Working Smart On The Job

“The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” -Robert Frost

It takes more time then hard work to be successful. It takes “working smart” – developing efficiency and effectiveness on the job. Here are some practical tips toward that end.

Use your time in pursuit of goals

“We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright.”-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

Begin every task with clearly-defined goals. Then use these goals as standards for measuring your progress. Be specific: use dates, numbers, and qualitative measures so you can note not merely when you’ve done something, but how well. Break large tasks into smaller tasks to make them more manageable and easier to monitor. Handle the tough tasks first or when you’re at you’re at your best. Consult with your boss and clients to be sure you agree on goals. Then plot these goals, objectives, and related tasks on paper to make them tangible, clear, and do-able. Set deadlines you can commit to.For example, you might set a goal of making $20 thousand in gross revenue for your sales efforts this month. Statistically, you’ve learned that it takes an average of 100 business development calls to secure an order for your $5 thousand service. Quick math tells you that you’ll have to make around 400 calls to reach your final objective. This translates to 100 calls per week, 20 calls per day. Now you have a tangible, measurable daily goal, and you know the behavior necessary to reach your monthly objective. Make sure to hold yourself accountable.As you work, remain open to new and better ideas. Ask your boss and your mentor for advice on the best way to accomplish your tasks. For example, tell your boss: “I want to become good at managing people. How am I doing now? What do you think I need to do to improve my performance?” You may need to assert yourself to get the necessary feedback, but you must know at every opportunity how you are doing and where you stand.Always plan out your day the night before when tomorrow’s goals are fresh in your mind. Plan your work – then work your plan! David Campbell has written a great book on goal setting: If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else; Argus Communications, 1974.

Do what’s important

“Ideas are funny little things; they won’t work unless you do.”Distinguish between tasks that are merely urgent and those actually important to your career. It may seem urgent, say, to get more staples, because you have just inserted the last few into your stapler. But it’s not as important as finishing that major report sue tomorrow, even if you have to borrow a stapler to finish it! Give priority to important tasks. Work in urgent tasks around the important ones, and delegate them when you can. You are not uniquely qualified to get more staples, for example – anyone can do it for you.Tackle your difficult projects early to get them out of the way. Otherwise, they’ll weigh on your mind and reduce your efficiency in doing other tasks. Schedule important tasks that require high energy for those periods when you are at your best – typically the mornings.

Build perseverance with purpose

“Never, never, never give up.” -Winston Churchill

Too often the only characteristic that separates those who succeed from the rest is perseverance. Victory is often won by those who can hang in there the longest, steadily inching their way to success.Success is not an end but a process; developing the self-discipline to get up every day, day in and day out, hurdle after hurdle, one foot after another, until you’ve accomplished what you set out to accomplish.To develop perseverance, you should identify a purpose greater than the trials and frustrations encountered along the road to success. A friend of mine had a goal to be the Vice President of Operations for a mid-sized general contractor by the time he was thirty years old. I can remember him reading everything he could get his hands on about the responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments needed to qualify for such a position. He took night classes to advance his education in negotiating contracts, learned as much as he could in both estimating and project management, and worked the financial department of his company on the weekends to learn construction finance. He reached hi goal, but endured many setbacks. What impressed me was his unflagging commitment to fulfill his purpose.He hung symbols of his purpose on his bathroom mirror, car sun-visor, and office wall so that he couldn’t forget the reason he worked so hard. These quotes and images carried him through the tough times, and I’m certain if he had not continually reinforced his commitment with daily reminders, he could not have paid the price of success for the full eight years.

Schedule your commitments; commit to your schedule

“I never lost a game, time just ran out.”

Time is the most limited resource in your career. Ultimately, you may succeed in doubling your salary and raising your departmental budget. But you will never raise the number of hours you are allotted each day. Therefore, you must manage this fixed resource wisely by getting the most done in the least possible time. This requires good planning, scheduling and self-discipline.DayTimer* makes an excellent series of personal calendar/organizers. Other manufacturers make similar systems, and most give you a choice of page formats, ranging from “week-at-a-glance” to those devoting an entire page or two to one day, broken into half-hour or fifteen-minute segments. Reflection and experience will guide you to the format best for you. The important thing is to get a personal scheduling notebook, and use it. Two excellent books on scheduling are The Time Trap by R. Alec Mackenzie; McGraw Hill, NY, 1972, and How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein; The New American Library, NY, 1973.

