What you do today determines the quality of your future.
Do hard things, enjoy a great life.
Do only easy things, suffer a poor life.
If you could adopt one self-improvement habit, it’s this: do the hard thing first.
A student once asked Warren Buffett how to prepare for an investment career. As he held up a stack of papers, Buffett said, “read 500 pages like this every day.”
I resolved to read more. I tried to squeeze in bits of reading throughout the day. It didn’t work. Instead, I read for two hours every morning. That did work.
Then, reading became an escape. I enjoyed it too much. Reading became an automatic habit. It’s no longer the hard thing.
When we do hard things, we feel better after. This trains our brains to associate doing hard work with good feelings. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we build a positive association between reward and work. The more we force ourselves to do that which we know we must do, the easier it becomes.
The hard thing you must do first is that which is vital, but you least want to do. It’s not necessarily the most important thing in your life. But, it has to be done.
If you want to lose weight, exercise first. Neglect this activity and suffer a poorer future.
However, once you build the habit of exercise, you enjoy working out. At that point, you justify working out by thinking, “health is important, so I’m going to workout four hours per day”. Unless you’re a professional athlete, you then use exercise to avoid what you know you need to do.
The hard thing becomes easy. Then, it’s time to move on.
Here’s how to use this principle to improve your life:
1 – Determine the hard thing you need to do
What is important to your future that you least want to do? Get it done first.
Write it down. I prefer a clean sheet of white printer paper with a checkbox drawn next to what I want to do. (If you’ve ever seen the movie Kill Bill, think of Beatrix Kiddo’s checklist. Complete focus, no mercy.)
2 – Block out one hour in the morning
Self-control declines throughout the day. Our schedules are less predictable as the day progresses.
Block out one hour in the morning to work on your hard thing.
If you have kids, get up before they do. If you have to get to work early, get up earlier.
Focus during your one hour. Use noise-canceling headphones if necessary. Clear your desk. Remove all distractions. Only your one sheet of paper with your one item on the list and what you need to complete it.
3 – Work until completion
Get to work. Work on the hard thing until it’s done or until the hour is up.
Ignore your phone. Ignore email. Ignore all else.
4 – Repeat
Your one thing might take more than one day to complete. That’s OK. Chip away day-by-day until it’s done.
When that item is complete, you’ll notice something strange…
Another hard thing surfaces.
This is good. It means you’re peeling back the layers of activities you need to do to improve your life.
When we peel away each day, we discover a joy for doing the hard thing. The hard thing is no longer the hard thing.
Then, life is as easy as it can be, regardless of what comes our way.