A Bigger Shovel: Six Ways Being Too Good at Your Job Can Hurt Your Career

“…But the reward for lots of work seemed to be lots more. If you dug the biggest hole, they just gave you a bigger shovel.'” – Sir Terry Pratchett, British fantasist. There's an old saying that goes, "No good deed ever goes unpunished." Sadly, that's often true in business, especially in terms of personal productivity. Like so many other things, high productivity can backfire in surprising ways. I have a colleague who came roaring into a new job, working 60 hour weeks for the first six months, doing his best to impress his superiors. It worked too well. He was their golden boy while overclocking it; but once he'd settled into his job, he cut back to 45-50 hours weekly. Afterward, they treated him like he was slacking, despite consistently exceeding the number of hours his colleagues spent … [Read more...]

What’s More Productive, Hourly Pay or Salary? Six Pros and Cons

“When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.' If he says, 'But what's my motivation?, ' I say, 'Your salary.'” – Alfred Hitchcock, British film director. If you're a white-collar professional, you're more likely to receive a salary rather than hourly pay. Salary is de rigueur for upper management, of course, but for some professionals, that's not always the case. Coders, illustrators, writers, and others sometimes receive hourly pay rather than salaries, especially in volatile job markets. And while salaries have remained the professional norm for the past century, there's no guarantee this will always remain true, especially as we continue to move toward more virtual work environments. So there may come a time when you face the option of … [Read more...]

Getting Back on an Even Keel: Eight Tips for Productively Playing Catch-Up

“Work, work, work, day after day/Fifty-hour week, forty-hour pay./No time to get over all this overtime./ Yeah, I'm always runnin', and always runnin' behind.” – Tracy Lawrence, American singer. You've probably faced it after a vacation, a business trip, or sick leave: that pile of work sitting in your inboxes, waiting for your return. Ideally, your team should have taken care of it, but there's always something waiting, even if it's "just" a barrage of distracting questions. While you're always likely to face some turmoil after a work absence, there are ways to temper the inevitable game of catch-up. You may have tried some of these in the past, but probably not all of them; and if you're new enough not to never have experienced a game of "catch-up", do yourself a favor and try some … [Read more...]

A Little Help, Please? Five Arguments for Getting a Personal Assistant

“No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.” – Joseph Addison, 18th century British author and politician. If you've reached a high level in a corporation or own your business, then you may already have a personal assistant, and know what a relief they can be. If you haven't reached that point, you may think you're doomed to sharing an executive assistant with the whole department, or more likely, just doing without. That's not necessarily true, so don't despair. Whether you're overwhelmed or just need a little help balancing some aspects of your job or work/life balance, and for some reason can't delegate within the organization, you may still be able to acquire a personal assistant (PA). Whether it's official or not may depend on your … [Read more...]

To Work or Not to Work – Why Working Vacations Are a Bad Idea

“There should be sympathy cards for having to go back to work after vacation.” – Anonymous. Let's face it: a vacation where you spend any time at all working is not a vacation. And yet, working vacations have become a fixture of our workaholic society. We're already hobbled by the lowest average number of vacation days of any major industrial nation, so you'd think Americans would avoid work like the plague while on vacation — but we don't. Most of us feel obliged to at least check in occasionally… even though, according to one recent survey, 47% of workers don't even use all their annual vacation time. Sadly, many of us are "encouraged" or outright told to keep in touch during vacation. Others feel an unstated pressure to do so, while some don't want to seem like slackers, don't want … [Read more...]

Mini-Breaks, Mini-Vacations: Six Reasons They Spike Your Productivity

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.” – Anne Lamott, American writer. We all know we need breaks occasionally to refresh ourselves at work. And sure, most of us will fight for our annual vacations; we'll also steal away on mini-vacations on a long weekend. While we're nowhere as enlightened as Europeans in this regard, we know the value of a few days or weeks off in terms of recharging our batteries. But not everyone takes short work breaks as seriously. If you want to do your best work, you should take short breaks throughout the day, even for five minutes. Here’s why: They let your mind disengage its focus. Sometimes you need to think about something else for a while. Focusing too long and hard on a problem can lead not only … [Read more...]

In Defense of Hard Work: Four Reasons Why “Work Smarter, Not Harder” Is Poor Advice

“Work smarter, not harder.” – Allen F. Morgenstern, American Industrial engineer and work simplification program developer If there's one business aphorism I guarantee every single one of you has heard and/or read, probably too many times, it's "Work harder, not smarter." It's the kind of advice Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss loves to give, because it sounds good, and he doesn't have to know what it means. When Allen Morgenstern first formulated the idea in the 1930s, it was useful and valuable, especially in his field of industrial engineering. Manufacturing was in its heyday; Morgenstern and other efficiency experts were hard at work transforming the mess and horror of the Industrial Revolution, per Sinclair's The Jungle, into a workable system that maintained productivity while … [Read more...]

Shifting Foundations: What to Do When Your Company’s Core Values Change

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.” – Attributed to Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll. In a healthy company, everything flows from core values; however, as the world changes, your organization’s core values may change to keep up. Consider Oneida, Ltd. Originally a commune-owned silversmith in 1850, it branched out to tableware, silk, chains, and steel leg-hold traps for the fur trade. As each line became less profitable, the company evolved, eventually producing first silverware, and then flatware of all kinds as it currently does. That clearly required multiple core-value shifts. In our current business world, you'll likely face similar shifts as the world changes, no matter what you do or provide. If your personal … [Read more...]

Coming Together: Five Touchstones of Productive Collaboration

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” – Old proverb, author unknown While too many cooks may spoil the broth, we all know two heads are better than one, especially at work. Aphorisms aside, collaboration forms the very foundation of the human experiment, which has raised us up from isolated clusters of nomads who grew old by 35, to a rich, high-tech, worldwide culture whose members can achieve a full four-score and ten. Beyond bare subsistence, most things require more than one person to do productively, especially in an age where our work … [Read more...]

Are We Evolving into Better Multitaskers? Reply Hazy, Ask Again Later

“Multitasking: the art of doing twice as much as you should half as well as you could.” – Anonymous Wouldn't it be great if you could multitask as well as a computer? If you could partition your brain to handle multiple tasks at once, you'd surely achieve peak productivity and get much more work done at the office. This idea became pervasive back in the 1980s and 1990s, as computers became ubiquitous and indispensable. But while computers made us more productive, today's experts will tell you there's a great deal wrong with the idea of multitasking. First, even most computers don't really multitask; they just switch from one task to another very, very fast. And we all know what happens when you ask a computer to do too much at once. Everything slows to a crawl, until the system either … [Read more...]