Mentors: your sponsors to career success

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment.”With the many choices you must make throughout your career, it is imperative to surround yourself with wise counsel. Most executives speak to have attributed their success, especially in the early stages, to mentors. Mentors can be found in every industry, and they generally enjoy giving their wealth of experience for the benefit of an ambitious, appreciative student. Try to cultivate a mentor within your present company, as well as one who can share an industry-wide perspective, for each level of your career advancement.To locate a good mentor, start with the job incumbents who helped you develop your long-term career plan. You might also contact your local S.C.O.R.E. (Service Core Of Retired Executives) for a retired pro. Your mentor should be your own personal counselor, teacher, and guide, so search your field to find the best.

Manage paper – don’t just shuffle it

Minimize the number of times you handle a piece of paper. A business consultant devised a clever phrase to help you handle paperwork efficiently.

It is T-R-A-F – TRAF. It stands for:

Toss it in the trash.

Refer to someone who can do the job at least 70% as well as you can.

Act on important matters immediately

File for future reference or attentionDo one of these with each incoming piece of paper, and you won’t waste time shuffling through stacks of paper again and again. And again.

Find a working retreat

Everyone needs a retreat – a place of refuge – to do concentrated work without interruption. Your personal retreat might be a private office or an unoccupied office somewhere in your building – preferably with a non-working phone! It might be a hotel room, a desk at the library, or even a roomy closet or the boiler room. Whatever place you choose, use it to concentrate and achieve results. Develop the habit of using a working retreat by incorporating such time into your regular schedule. You may find this time to be your most productive, and also your most pleasurable.

Keep face-to-face in its proper place

Discourage drop-in visitors by keeping your door shut when you’re working on a project. Resolve issues standing up in the hall rather than seated comfortably in your office. If you must meet with someone, try to do it in their office. It is less offensive to leave someone else’s office, when you must, than to eject someone else from your office.

In developing your work schedule, include daily time to cultivate and maintain business relationships. By giving your peers, subordinates, and boss high-quality, focused attention – even if it’s necessarily brief – you won’t alienate them by sticking to the rest of your work schedule.Practically speaking, it’s wise to explain your schedule to others so that they can respect it, and assist you in adhering to it. As long as your associates feel that you’d rather attend to them, they’ll support you in sticking to your tasks. This may mean finding time before and after work to socialize with your colleagues. It’s time well-spent.Others can help you accomplish your work when they’re motivated by respect and affection. You might welcome others in for conversation while you’re doing simple tasks such as sticking labels on mailers. Who knows – they might even offer to help.

Keep meetings productive – and keep them to a minimum

While meetings are a necessary fact of organizational life, things are discussed rather than accomplished during meeting time. Consequently, the time you spend in meetings seldom advances your career. Send delegates or substitutes to meetings when possible. Use conference calls often. Many meetings should not occur at all, but when you must hold meetings, establish a clear agenda and set a time limit. Keep the meeting as small as practical, and schedule near lunch or the end of the day to assure a prompt, natural ending time. By showing up for your meetings on time, you let others know that you deliver what you promise – yourself in this case.

People less motivated than you may use meetings as a mini-vacation from their real work. Don’t you be their travel agent! Michael Doyle and David Strauss have written an excellent book on the subject entitled How to Make Meetings Work; The Berkeley Publishing Group, NY, 1976.

Dictate – and supercharge your output

Because speaking is more natural than writing, you can often quadruple the quantity of your correspondence by using a dictation recorder. With a recorder, you can concentrate on your message and not worry so much about the mechanics of expressing your thoughts.

Dictating is also faster and better than written note-taking in many situations. In the car, for example, you can dictate while you drive. If you have avoided tape recorders, overcome your “dictaphobia.” Take note, however, that dictation is not just oral rambling. It’s highly focused speech – a learned skill which can also improve the quality of your thinking. See Jefferson Bates’s book on this subject: Dictating Effectively; Acropolis Books, Washington, DC, 1986.

