long
between sprints. It’s more like catching your breath.
who need prizes to keep running, a series of sprints is better than
If you can
melt down the gold medals and sell them, all the better.
for other people to celebrate by taking a day off. I see them as
an opportunity for me to make up a few extra laps in a long race.
This is a mindset.
It’s not about being anti-holiday. It’s about avoiding lost time.
It is an attitude regarding the value of time.
Read died, his son said that the only thing of his father’s that
he wanted was his wristwatch. He said he planned to toss it in the
Hudson River, which was nearby. Obviously, his son had a different
view of time. He recognized that his father had been a slave to
time. Yet that enslavement was part of his father’s success. Read
almost single-handedly created the libertarian movement, and his
Pencil,” is rightly regarded as a classic defense of the free
market. He wrote a lot of forgettable essays, but one great one.
That’s how you write an unforgettable essay — in a stack of forgettable
ones. You never know which will survive, if any. Probably none.
that, Read needed his wristwatch. But at least he took a daily nap.