Why I Love Holidays

This week, 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.

Forty-seven 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.”

Combining these 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.

I re-learn 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.

GAINING 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.

These days, 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.

Working on 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 blown.

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.

Asian-Americans 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.

Asians constitute 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 efficiency.

Using your 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.

IT’S A LONG RACE

That’s another 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.

In The 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 own company.

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 hours.

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.

You cannot 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.

For people who need prizes to keep running, a series of sprints is better than a marathon.

If you can melt down the gold medals and sell them, all the better.

CONCLUSION

Holidays are 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.

After Leonard 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 essay, “I, 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.

For that, Read needed his wristwatch. But at least he took a daily nap.

September6, 2006

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com

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