For the past couple of years, I have lived next to a site where a massive new apartment complex is going up. I get to watch from my balcony as they make new progress day after day, as each new building transforms the horizon.
It’s cool to see, but it also comes with its downsides. For one, all this construction on a previously undeveloped landscape diverts a large number of pests, including flies, out of their environment and towards the neighboring communities.
Oh, you thought this was going to be some metaphor about transformative long-term progress? Nah, it’s about flies.
In an effort to deal with them while being self-sufficient, I’ve tried a number of homemade fly traps. I’ve concocted honey-based solutions, as well as vinegar-based ones. After a while, I even gave in and bought a trap for a few bucks online.
And do you know what I’ve discovered?
You totally do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar — but, you catch even more flies than that with synthetic, lab-tested fly bait! How peculiar that the old adage didn’t cover that.
The point is that, in combating this problem, I had more than one tool at my disposal. Some were more effective than others, and in this case it didn’t hurt to use them all at once.
This phenomenon exists all over the place. We often face problems that don’t have a clear, single solution. It’s easy to get hung up looking for the perfect tool to use.
But really, we have our best chance to rise and face our challenges when we bring a variety of tools and are prepared to wield them.
Where Focus Meets Commitment
If you’ve been hanging around this blog a while, you know that we’re all about conquering goals and building better lives by combining two key ideas: working Smarter, and working Harder. Thus the name. It’s exceedingly clever, you see.
Working Smarter, the more oft-touted of the two, is all about streamlining and being more efficient. That means developing a clear, laser-sharp focus on the current goal, and wiping out the distractions that would get in your way or slow you down in accomplishing it.
But that’s not enough on its own. Identifying your goal and clearing a path to it are only the first steps. Working Smarter creates a wealth of opportunity. Working Harder, on the other hand, is how you capitalize on that opportunity.
Optimizing your situation by working Smarter gives you the potential to do more, experience more, and be more. But it’s then up to you to invest that potential in getting better, faster, and more satisfying results.
Working Harder is a little more nuanced than it sounds. You may think that it’s just about developing massive willpower and overcoming your goals with sheer strength of character. There’s a little bit of that. But there’s so much more to it. It’s more about building great routines, building up momentum, and making success a habit.
And often, it’s about using the right tools for the job.
Consider All Your Options
If you try to solve every problem with a hammer, you’ll quickly find that you’re having a hard time with some of them. Some may not be getting solved at all.
Sometimes, you don’t need a hammer. The hammer isn’t working because the current job can’t be done with a hammer. I explored this in my post on making progress when you’re stuck. In cases like these, you may need to shake up your approach in order to break through.
Other times, you just need a bigger hammer. This is what happened to me with the fly trap debacle. The homemade stuff was on the right track but wasn’t getting the job done. So I needed to bring in something with a little more juice.
But when it comes to big life-changing goals, it gets a little more complicated. You may need different tools, or better ones. But most likely, you’re going to want every tool you can get your hands on.
For instance, consider the goal of getting into the best shape of your life.
There are plenty of tools you could try for this job — eating better, working out, sleeping well, stretching, drinking more water, drinking less alcohol, and so on. But not one of them will work as well as all of them would.
To crush a major goal like that, you want to use every tool at your disposal. The same is true for goals in your career, relationships, social life, finances, and mental health.
So yes, use the biggest hammer you can find, if a hammer will help. Get a screwdriver, too, and a pair of needlenose pliers. Use every tool you have for the job, whatever the job is.
Why You Should Use Every Tool You Have
A number of years ago, when my then-fiancee and I graduated college, we had a big problem. As too many people these days can relate, we came out of school with a hideous amount of debt.
The minimum payments alone cost well above our (already jacked up) rent. So after covering those two expenses and a few basics, there was very little room left in the budget at all to build for the future, much less do anything fun like travel.
This problem was preventing (and would continue to prevent) us from creating the life we wanted to live. So slaying this “debt dragon,” as we came to envision it, became our priority. We isolated it as our #1 goal.
This gave us clarity. But stopping there wouldn’t be enough. We could have used the tiny wimpy little baby hammer we were given – the minimum payment – and chipped away at our problem for years until it someday went away. But we didn’t.
We hit that sucker with every damn tool in the shed.
Hit It With Everything You’ve Got
Whether you’re working through a minor nuisance or trying to change the whole trajectory of your life, you’ll find greater success if you tap into more of the potential around you. That is, using more of the tools available to you.
And that is exactly what we did.
We made our minimum payments, sure. But we also started reading and learning about money and debt constantly. We made a budget, and continuously refined it to make as much room as possible for our goal. We increased our income every way we could, all to slay that dumb dragon.
If we had used only the hammer we started with, our progress would have been slow, small, and frustrating. This burden, which we agreed to when we were 17 years old, would have followed us well into our 40s. For many people, it does. Not because they’re unmotivated or “bad with money,” but because they’re only swinging that one hammer for years.
We worked Smarter, and isolated our one clear goal. That freed up more energy, tools, and room in our lives to conquer that goal. We were then able to work Harder, and bring the entirety of that potential to bear on a single focal point.
Instead of spending decades under the massive weight of our student loans, we paid off every red cent in just over two years. And because of it, our financial life will never be the same.
Use Every Tool in Your Arsenal
My life, just like yours I’m sure, is not perfect. I have challenges yet to face, mountains yet to climb, and problems yet to solve. But I can sure as shit tell you two problems I don’t have anymore: debt and flies. By using every tool at my disposal, I was able to slay these goals quickly and completely.
And now on to you.
Do you know what your #1 Most Super-Important goal is? What about how you’re going to get there?
Do you want to tippy-tap at that goal with whatever hammer was lying around, and get it done whenever it gets done? Or do you want to get down to business and blow that goal out of the water?
You can exercise a little and be a bit healthier, or you can use every tool you have to set you on the course of a fit, healthy life.
Do a little more work at your job if you want an occasional promotion; but if you want to own the building someday, focus on one goal at a time and push for that outcome with everything you have.
If you want to have a little more money in your savings, make a few tweaks to your budget. If you want to create serious wealth and build a life of financial freedom, then don’t leave any opportunities sitting on the table.
Pushing Harder and using every tool you have is the difference between getting something done eventually, and achieving something wild and remarkable right now.
Winning isn’t about having special skills or exclusive opportunities. It’s about taking advantage of the skills and opportunities you already have.