Delegate early and often

“It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.”

Delegating well means assigning appropriate tasks to others, motivating them to do well, and rewarding them for good performance. Good delegation permits you to accomplish more than you could alone. Yet you’ll still get the lion’s share of the credit. Here are some guidelines for delegation:

Give yourself the important tasks

A task might be important to you because it is sensitive, critical, difficult, visible, or requires knowledge or expertise that you alone possess. Out of enlightened self-interest, you should perform such tasks yourself.

Assign all other tasks to your support staff. Delegate work to people whose skills are sufficient, even though you may be able to do the work better or faster. It’s been said that if someone else can do your task 80% as well as you can, then the task should be delegated. Whatever your time is worth, doesn’t it pay to have those who earn less do all that they can to free you to make every working minute more profitable? You’re responsible for developing other people’s skills and talents as well as your own.Set clear deadlines. Give your staff leeway – then reward good performance and good ideas.

Develop a competent, trustworthy support staff

Decide how you want work done in your office, and let your staff know. Educate them in the latest technical skills and efficiency methods.Provide a supportive atmosphere for staff and have faith in their skills. Allow them to come to you with questions. Monitor their work periodically and provide regular feedback, but allow them to function without you constantly looking over their shoulders. Be anxious to give praise and reluctant to find fault. Recognize not just your top producers, but the honest efforts of every staff member. People who feel good about themselves produce good results.Focus on objectives, not problems. Admit when you have made mistakes, and graciously accept the responsibility. Never blame others for your own mistakes. They’ll zap you back if you do!A good reason to delegate and train your subordinates is to develop promotability without crippling your department. It’s easier to rise to the top when you’ve built a solid foundation of support staff from which you can rise. Lawrence Steinmetz has written a noteworthy book entitled The Art and Skill of Delegation: Addison-Wesley, MA, 1976

Make sure your message comes across

“My people count on what I say.”Good communication means letting others know, at all stages of a project, how you feel about what is being done. Create a feedback system that lets you know how things are progressing and how others feel. Confront problems and deal with them as they arise. Observing the following suggestions will help you foster good communication.

Keep it simple

Concentrate on communication that is simple and straightforward. This will minimize the times people say, “I thought you meant…” after doing a task incorrectly. Expand your vocabulary to allow you to communicate with different audiences, being particularly wary of using jargon with people who need an explanation in layman’s terms.

Be brief and clear

Verbosity can weaken the impact of your message and confuse the points you want to make. Verify that your message is clear. Ask listeners to explain your instructions in their own words.Proper grammar and an above-average vocabulary are essentials to career advancement. Avoid qualifiers, off-color language, and slang.

Listen attentively without interrupting

After communicating what you want understood, ask for feedback to assure understanding. Give others the opportunity to react verbally to your communication. It is estimated that 90% of a speaker’s message is communicated non-verbally through tone of voice and body language. Learn to ask questions and repeat what isnew clothes – give yourself the appreciation you need. Above all maintain a healthy and satisfying private life, so that when your hard efforts at work go unnoticed, you will not be set back.

You can’t get to the top on 40 hours a week

“After all is said and done, there is always a lot more said than done.” -Alfred Newman

In today”s marketplace, global competition is tougher than ever before. Consequently, long hours and heavy workloads are becoming the norm for career advancement.Develop the habit of hard work and the ability to be single-minded. Recognize that it takes 40 hours a week just to keep the competition in sight. Only after that does the race to the top begin. Hard work has always been a common denominator in success, especially in the early stages of one’s career. The will to succeed and the stamina to hang in there when everyone else goes home makes the difference in many successful careers.Few successful achievers will deny the fact that success takes long hours. I can seldom schedule an appointment with the more successful people I know unless I’m prepared to meet them after hours or on weekends. Attempting to meet them during normal working hours is all but impossible.This is a demanding way to live, beyond question. But there is also little question at the end of the week as to who gained the most. And those hard-working winners are the people with whom other winners want to do business.

Are you a profit center?

