Work is the Magic Bullet

Getting Ahead Means Working Hard, Smart, and Building Trust along the Way

I’m the CEO of a digital design studio called Happy Cog. We have thirty-two people in Philadelphia, Austin, and New York, and we design online experiences. As a card carrying ship-steerer, I’m here to tell you how you can get ahead in your career. But first, a quick story.

I was recently invited to speak with my business partner at ConvergeFL in Jacksonville, Florida. I was privileged to see a number of inspiring talks from a roster of speakers with whom I was largely unfamilar.

A talk by J Cornelius really caught my attention. His speaking style is rather, shall we say, direct. It’s kind of a lecture, actually. At first, I said to myself, “Wow, this guy is pretty angry.” I eventually realized he really just wants to make you think before you say and do silly things, and you can’t convey that convincingly with a smile and a wink. In his talk, he pointed out a few no-no’s that I was definitely guilty of, so I was a bit defensive/angry/weepy as I slouched deeper into my theater seat.

J Cornelius. He’s not as angry as he looks.

A core refrain of his talk (as well as its title) was Shut Up & Get to Work (he’s even got a Twitter account that reminds you to do this frequently). His message was pretty simple — you should spend less time being fake, braggy, and troll-like and spend more time actually working. He challenged people to put constraints on themselves. Or ship something incomplete. Work, and stop talking about working.

My favorite line from his talk was:

“No one looks back on their lives and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep.”

A few takeaways from J’s time onstage:

  • Stop bragging about doing your work on social media
  • Stop talking about answering your email and actually answer it
  • It’s okay to release something half-baked
  • Give up trying to be super-focused—sometimes the most compelling ideas are the most messy ones
  • Give up trying to be the center of attention
  • Don’t sit and wait for things to happen

And J isn’t alone in his assessments. With respect to hard work, my friend Mike Monteiro posted this on Twitter. And if you haven’t seen Aaron Draplin give his “Tall Tales from a Big Man” talk in one of the gajillion cities he’s done it in (spoiler: it’s amazing), working hard is a core mantra.

Yes, Hard Work Gets You Promoted

If getting ahead for you means getting promoted, I can help you. Bosses promote hard, smart workers. And by working hard, I’m not talking about pulling 60-80 hour work weeks. That’s working inefficiently.

Here are ten things you can do to catch your boss’s attention:

  1. Take initiative. Or, in other words, lead. Do something without being told to do it. Pick a thing, own it, and make it better. Repeat.
  2. Appreciate what you have instead of complaining about what you don’t. You’re not entitled to anything. You earn things as you prove yourself. Achievements unlock.
  3. Show up early and stay late. Not all the time, but especially when you’re needed the most. You won’t have to tell your boss. Your boss will know.
  4. Help others. Make your teammates better, whether they report to you or not. Lend a hand when someone is overwhelmed. Get a coworker coffee. Hold the elevator door for someone. Karma is real.
  5. Proofread everything. Typos are lazy, and enough of them over time undermines confidence in you. Take the extra time to care about what you’re putting out there. It matters.
  6. Sweat the details. Respond to meeting invitations. Organize your Photoshop layers like a crazy person. Deliver on your promises quickly. Don’t refer to daylight saving time as “standard time.” That kind of detail.
  7. Share your knowledge. Speak, write, teach about what you do, or an aspect of it. Expand your reach as a professional. It will benefit both you and the organization you work for. Bonus points all around.
  8. Embrace conflict. Ignoring a disagreement won’t make it go away. Talk to someone you’re having a problem with directly and promptly. Face-to-face is preferred, then Skype, then phone. Text message conflict resolution is a bad idea. And don’t think talking about someone behind their back won’t get to them eventually. Oh, it will.
  9. Lead by example. Even if you don’t manage others, do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t tell other people to do something that you’re not expected to do yourself.
  10. Perspective comes with experience. Gain experience before telling people how they should do things. I’ve been a manager since 1997, so I think I’m justified in writing this article, and I happen to believe that your time on Earth does make a difference in your ability to offer sound advice. Mark Boulton had a couple of tweets that spoke to this:

There is no express train to success. It’s years of taking the local, studying everything that rolls by your window. Trying to short circuit plain old hard work by job-hopping, artificially inflating yourself, taking shortcuts, or waxing poetic about subject matter you don’t know as much about as you think you do will come back to haunt you. Find some inspiration, put your head down, and get to work. It won’t feel like work, and good things will happen.

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