Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Work Hard, Be Productive

I've worked in some fast pace environments, from the Marines to startups. The one thing I've noticed is there's some confusion between working hard, looking busy, getting excited and actually being productive and making money.

Many people are drawn to day trading because it's exciting. Big mistake. If you're looking for a rush then ride a roller coaster or go to Vegas. If you're going to war or building a startup then work smart and be productive. In the Marines, we used to say, "It's easy to be hard. It's hard to be smart."

The key to good leadership is to give your people enough direction by prioritizing tasks (with deadlines) and then let them go. The antithesis is to interrupt them. I once worked for a boss who was horrible at communicating in a timely fashion. Nearly all phone calls and meetings had no agenda or succinct purpose. Non-pressing deadlines were set and then changed without clear reason. Actually, the real reason is he was disorganized and he had poor time management skills. He never wrote down any of his tasks that I saw and he couldn't  prioritize tasks or timelines. Ideas would pop in his head and he'd spit them out, regardless of the urgency. It was interruption after interruption.

Interruptions Be Gone

One thing to realize is that every call, text, IM and e-mail is an interruption. Each interruption is going to knock a person out of their productivity zone so it's important to weigh the interruption with the importance and urgency of the information being passed along. Many people constantly interrupt coworkers and subordinates because they're worried about forgetting their own assignments. Instead, they should simply write down everything they need to do (both what they need to do and what they need others to do) and then sync up with their coworkers during planned meetings rather than unplanned interruptions.

If you think making money is directly proportional to how smart you are or hard you work then you need to think twice. I worked way harder in the Marine Corps than I did after I left Apple when I just sat back and watched the price of my Apple stock, originally purchased at less than $10/share, go to $500–$700/share. Guess where I made more money: USMC or AAPL?

So, before interrupting a colleague, ask yourself if your interruption is urgent and important enough to justify it or can it wait until the recipient is better prepared to receive the information? Another test, before interrupting, is to ask yourself what will happen if you wait to pass the info?

Need more tips? See Time Management in the 21st Century.

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