the best work advice you ever received

I recently asked readers to share the best advice you’ve ever received about how to succeed at work. I shared my favorite 10 over at the Fast Track blog by Intuit QuickBase today. You can read it here.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. RB*

    Woohoo! Made #2!

    Seriously, I love the comments here as much as I love Alison’s blog. I can always take away something useful from both.

    1. Coelura*

      SWEET! Gotta love hearing that someone else is getting something out of advice that I’ve shared forward!

      I always share this one with my employees – I truly think it helps so much with balancing home & work.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        That must be really powerful, coming from their boss. What a great standard to set – this work is important, but I’m not asking for it to be the most important part of your life.

          1. Piper*

            Maybe that is the norm (as it should be), but I’ve encountered my fair share of people who clearly put work first and expected everyone at their company to do the same. The boss was working on his second divorce because of this and many other employees’ relationships were suffering because they followed his terrible “work comes first” advice. I was viewed as the “lazy” employee because I didn’t work 80 hour weeks. Never mind that I was productive and got a ton of results and turned out many successful projects in the short time I was there before I was laid off.

              1. Piper*

                Right, and I agree that a boss sending the message that family should come first is a great message for a manager to send. I’m not disagreeing with you; simply relaying my experience with the exact opposite and how it’s a stupid idea for a manager to say that work comes first.

              2. Victoria Nonprofit*

                Oh, crap – I’m sorry I didn’t see your response until now.

                That wasn’t sarcasm! I was being totally sincere: It’s awesome for an employer to say out loud that work isn’t the most important thing in the world.

                (I’m basically never sarcastic – it’s just not my thing – so this happens to me all the time. People think I’m being snarky when I’m just trying to be earnest. :))

        1. Coelura*

          I have found that people start doing more rework than productive work after about 45 hours per week. And the higher their home stress, the more mistakes they make. So it makes more sense for my employees to be highly focused & super productive in 40-45 hours than for them to be 75% for 60 hours and 15 hours of those 60 to be rework. My people end up getting more done at a higher quality.

          Plus – the big thing is that they don’t have nearly as many anger outbursts and interpersonal issues in the workplace when their energy is aligned with their priorities. As an IT PMO shop, the pressure can be overwhelming. So its really important to reduce it where possible.

          I know that its a bit odd for a senior leader to encourage alignment & balance. But it really does result in better work performance & happier employees. My folks are very loyal & will go over & above when they feel its necessary – because they are encouraged to keep their priorities & energy in alignment.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            Just to be clear, I genuinely think that was awesome for you to say, and I’m bummed that I gave you the impression that I was snarking on you!

  2. CoffeeLover*

    #4 I learned the hard way :P

    #7 Is a major way I work and something that annoys me in others. I can’t stand when people waste time explaining why they didn’t get something done or why they messed up. Tell me you messed up, what that means and how your fixing it. Period.

    #9 Is something I need to keep in mind and to really work on.

  3. Kristi*

    #10 Work will still be here tomorrow

    I completely agree with #10 but use a slightly different interpretation. Once you start starting early, staying late or skipping lunch to get that To Do List done, it may become expected that you’ll ALWAYS carry such a heavy workload without a problem. As I learned, the To Do List will always have more to do, and there’s nothing on it that can’t wait. Certainly nothing you’re getting paid enough to spend more time away from your family/friends/life.

    1. Blinx*

      Exactly! I used to say “well, I could be here until midnight and still not get it all done, so I may as well leave at 6.” You can drive yourself crazy!

  4. Allison*

    Kinda wish my boss believed in 10. He decided it was unprofessional to start a task and not finish it by the end of the day, so the new rule is that we can’t start anything we won’t be able to finish by 5:30, and if we don’t finish something we have to stay late to finish it.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Well, most tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks. “Develop a training program for new members” is actually “Set objectives for training program,” “Select trainer,” “Book room for training program,” and on and on and on.

        But still. He crazy.

      2. some1*

        Ntm, it gives employees a perfect excuse to goof off at the end of the day. If I finish my last task at 4:40, and I am supposed to leave at 5:00 but there are no tasks I could finish in 20 minutes, what’s to stop me?

  5. Pam*

    I loved this topic and was really inspired my many of the comments. Thanks as always, Alison, for the great content on this site!

  6. Blinx*

    #1 resonated with me – always couching responses with “I think we should do this…” instead of “We should do this…”. Still working on that one!

  7. Anonymous*

    Number 10 made me laugh. I get what the point is, but it sounds like her boss telling her “It will be here tomorrow” when she’s trudging away on a Friday night is saying “Come in on Saturday and finish your work.”

    1. Tax Nerd*

      I thought the same thing – that her boss was telling her to come in on Saturday to work.

  8. Corporate Cowgirl*

    Great list! Defintely agree with #8 (be responsive) and the fact that most people don’t do this. However, I noticed that by being responsive, it helps me influence without authority when I need it.

  9. Nil nil*

    #8 was great!! Really helps define the line between work and what’s important…a line that is often all too nebulous!! Really look forward to employing this tip.

  10. Bryce*

    If ever there’s a need for a #11, it should be this one from a former college professor:

    “First, find work. Then, find a job. After that, find a career.”

  11. YAK*

    Thanks Alison! I told my boyfriend about this thread and he told me to go through and pick out the good ones – glad you got to it before I did :)

  12. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

    Every company has a problem or a goal they are trying to reach. Be the answer to their needs and don’t go in thinking they are the solution to your needs.

  13. Kou*

    So the returning calls/emails one actually reminds me of something I’ve had rattling around in my head for a while: Why is it that it’s so common to call or email someone and never get a response whatsoever? How is it that so many people are unresponsive that we consider it totally normal to have to re-contact people on a regular basis?

    I know some people are busy, sometimes you forget, etc, but that doesn’t really explain how incredibly common it is for a voicemail or an email to just disappear into the void once it’s left you. How often is it a person being overwhelmed vs unorganized vs just straight up ignoring something because they don’t think it’s important? Maybe I’ve just never been busy or important enough to want to do that, I don’t know, but I don’t know if I would ever feel really comfortable just letting messages slip with any kind of frequency.

    1. moss*

      I am actually leaving my job over this. My manager ignored my emails too much. Buh Bye.

    2. Original Dan*

      Huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t understand how some people can’t take 10 seconds to send a quick reply. SMH

  14. Jill*

    Mine came from my first boss:
    Sometimes ya gotta toot your own horn.

    I live in the Midwest where we tend to be a bit humble. Plus she was a woman and so am I. It’s a common thing for some people to think that merely mentioning an accomplishment is on the same level as bragging. But if you only ever work behind the scenes you can be overlooked because people assume you never do anything of importance.

    So if you have a particular accomplishment (getting a degree, getting praise from people outside your department, being asked to participate on a special team…whatever) mention it. Not in an overly arrogant way, but just in a way that reminds people that you are relevant.

  15. Rana*

    I have to think that #10 needs both context and some qualifications. If it’s on-going work, then, yes, there’s no point in killing yourself over it, just like it makes no sense to take a vacation day to do twenty loads of laundry in a misguided belief that you’ll not have to do it again in a week or two.

    But sometimes the work will not “be there tomorrow” if we’re talking projects with hard deadlines. I do my very best to avoid last-minute crunches by being efficient and working at a slightly more intense pace throughout, but sometimes? It happens. And if you’re working on a project where missing a deadline will cause all sorts of grief and chaos, then, yeah, you gotta suck it up because “tomorrow” is too late – either the work gets done today, or you just ended up wasting weeks of work.

    So I think you need to know what sort of work your work is, and whether a day’s difference really does matter – or not.

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