Almost everybody would consider themselves to be a hard worker. After all, who wants to admit that they’re a slacker, or the weakest link on a team. The reason most people perceive themselves to be hard workers is because of the number of hours they put into their job. And yes, many of us put in many hours. But are hours the only indicator of what it means to be a hard worker? Does how you work, not just how many hours you work, contribute to what hard work really looks like?
As I’ve reflected on what it means to be a hard worker, certain qualities come to mind. Each of these qualities are more than stand alone traits, but rather part of a pathway to becoming a high performance achiever. They exhibit the core of a strong work ethic, and the ability to get things done.
The Hard Worker Pathway
1. Priorities: Begin with the End in Mind
The Hard Worker Pathway begins not with the path, but with the ultimate destination. Being a hard worker starts by having the right priorities. It doesn’t do much good to work hard toward a destination that doesn’t matter. When we don’t begin with the end in mind, we end up in a place we never had in mind.
To help you establish the right priorities, practice the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule says that 80% of your outcomes are the result of 20% of your causes. In other words, 20% of your activity will deliver 80% of your impact. Or, 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales. Or, 20% of your products and services will account for 80% of your profits. Or, 20% of your tasks will result in 80% of the value you add to the organization.
To practice the 80/20 Rule, create a list of everything you do at work (there may be dozens of activities). Then, choose the 20% of the items on your list that have the greatest impact on the organization. Finally, invest as much time as possible in the top 20%, realizing they will likely produce 80% of your results. If you’re trying to figure out how to identify your top 20%, ask yourself three questions:
- What are my organization’s top priorities?
- What are my greatest strengths?
- What activities provide the greatest return on my investment of time?
Where your answers to these three questions intersect should give you a clue to your top 20%. Look for ways to delegate or outsource the remaining tasks. Many of them may simply be time-wasters that you should stop doing.
2. Initiative: Get Started Now
Hard workers understand the importance of taking initiative. It’s not enough to talk…talk has to become action. When taking initiative, remember the 3 Ps:
- Be Prompt – Arrive on time to work, meetings, and appointments. If you’re continually late, you’re probably overscheduling, oversleeping, or underestimating how much time a task takes.
- Own Problems – Hard workers own problems as they arise. They don’t point fingers, blame others, or say, “That’s not my job.” When problems arise, they take initiative to resolve them quickly.
- Be Proactive – Hard workers don’t procrastinate. They’re self-motivated, driven, and have a bias toward action. You never have to light a fire under a proactive person.
3. Quality: Consistently Deliver Excellence
I recently heard Andy Stanley share a story about Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-Fil-A). Back in the 90s, there was a company called “Boston Chicken” (that eventually became “Boston Market”) who was a serious competitor of Chick-Fil-A. Boston Chicken had huge expansion plans with a goal to have a billion dollars in sales by the year 2000. The Chick-Fil-A insiders were a little nervous about Boston Chicken’s ambitious plans. Things culminated in a meeting with Chick-Fil-A’s Vice Presidents and marketing team as they kept asking how Chick-Fil-A could get bigger, faster.
Truett Cathy was in the meeting, sitting quietly at the end of the table. He didn’t even look very engaged in the meeting. After a fair bit of discussion among the leadership team, Truett suddenly started banging his fist on the table. This was unlike Truett, and suddenly everyone stopped talking. Then he said, “Gentlemen, I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about us getting bigger.” After a pause he continued, “What we need to be talking about is getting better. If we get better, our customers will demand that we get bigger.” That shifted the entire conversation. Ironically, in 1998, Boston Market filed for bankruptcy, and in 2000, Chick-Fil-A hit a billion dollars in sales.
Hard workers are committed to getting better. They have an insatiable desire to continually improve. They learn best practices, implement the right solutions, and measure results. Hard workers are committed to delivering the highest level of quality day after day.
4. Efficiency: Maximize Your Time
John Maxwell once said that unmanaged time flows to our weaknesses, the trivial, and emergencies that surface in the moment. But hard workers learn to manage their time by delivering quality with efficiency.
To maximize your time, set aside larger segments of time in your schedule. You’ll always have small segments of time created for you (a meeting ends early, a task takes less time than you thought, etc.), but large blocks of time have to be scheduled on purpose.
Furthermore, invest in time-saving systems. Rory Vaden, author of Procrastinate on Purpose, makes a powerful observation about automating systems. Vaden asserts that automation is to your time what compounding interest is to your money. When you create a system today that takes care of a task tomorrow, then you free up time tomorrow that would have otherwise been used by the task.
Vader drives this principle home with an example he gleaned from a business executive called “The 30x Rule.” Let’s say you have a daily task that takes you five minutes to complete. According to the 30x Rule, it will take up to 30 times longer to train somebody else to do the task. Therefore, to delegate a task that takes you five minutes to complete might require up to 150 minutes of training before you can fully delegate it. Initially, it just doesn’t seem to be worth it (after all, it only takes five minutes). But if you do this task every day (five days per week), you would spend 1,250 minutes in the course of a year on this single task (assuming you take a couple of weeks of vacation). That means if you invest 150 minutes training someone on the task, you would save 1,100 minutes in the course of a year. That’s a 733% return on time invested in one year.
Performers do the five-minute tasks, while leaders practice effective delegation. Rory Vaden observes, “What got you here as a performer, won’t get you there as a leader.” Hard workers are committed to not only doing the right priorities with high levels of quality, but also improving their efficiency and maximizing their time.
5. Persistence: Never Give Up
The reason many people don’t succeed is because they give up before success has a chance to show up. Hard workers don’t quit. They keep pushing, and looking for solutions, until they hit their goals. If we’re not careful, we’ll become allergic to persistence, always looking for the easy path. Sometimes (many times) the easy path doesn’t exist. You have to push through.
What kind of worker are you? Would the apostle Paul’s admonition, to work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), describe you? The five steps in the Hard Worker Pathway are a great place to start if you need to increase your effectiveness. If you take these steps, you’ll notice a difference…as will your boss.