If you've read my blog for a while, you may realize that The Four Hour Work Week is one of my favorite books. There seems to be quite a bit of misconception floating around that the core message of the book is that you can be successful without hard work if you do the right things. Sadly, many people embark on a strawman line of thinking and reject this book as snake oil because they don't agree with this misinformed opinion. Tim Ferriss seems to downplay the importance of hard work because it's not a message that will sell a book easily. But it's pretty evident even in his anecdote in the book that he worked harder AND smarter than the vast majority of people in starting his sports supplement company, figuring out how to delegate customer service, optimizing his advertising, etc. so he can get to the point where he only needs to work 4 hours a week to maintain his business (which he later sold in 2009.)
I've not met anyone who is highly successful and does not work hard or hasn't worked hard to get to where he/she is now. This includes people born with wealth and connections! Even if they only need to work 15, 10, or even 4 hours a week, they worked very hard and made great sacrifices in the past to get to where they are now. But if you've even skimmed through The Four Hour Work Week, you probably have already gotten this message (if you didn't learn in the hard way in life): blindly working hard isn't gonna get you anywhere. This is where using and exploiting the 80/20 rule comes into play.
The 80/20 Rule (Pareto's Principle)
Again, I won't reinvent the wheel and write an entire article on this concept. Please read it on Wikipedia, or preferably, in Tim Ferriss's Four Hour Work Week for a detailed explanation. It basically states that 80% of your desired outcomes from your goals comes from 20% of your efforts, or to put in more general terms, a majority of your outcomes come from a minority of your actions. So if you only focus on the 20% of actions that produce your results, you can get tremendous results with relatively little effort, right? Unfortunately, it's not that easy to identify which 20% produce the most results. It takes a lot of testing (and brainstorming things to test) to figure out which actions will produce the most results.
The Only 2 Things you should work hard at
If you've applied the 80/20 rule and identified the actions that contribute the most to achieving your goals, then it's pretty obvious what you need to work hard at. Stay focused on that task. If you haven't identified them yet, then you should be directing your hard work to identifying the minority of actions that produce the majority of your results. Systematically track and analyze the results you've gotten. By not wasting your energy on meaningless tasks and working hard at everything by default, you will have the energy to effectively execute the tasks that bring you closer to your most important goals.