Harvey Mackay, the envelope magnate and noted business raconteur, suggests you ask yourself whether your bringing in more money than it costs to keep you around. Seek to improve your value to your employer by continually developing yourself and your job. Don’t wait to be trained; train yourself. Use your job description as a mere baseline of responsibility and look for ways to extend your authority, influence, and power.Don’t let yourself be part of organizational fat, unless you’re prepared to be trimmed. In fact, with the prevalence of acquisitions, mergers, and takeovers today, none of us know when some event or circumstance will force unnecessary employees out of their jobs. The only security we have, therefore, is the acknowledged profit we contribute to our business or firm.

What you (fore)see is what you get

“We are never to cross a bridge until we come to it, but this world is owned by men who have crossed bridges in their imagination far ahead of the crowd.” -Speakers LibraryAlbert Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Napoleon Hill said “Anything that your mind can conceive and believe, you can achieve.” Indeed, the most valuable time a person can spend is in thinking; encourage it in your people and in yourself.Take advantage of the times you are driving, on a plane, at a doctor’s office, or before being served your meal in a restaurant to exercise your imagination and draw on its limitless bank of ideas. Keep a paper and pen handy for such occasions. It’s been said that nothing happens until somebody has an idea. And as Victor Hugo observed, “No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.”Steven DeVore speaks of “an almost universal trait” among Super Achievers. “It’s what I call Sensory Goal Vision. These people knew what they wanted out of life, and they could sense it multidimensionally before they ever had it. They could not only see it, but also taste it, smell it, and imagine the sounds and emotions associated with it. They lived it before they had it. And that sharp, sensory vision became a powerful driving force in their lives.”A humorous book on becoming more innovative is A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger Von Oech; Warner Books.

Show grace under pressure

“In some attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” -Longinus

Achieving maximum career advancement means taking risks – and accepting the consequences gracefully.Some of your risks won’t lead to immediate success. Some of your goals prove unattainable. Try to learn from your mistakes. After countless experiments and refinements, Thomas Edison created the first practical electric light bulb. When asked how he did it, Edison replied, “I ran out of mistakes to make.”Setbacks occur with every career. When they happen to you, be sure not to view or label yourself as a failure. View each failure as a learning experience which can help you prevent future mistakes. Learn to hear the difference between “I failed at such-and-such” and “I am a failure.” Be kind to yourself in adversity. Most great people take chances and fail. They later go on to achieve success by separating their failures from their own sense of worth.Remember: one success can outweigh 100 failures. The way you handle mistakes can make you a respected leader. If you stay cool and effective in the face of adversity, you will invite support, and gain the confidence of others.

Will you please make a decision?

“No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.”–Voltaire

There’ll be times in your career that you’ll be pressed to make a snap decision. Sometimes the risk in not making a decision is greater than making a wrong decision.By definition, leaders are decisive. Whether you believe leaders are born or made, you can teach yourself to be decisive. The trick is to start small. Practice making small, low-risk decisions more quickly. Accept all possible outcomes, good and bad, before you commit to the decision, and then live with the outcome. As these decisions work out, you’ll develop greater confidence to “go with your gut”.It’s been estimated that 80 percent of all business decisions should be made on the spot, 15 percent need time to mature, and 5 percent need not be made at all. Most decisions are not only adjustable, but revocable. You will rarely have all the information you might like to make a decision. Get used to this shortfall! Remember, it is often more important to be decisive than right. John Arnold has written a book entitled The Art of Decision Making; Amacom, NY, 1978, which I’ve found very helpful.

Salesmanship is key in every field

“I believe that you can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”-Zig Ziglar

“Everyone lives by selling something.” -Robert Louis Stevenson”When a person tells you, ‘I’ll think it over and let you know”-you know.”-Alan MillerIn business, nothing happens without a sale. Whether we like it or not, we are always selling ourselves, our ideas, attitudes, beliefs, services, and products.Selling is therefore an integral part of career advancement. Everyone ought to take at least one good course in basic salesmanship and the art of persuasion. In Appendix III, I refer to several good teachers in this field – people like Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, and their peers.Sales is also an excellent career path to the top. In his popular book The Success Profile, Lester Korn tells us that the field of sales and marketing is viewed as the fastest route to the top of the corporate ladder in the 1990’s. I agree.Selling does not have to be a complicated or daunting process. Selling is nothing more than helping people get what they want. People will buy only if they can see the benefit to them and believe that it outweighs the cost involved. Your sales job, then, is to identify a prospect’s needs and show him or her a beneficial way to meet those needs. This kind of selling is non-manipulative. It requires common sense rather than dazzling powers of persuasion. As F.W. Woolworth once brilliantly put it, “I am the worst salesman, therefore I must make it easy for people to buy.”Selling is not as complicated as some people believe and generally involves five basic steps:

