It’s Monday morning again and you find yourself reluctantly ambling toward the office. The dread of another week is fully upon you now, having set in sometime late last night. Deadlines are looming, work is piling up, and the boss seems to have you fixed squarely on his radar. Most of us know this feeling all too well. But just as you think you’re about to be completely overwhelmed, let me give you some good advice that I’ve honed and gathered over the course of many such Mondays. At the end of the day, it’s not about working hard; it’s about working smart and going home.
Let’s be honest, the old maxims simply don’t hold water any longer (assuming they ever did). Working hard only paints you as someone willing to take on extra work. Working long hours suggests you don’t have a personal life and are readily available during off-hours (not to mention being seen as someone who can’t get their work done during the normal 9–5). Ditto for taking lunch at your desk. Instead, learn and remember these three principles which are guaranteed to make your life easier.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Yes, it seems a bit contrary at first but only because the reality of corporate life seems to run perpendicular to common sense. Intuition would suggest that doing good work, taking initiative, and assuming responsibility are behaviors worth rewarding. If only it were so. Suppose you have a great idea. Raising your hand high during a meeting you proclaim, “XYZ can be improved by doing ABC, thereby saving 123.” Your proposal is greeted with enthusiastic nods, approvals, and exaltations. Who gets put in charge of ABC? You do of course. And does this mean that your boss will clear off your calendar so you can go off to a quiet corner of the office and work on proposal ABC? Yeah right!
By next week’s meeting, ABC is no longer a fresh new initiative, but another bullet on your list of deadlines. Same goes for minor action items as well. If you’ve done something for the first time, you become the automatic go-to person. Always be sure to share knowledge with those around you and downplay the degree of involvement. Just make sure your own work is done on time and keep your head down. Be vocal, yet uninvolved. Influence, but never act. If this is beginning to sound a little too Buddhist, just remember how relaxed he was …
Work Expands to Fill the Time Available
This is formally known as Parkinson’s Law, and it references a ubiquitous administrative fact with which we are all too familiar: Give someone a week to complete an assignment, and it will take a week; give some one a month, and it will genuinely feel like a month’s worth of work. As far back as we can remember the teacher saying, “Don’t wait till the night before to complete this assignment,” and taking it more as a challenge than a word of caution, we have been in the presence of Parkinson’s Law. Now that we’ve shed some light on it, let’s learn to use it to our advantage. Knowing this means understanding that there is no task too small to be dragged out longer. The further ahead you can set a deadline, the easier your pace can be; no eyebrows will rise. Which takes us straight into our third law.
You’re great, we both know it. So when duty is being delegated, naturally you’ll want to jump up and say, “I can do this! I’ll even add bells and whistles and do it in half the time!” Well, don’t. Take a moment and remember Parkinson’s Law. Also remember that in the workplace, it’s not about delivery, it’s about managing expectations. If management is expecting a great result in N days, then delivering a great result in N days isn’t going to catch anyone by surprise (not delivering is a different story). That’s why you underpromise. If you know you can make one hundred doodads by Monday, promise eighty by Wednesday. This way, working at a nice comfortable pace, you can announce Tuesday afternoon that you’ve come in one day early with twenty doodads extra. You look like a hero simply by working at your normal pace. And don’t be shy about it; you are the expert. If you say something’s going to take a week, who’s going to second guess you? Its bargaining 101: always start high—you may just get it.
Sit Back and Look Annoyed
This is actually a bonus tip (see previous rule) from the guru of professional slacking: Seinfeld’s George Costanza. Now that you’ve freed up your calendar and are looking to relax or do some Web surfing, how do you do it without the appearance of spacing? Simply, look annoyed. For some odd (possibly Darwinian) reason, we have come to associate annoyance with actively doing our jobs (I wonder why). So furrow your brow, concentrate your gaze, and BAM! You are properly busy. Try it in the mirror if you still have doubts.
I do hope you have found this guide useful, enlightening, and entertaining. Please let us know how this works out for you and feel free to share any of your own great tips in the comments!