At some point in your career you are going to be assigned to a less than exciting project. It is inevitable, so it’s important you prepare yourself for it as early as possible. As cliché as it may sound, when life gives you lemons (you know where I’m headed with this). These seemingly mundane assignments give you the opportunity to showcase your talents. Ultimately, it’s up to you to manage your own career. Use assignments to perfect your craft and hedge your experiences into other opportunities. The following strategies will help you take your uninteresting assignments and turn them into some of the most exciting moments in your career.
Put yourself out there
Identify the key stakeholders and engage. Engage, engage, engage. I can’t stress this enough. Most of the time your key stakeholders will be obvious. However, there are almost always supporting members of your team, or a team you often collaborate, who will be critical to your mission’s success. Involve everyone early in the planning process. Keep everyone engaged throughout execution. Do your best to make yourself the single point of contact. It will be demanding but you will ultimately turn yourself into a key factor to the project’s success. This will give you the opportunity to wear many hats. This is a good thing. The more skills you can acquire the more valuable and marketable you become.
The devil is in the details
Study all the variables. The more you immerse yourself in your project the more you will see how inefficient you have been operating. Most projects, especially if you join a team late, will have growing pains after kickoff. Take the time to learn how past projects have been planned and executed. Unless you are at the forefront of innovation most of what you will work on has been done before. Turn to the archives and read about past projects. Learn from past mistakes and improve on past inefficiencies. Today most companies have a robust document and control system. Dig into the weeds. Spend some time studying the successes and failures of past projects.
Trust your team
You may or may not like Michael Jordan but there is no doubt that he is a natural leader. He brought the best out of his teammates. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman may not have ever developed into the players they did had it not been for Michael’s leadership on the court. You will find yourself in that position often in your career. It’s important to trust in your teammates. Assuming they are a key stakeholder in your project, there is a good chance that they aren’t in their positions by chance. Most organizations today are for the most part merit based. Trust your senior constituents but hold them accountable. People tend to find a way then they are given autonomy to complete a task. Remember a supervisor will stand over someone’s shoulder and dictate what they should be doing. A leader will turn the people around them into a championship winning team. Keep your team focused on the goal and avoid getting caught in the day to day minutiae.
It’s 6 o’clock in the evening and you’re still at work. You want to go home but somehow there is still too much that needs to get done. How did this happen? You do your best to be as efficient as possible but somehow at the end of the day there is always something that you feel was left incomplete. The truth is, there will always be work that needs to be done. A work day is never truly over but it must have a clearly defined end. Don’t forget, work will always be there waiting for you tomorrow morning.
Death to the 8-hour work day
Long gone are the 8-hour work days. Many companies nowadays have adopted alternative work schedules such as the 9/80 and 19/30. Personally, I do not believe these work schedules do much to improve work-life balance. Flexible schedules seem to inadvertently lead to spending more time than is necessary at work. Throughout my career I have worked various work schedules and I have found that a rotational schedule gave me the best work-life balance. During that time, I would work 14 days and be off for 14 days. This allowed me to travel extensively, work on projects and focus on personal development. Today I work a more traditional work schedule in a typical office environment. There are a lot of challenges that come with this type of arrangement, but it is manageable if you set clear boundaries with yourself and your colleagues.
First one in and last one out
Conventional wisdom will have you believe that productivity is a function of time. This is true to a point, but an important caveat is productivity is also a function of quality. The adage more is not better carries a lot of truth. Quality time management is invaluable to success in whatever endeavor you pursue. Just because someone physically spends more time at work does not mean they are accomplishing more than someone who spends less time at work. Quality time management can make all the difference in how quickly and efficiently you can complete the critical tasks that bring the most value to your company.
Work to live, don’t live to work
Tragedy is working at a job you hate for a lifetime, constantly looking ahead to retirement. I am not foolish, I understand everyone has responsibilities. Therefore work-life balance must be a priority. If you make the decision to work a job you’re less than passionate about, than you must set clear boundaries with yourself and hold yourself accountable. Decide what is important and schedule the rest around it. It’s not easy, and you may never get that corner office if you do, but at the end of it all who wants to be stuck in an office all day anyway? No matter how nice it is.
Have you ever walked out of a meeting feeling like you presented yourself terribly? How about the feeling like no matter what you say to the person sitting across from you they’re still going to despise you?
Often when we get these impressions from people we are ultimately projecting our own feelings onto them. They may just be having a stressful day, or something may be bothering them in their personal lives. It’s easy to forget that the person we are talking to has a life outside of their daily interaction with us; and feel like if they are upset, it must be because of something we did or said. To be fair, some people are genuinely abrasive, and I don’t advise backing down to these people. Never be afraid to speak your mind and stand up for yourself. There is a balance between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Never allow yourself to get angry. Once you get angry you have allowed the situation to dictate your feelings. We should never allow the environment to dictate our emotional state; that’s how animals live their lives. When things get tense or heated; I find that the best method is to detach myself from the situation and reassess all the variables. Detachment has been a great tactic in understanding my audience. By taking yourself out of the equation you can look at it from a practical perspective. There may be factors at play that you failed to consider when you were emotionally invested in the conversation.
A mentor once said to me, “no matter how old you get don’t forget that we’re all still kids in a playground.” How right he was. Our playground becomes the places we work; and playground rules will always apply. If you let the school bully knock you down once you’re doomed to be his punching bag for the rest of the time you’re there. As a disclaimer, I DO NOT condone violence. I believe you can say anything you want to anyone you want but delivery is key. You must put yourself in the minds of your audience. What will this person respond to? What are their life principles? Knowing a little about your audience will serve you well when communicating with them. You can relate to them more. People want you to understand them as much as you want to be understood. A great book I read on communication was Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson. As a coach you must become a master at reading people because your job ultimately depends on your ability to simultaneously communicate with a wide variety of personalities. Can you imagine what it might have been like to coach Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman? It’s no different for any of us on any day of the week.
You must learn to communicate effectively with whoever you are talking to; whether it’s the CEO or the maintenance person. We are all very different, but we are all really the same. We all want to be valued and respected; if we suspect that either of those things are in jeopardy we’ll defend them tooth and nail. So, spend time learning how to read a person. Be genuine, people can immediately sense when you are coming across as phony. A simple lunch will pay dividends when it comes to building relationships. What’s more universal than eating? Take an interest in the people you work with. Everyone has an amazing story to tell, if only someone would take the time to listen.
If you’re interested in reading Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, check out the link below. I personally loved this book and found Phil’s insights highly applicable to both my personal and professional life.