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."

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

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"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'll 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 emails.

Many people talk about multitasking, 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."

In a small village lived a hardworking farmer who owned a vast vineyard. Year after year the vineyard provided a rich harvest, and the farmer became very successful. He had three sons who were young and energetic but never bothered to work hard. As the farmer grew old, he began to worry about his sons' future.

Then he fell very ill and realized his death was fast approaching. He called the sons and told them: "Dear sons, I see my death nearing me, but before I bid goodbye to all of you, I want to share a secret. There is a treasure hidden under the fields. Dig the entire field after my death to find it."

The old farmer died. After the funeral, the sons began to dig for the treasure without leaving any part of the field untouched, but they found nothing. However, their digging of the field led to a healthy crop and resulted in huge earnings. This made the sons realize what their father meant: Hard work pays off.

Fruits of hard work are always sweet, whether or not they are in the form you expect.

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

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.