What Can You Control at Work Anyway?
Early in my career, I had a mentor tell me that if I really wanted to be successful, I should focus my work efforts “on the things I can control,” as opposed to the “things that are not within my control.”
Sounds easy and smart, right? It did to me.
But, like many intuitively appealing simple ideas, when scrutinized, turns out to be nothing more than a mere platitude. Not at all useful when trying to sort out the very wonky concept of who controls what in today’s highly collaborative workplace.
Today, most people’s work involves so many imprecise hand-offs that dissecting “who did what” at the end of the day is hard to do. As a result, worker evaluations often include arbitrarily assigned “responsibilities” that frustrate the employee more than develop them.
Do a quick Google search on “Why Annual Reviews Suck” and you’ll see how hot this issue is.
The “welcome to the NFL” reality is that much of what we get evaluated on in our jobs today are mostly outside of our direct “control.” It is just the way it is. Get used to it.
Three Things Completely in your Control
Regardless of role, workload, or set of tasks, here are three things you can do that will have a positive impact on your work life. All are within your direct control.
- Put in the Time.
- Raise the Bar on You and Your Work.
- Bring Happiness to Work.
Put in the Time
Showing up every day with a great attitude and a singular focus in doing your job is the ground floor for all high performance and career advancement.
This is because showing up consistently is hard to do and even harder to sustain. People get distracted by their lives, growing too comfortable in their roles, and pushing the limits of the autonomy the may have earned.
We’ve all known someone who “is always texting at work” or “is always shopping on Amazon,” or worst, “returning calls from Costco or their kid’s baseball game.” Don’t be that person. Work when you are supposed to be working.
Do this, and over time you will differentiate yourself from your peers as one who is disciplined, accountable, and mature. In other words, you will be a great and trustworthy employee they will look to promote.
So, get your mojo on, show up every day, and be fully ready to go. Check your problems at the door. And, don’t talk about them. Resist the urge to call in sick when you’re not. If you have some free time, ask if anyone needs, saying “I have some capacity!” Show up a little early, and leave a little late. And, actually, work from home if you are lucky enough to have that type of role.
Raise the Bar on Yourself and Your Work
High quality work trumps anything else you can do on the job for your career. Everyone notices and respects excellent work.
So, raise the bar on your own work. Keep making it incrementally better. Seek feedback. Brainstorm. Ask for ideas. Ask others how what you did could be made better. Brainstorm. Ask for a second set of eyes. Remember, don’t take feedback on your work personally. It’s about the job, not you as a person.
Pressure test deadlines. “You really need this by XX?” “Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency!” Help others set their expectations about your work and timeframes by letting them know how much time you need.
Then get it right! Do not be the one who sends out the proposal at the last minute full of typos and other errors. Get it right. All. The. Time. Make high quality, your trademark, and brand.
Then raise the bar on yourself. Care about your appearance. Dress well. Be professional. Pay attention to the words you use. Be concise. Avoid profanity. Write formally. Participate in team meetings and events. Be a joiner. Learn to turn off your phone. Be pleasant. Smile. Make eye contact. Keep your promises. Be easy to work with.
And once you become that high-quality work person, do not get snooty about it. No one likes snooty people.
Be Happy at Work
If I could impart one more nugget to help with your career, it is this: look to be happy at work rather than for work to make you happy.
For years I had this backward. I thought if I found the right job, somehow I’d be happier. Wrong!
It turns out the job has little to do with how happy you are. Other factors drive happiness. Not the position. There has been significant research on this topic in the past twenty years that backs this up.
Anecdotally, we have all known folks who should be happy with their jobs. Great pay, great job. But, for whatever reason, were not pleased. Conversely, we have all known people who had terrible jobs but were over the moon to be working. It’s all about the attitude.
So, decide to be that happy person, who, irrespective of the job, the boss, the task, the weather, the commute, whatever, is always happy. Sound impossible? It is not. I’ve done it.
Just make being happy a priority and work at it in your off hours. Get the sleep you need. Exercise. Develop and sustain relationships. Do charitable work. Find a hobby that gets you out of yourself. Do that, and you will be happy. It’s science.
And, you know what? The world loves happy people. Happy people are more comfortable to be around and work with. People will do favors for you. They will follow your lead. And, as a result, you will find that being happier will make you more productive, and even more content!
Wrapping it Up
Putting in the time, raising the bar on your work and yourself, and showing up happy to work is not easy to do. But, I would argue, is one hundred percent within your control. This is not often the case for the actual work you do. So, this is really good to focus on.
Do this consistently, and you will be a more productive, respected, and happier employee that will stand out from the crowd. With these three habits embedded in your DNA, no telling where your career will take you.