An old ranch owner named John had a small spread in Montana. The state government claimed he was not paying proper wages to his workers, so it sent an agent to check things out.

"I need a list of your employees here, along with how much you pay them," said the agent.

"Well," replied old John, "there's my ranch hand Silas, who's been with me for three years. I pay him $600 a week plus free room and board. The cook, Ben, has been here for 18 months, and I pay him $500 a week plus free room and board. Then there's the half-wit who works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board, and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night."

"That's the guy I want to talk to, the half-wit," said the agent.

"That would be me," replied John.

Hard work is the most important key to success. Without a willingness to work hard, business success is nearly impossible. No matter what industry you work in, hard work is most often the secret to success. Take it from Thomas Edison, who said success is "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."

One of the keys to hard work is motivation. But how do you stay motivated to do the hard work necessary to be successful? For some, it's accomplishing small tasks in order to achieve big goals. For others, it's focus, consistency, dedication and perseverance.

For me, it's a three-pronged approach: I keep physically fit to accomplish what I need to; I start out each day with my most important task; and I reward myself often for working hard. I like to surround myself with positive, motivated people who encourage me.

The harder you work for something, the better you will feel when you achieve it. Working hard becomes a habit, a serious kind of fun. You get self-satisfaction from pushing yourself to the limit, knowing that all the effort is going to pay off.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, said: "If you love your work, you'll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon, everybody around will catch the passion from you — like a fever."

Work isn't work if you enjoy it. I'm so convinced of that notion that the subtitle of one of my books is, "Do What You Love, Love What You Do, and Deliver More Than You Promise."

Sam Ewing, former professional baseball player, said: "Hard work spotlights the character of people: Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all."

To work hard you need to minimize distractions. Interruptions are a killer because you lose focus and productivity. That's why I set aside time at the end of the day for returning phone calls and e-mails.

Many people talk about multi-tasking, but I think it's detrimental to accomplishing your goals. It's hard to constantly start and stop what you are doing. Finishing the task at hand is tremendous motivation to move on to the next.

Author David Bly offers this assessment: "Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven't planted."

Mackay's Moral: Pray for a good crop but don't forget to hoe.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail