Getting Stuff Done

This is the one skill that makes you indispensable in any career

Thomas Plummer
Jul 9, 2019 · 6 min read
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By Fizkes on iStock

If I had to choose one person to run my company, it would be the man or woman who can get things done. Perhaps the single biggest differentiator between people who rise in their careers, or struggle for decades trapped in a middle level job going nowhere, is the ability to finish what they promised to do, when they promised it, and the work or project is done correctly as they said it would done.

I have been a business consultant for most of my working life, and after decades of trying to help small business owners survive and thrive, one could separate every small business owner or manager I have ever worked with into two distinct categories.

The first is the person who get the things done that need be done correctly, timely and without drama. Whatever it took, this person made it happen. He or she found a way to finish the task no matter the obstacles; they found the resources, improvised as needed, and what was promised was delivered.

The second category is the person who calls me back and tells me why he didn’t get it done, or it is almost done, or he will get it done this week, or he or she just didn’t have the resources they needed to finish what they told me they would do. In other words, this person gave me every excuse he knew to defend why he did not get done what needed to get done — and what he promised he would take personal responsibility for to ensure it was finished.

It sounds simplistic, but the definer between success in small business, and laying in the gutter wondering where your business went, is to keep moving ahead when others stumble. People who survive in small business get more things done as promised when others can’t.

This type of owner also hires people who have a record of success. Getting things done as promised in a work environment leaves an obvious trail of success. Smart owners and managers know education and talent is important, but a record of successfully delivering quality work in your job, beyond your normal tasks, may be the most important job attribute you could possess.

Getting things done affects every part of the business. The projects and work individual employees control keep bigger projects and the overall direction of the company going in the right direction.

Customer service promises given, but never met, often can take down a small business, such as a restaurant, in a matter of months, not years. Bigger projects, such as a conversion to a new software system handled by a team, can set a small business in fast progression if done smoothly and as promised, or stop it in its tracks as it wallows in months of ineffectiveness as the team struggles to finish what was guaranteed months ago.

Commitments given as an independent freelance worker, such as writers or software people, can also make or crush a new career. Work promised on deadlines is counted on by others, and missing those deadlines is a fast track to never working for that company again.

The rules of getting it done

Every project you accept and finish on time is a personal test of your ability as a manager or employee. The result of this test is either pass or fail; there is no middle ground where you are not judged. As others around you stumble, your reputation as a person that can be counted on in tough times rises. The road to the top of whatever heap you are chasing starts with your ability to do as you promised, when you promised.

One of the traps in being a finisher is having a supervisor that keeps moving the goal line further ahead, meaning getting it done never can happen. Never get into a project without understanding what completely finished looks like. Are there metrics that define done? Is there a deadline for that design and what does it have to represent as done? Is there small print that you would stumble over as a writer where what you submit was on time but incorrect for the specs?

The fastest way out of the pack is to ask for the work the others can’t do then get it done. Supervisors are humans who have their own agendas. Making your boss look good is a strong way to emerge from a herd of others who work hard, but don’t take on the big projects that sets you apart. It isn’t doing your job that gives you the spotlight; it is learning to go beyond what is expected of you that will set you apart.

If you are a manager, look past the credentials. We sometimes put too much weight on education and titles and not enough on whether the one you want to hire can do the work you need. I want proof any employee is a finisher. How much responsibility did they have in their last jobs for key projects and were they successful?

This is perhaps the simplest of all interview questions because it only takes a few minutes, and a couple of open-ended questions, by a war weary manager to know if the person in front of you had the ability and drive to get things done at their last hire. The good ones tell you how they overcame obstacles; the not so good tell you in detail how they failed and the excuses they used then come alive again.

If you want to be the one everyone seeks out because you have the talent to finish, then understand there is no acceptable excuse for failure. You are a problem solver in this role and every important task faces a solid wall of things that could, and always do, go wrong. How you solve these problems is the difference between you and the one who tried, and failed, because he found excuse easier than solving the issues slowing you down.

Being the finisher is all about personal responsibility. Those who rise to start their own companies, or run the ones that become legends, are the ones who thrive on the pressure of it being all about them. They want the pressure, the challenge and the sweat it takes to be good, which is why so few rise from among so many.

You will crash. There will be bosses who move the line, new hires who work against you, goals that change and problems that are outside your ability to solve…but not often.

Apologize, admit it was you, state the facts, and then go again. The failures diminish as you get more experience, and good managers or owners know when it wasn’t you that became the issue. Accept the loss, but don’t lose the faith in yourself.

Getting it done is the missing trait in most employees. Every office has those good people who do their work, but never anything more, and who are the core of a good small company.

But no small company survives without someone willing to chase the big goals and get them done. Getting stuff done might be the biggest skill set you haven’t found in yourself yet, but the one that will make all the difference in your career.

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Thomas Plummer

Written by

A simple life dedicated to leaving the world a little better than I found it. Long career in the business of fitness, writer of books, speaker, personal coach.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

Thomas Plummer

Written by

A simple life dedicated to leaving the world a little better than I found it. Long career in the business of fitness, writer of books, speaker, personal coach.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

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