Scott H Young

Execution is More Important Than Planning


The perfect plan, poorly executed, will fail. A lousy plan, well executed, is often successful. It may seem obvious, but way to fix a failure is often simple: work harder.

If you fail to lose weight on a diet, is your diet the problem? Or is the problem that you didn’t follow it consistently enough? If your blog isn’t growing, the problem often isn’t your marketing strategy or writing style, but simply that you aren’t creating enough useful content.

The Effort Threshold

Imagine that every goal has a minimum work threshold. If you don’t put in at least this much effort, you won’t be successful. Sometimes you need more effort, if your plan is weak. But you always require at least the minimum.

Of course, this isn’t universally true, but it’s a useful assumption that emphasizes my point.

Being a successful blogger might have a minimum effort requirement of 1,500 hours of productive work. Getting in shape may have a minimum requirement of 3 hours per week, every week, at the gym. Going from social awkwardness to charismatic confidence may require 3,000 hours of socializing.

If becoming a successful blogger requires 1,500 hours of productive effort, and you’re only contributing 300, you’ll fail. Even with a spectacular plan, if you aren’t reaching the minimum, you’ll still fail.

When in Doubt, Work Harder

Whenever I get stuck on a goal, my first response is always to work harder. Often, the plan I already have will work, I just need to apply more effort towards it.

One of my biggest goals at the moment is learning to speak French. I’ve had of hundreds of different methods suggested to me. But I realize that the biggest factor in my success or failure won’t be which method I use. What matters is whether I work hard enough for it. What matters, is if I’m going beyond the effort threshold.

Many pursuits in life aren’t complicated, even though they might be difficult. When you aren’t getting the results you want, the most obvious problem is often a lack of effort. Making progress, even on seemingly easy goals, requires a tremendous investment of energy and time. If you aren’t giving 100%, even the best strategy is worthless.

Change Your Workload, Before Altering Your Strategy

Don’t make simple problems complicated. The most obvious explanation for a failure is a lack of effort. And if you weren’t fully committed before, this should be fixed first.

I have a good friend that wanted to be better with dating. He had been in a private boys’ school for most of his life, so he wasn’t practiced. To fix the problem, he didn’t spend hours reading books on the topic or buy a seduction course; he just started socializing more.

Often my friend went out to meet people a few nights per week, every week. It seemed a bit silly at the time, but it worked. Two years later, he is far more confident and successful with women. I doubt many of the people who met him after this transition phase would ever believe it was a recent adjustment.

My point isn’t that you need to go to the bar every night if you want to have a girlfriend. I’m trying to illustrate that the most straightforward solution to any problem is simply to work harder

J.D. Roth, the founder of the wildly successful blog Get Rich Slowly, worked on his website at full-time levels for two years, building to its success. He did this while having another job to pay the bills. The next time someone tells you blogging success is about marketing gimmicks or SEO tricks, remember this example.

If your blog is failing, ask yourself if you were really applying the effort needed. I’m friends with other successful bloggers, and although they usually have had a great talent for writing and been lucky with opportunities, they also work obscenely hard for their goals.

Does this go against what I’ve said previously? Somewhat. I am allowed to change my opinion after all. ;)

But what I’d like to emphasize is that being below the effort threshold is often the key flaw preventing you from reaching your goals.


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14 Responses to “Execution is More Important Than Planning”

  1. Basu says:

    I don’t think it goes against your earlier post. You’re right in both cases. Hard work is essential, but it isn’t enough. Writing a ton of blog posts won’t help your blog unless you’re writing good posts. Simply rehashing the same ideas or others content probably won’t get you thousands of regular readers. I’m a computer scientist and I’ve learned first hand that while it’s important to get a good team and put in hours, a lot of those hours will be wasted without a good plan.

  2. slim says:

    Scott, I’ve always gotten the sense (from you admitting in your writing as well) that you were more of an introvert; although you’ve also seemed wanting to improve upon it. But, recently your articles suggest you’ve stepped outside your shell and have begun to expand socially – the mentioning of you being in a relationship and stanzas of social skydiving advice.

    What has brought upon this change/improvements in to the social/interpersonal portions of your life? Would you say it was the toastmaster meetings or simply reading up on social skills then applying them?

  3. Aatash says:

    Hey Scott. I think the idea behind this post is really powerful. I took the SAT (I’m a high school junior) for the first time in January, and I spent a lot of time about a month before trying to learn the best strategies to prepare for the test. The effort I put into pure practice though was not as much as it should have been, and my score showed it. I think the having the right strategy is definitely important to avoid wasted time, but once it’s decided, consistently following it is more important. Hopefully my March SAT score shows that I did that. ;)

  4. Kali says:

    Thanks for being yourself.

  5. Scott Young says:

    Basu,

    I’d agree as well. However, simplicity is important in writing blog posts, so I usually try to push an idea that I believe is 99% true, if it occasionally misses the 1% nuances. Trying to account for every detail usually results in people getting confused as to what I intended.

    slim,

    I wouldn’t take my writing as a great example of my personality. I tend to use examples that are most immediately relevant in my writing, which omits all the others that happen to be in my life.

    I don’t really think of myself as an introvert or extrovert. I have gotten better at socializing over the last few years. I’ve written a few articles that cover those topics of how that came about. (It certainly wasn’t reading…)

    -Scott

  6. Akon says:

    I wouldn’t underestimate the need to plan. It’s not either or.

  7. Steve says:

    I would say that this is a both/and situation. You have to have good plans and good strategies, AND you have to be willing to work hard to achieve your goals. I do think that the swift kick in the rear that this post provided is definitely needed by most of us most of the time :)

  8. Anca says:

    Working hard will definitely bring you an advantage for a limited time period. After a while, the tiredness will arrive and you will have to be more productive, so, you will have to create a good plan for your work. Planning and executing have the same importance in a project success in my opinion.

  9. Scott Young says:

    Akon,

    I suppose my argument was a little vague. I’m not specifically arguing against planning.

    My argument is that tweaking an approach is useless unless you’re reaching the minimum effort threshold.

    The people who debate whether to run or lift weights to get in shape aren’t being productive if they only go once per month.

    The people who debate whether to use StumbleUpon or Digg to get traffic when they spend less than an hour a week writing for their blog.

    The people who read endless books on dating, but never go out to meet people.

    -Scott

  10. The point that says “Change Your Workload, Before Altering Your Strategy” gives a direct answer to the question that most come to when things aren’t going as planned in their procedure, as to whether to do more to supplement their efforts, or to switch plans of attack. I support this siding with the adding of more effort towards the current plan, since the tendency to switch plans of attack can repeat multiple times, which then leads to a small amount of experience in practicing multiple methods, as opposed to a dominating level of experience in one method, and society tends to favor authority figures that stuck with something.

  11. Scott Young says:

    Armen,

    Exactly. My point is that many people flip-flop between strategies (diets, marketing plans, dating guru’s) without coming close to the effort threshold that would be required to make any of those plans successful.

    -Scott

  12. […] week, I wrote about how a major cause of failure is simple: not working hard enough. If you’re only spending 30 […]

  13. David says:

    Finally, I can visit your website! It’s been a long long time that I can’t open your website in any browser (btw, am in China, not sure if this is something to do with the government censorship over online content or not).

    I am able to read your new posts through RSS feed, but still it is great to have access to your website so that I can read some valuable archived stuff.

    Really great materials! Keep going!

  14. Scott Young says:

    David,

    Hmmmm… I didn’t realize I wasn’t available in China. Thanks for the pointer.

    -Scott

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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