  • Develop rapport, credibility, and trust with your prospect. We all prefer to do business with people we like and believe.
  • Ask questions that help identify your prospect’s needs.
  • Explain the benefits of your product, service, or idea in light of your prospect’s needs. (Of course, it is important to substantiate your claims.)
  • Encourage your prospect to affirm his or her needs and the fact that your offering satisfies these needs.
  • Ask for a decision to act, and close the sale.

Build your body and spirit to go wherever your dreams take you

“All the things I like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.” -Alexander Woolcott

A healthy body and a rewarding personal life are keys to maximum career advancement. Fitness gives you the energy to apply your efforts to their fullest. Personal satisfaction – spiritual commitment, warm relationships, energizing interests, and hope in the future – gives you balance. When your personal life is in order, you needn’t look to your job for more satisfaction and meaning than it can be expected to provide.If you spend quality time with family and friends, you can better persevere through the drudgery, uncertainty, and self-denial that even the most dynamic careers involve. Your faith, family, and friends are your emotional lifeline. Enlist their support in your success. Let them know when you are under stress rather than bottling up your feelings and making them guess what’s on your mind. You and your loved ones will benefit from your openness.Above all, keep your life in perspective. Career advancement is an important and serious undertaking, but it’s no excuse for losing your sense of humor. Learn to laugh at yourself and relish the unpredictability and absurdity of life. When things appear hopeless, try to look at things in a humorous way. Think of how you’ll tell the story ten years down the road. This will help relieve your tension so you can get back to solving problems and achieving your career goals.Even though most of your work may seem purely mental, a fit body is one of your best allies for success. When you’re fit, you have greater stamina, vigor, and self-confidence. You can rise to emergencies and put in long hours on occasion. And when you’re fit, you improve the odds that you will enjoy the long-term rewards of your success in good health. What’s more, you project a vibrancy and self- respect that attracts others.See your physician for a complete physical, and develop a regular exercise program. Then follow it! Home exercise equipment that gathers dust does you no good.Eat a nutritious diet supplemented with high quality vitamins and minerals. Try to average at least seven hours of sleep per night. Good nutrition and adequate rest are essential to sharp thinking and to handling heavy work pressure. (If I sound like your mother did when you were in grade school, it’s only because she was right all along.)Hard work and travel pose real temptations to stray from a healthful diet. At restaurants, extravagant menu descriptions may tempt you to order cholesterol-drenched dishes that a caring spouse would discourage you from eating at home. And when you work long or irregular hours, you may be prone to buy junk food from vending machines just to keep yourself going.Advance planning goes a long way here. On the road, develop your own personal menu of dishes that will be satisfying yet healthful – seafood, pasta, and poultry, for example, instead of red meat smothered in cream sauce. Get in the habit of ordering these, and save the belly-busters for truly special occasions. As to the lure of junk food, bring fruits and nuts from home instead. In fact, in doesn’t hurt to have an emergency supply of non-perishable foods in your office: dry or canned soups, crackers, dried fruit and the like. Then, you’ll never have to choose between quitting sooner than you’d like or eating something that will come back up to haunt you.For health and budgetary reasons, you might also be wise to consider bringing lunch from home part of the time. Bringing lunch from home has lost its stigma as penny-pinching. With refrigerators becoming standard workplace appliances, bringing leftovers in for lunch makes delicious, efficient good sense. It’s not wise to brown-bag it every single day, however. Unless you bring in enough food for everyone, you’ll lose too many opportunities for productive socializing.Regular exercise and a healthful diet will let you use your body and mind with maximum efficiency. It’s one more facet of “working smart”.

The article above was written by construction recruiter Frederick Hornberger, CPC, president of Hornberger Management Company in Wilmington, Delaware (, a construction recruiter specializing in senior level, executive search.