“Creating Your Plan For Success at Work”

I recently posted this picture on various social media sites:

"The Reward for Work Well Done Is The Opportunity To Do More"

While many people “liked”, commented or shared this picture there was a similar amount of people who shared with me (privately) that they struggled with this sentiment because it insinuates that we must always do more (often with less) and were feeling burnt out.

The central theme of the picture is that working hard rewards you with more work.  This excites some folks and horrifies others.  Most people are probably some where in the middle.

I recently asked a colleague why there was a lack of buy-in on a particular project that some folks in our university are working on.  He told me that “People are just tired.  Maybe they can’t add one more thing to their plates?”

My jaw dropped in stunned silence.  We are university administrators, not brain surgeons. Many of us have flexibility in our schedules, generous vacation and sick time and much more job security than corporate America.

We are lucky enough to work in a field where we see students transform before our eyes. Many of us have a handful of emails and cards from students, staff and parents thanking us for the work we do.

Our work can be difficult.  We work with survivors of sexual assault, discrimination and students who may struggle with mental health concerns.  There are days that are challenging–no one would ever dispute that.

But do you know who should be “tired”?  Teachers in Newtown.  NYC police officers. Social workers.  These are people who have to deal with incredible difficulties that we cannot even imagine.

Soon after, Kari Talik posted this fantastic status update on Facebook:

“Been pondering this thought a lot lately…How do professionals who are motivated and driven to succeed in their work and profession continue to keep energized on a daily basis and not lose their mental and physical energy?”

Both the picture I posted and Kari’s sentiments are things I have heard before from supervisors, mentors, and colleagues.  This question about how to balance all of the roles in our personal life while remaining a dedicated employee focused on adding value each day can be a challenge.

In my doctoral research and other work with women in leadership I have had the opportunity to connect and hear stories from university administrators at the top levels of our university.  The lessons I have learned from them have shaped my own ideas about what it means to work hard, stay motivated and not get burned out.

Some of the common themes that I have gleamed from their professional journeys include:

1) Make wellness a priority: Stamina is key.  Our days are long and can  be emotionally draining. Working out, eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep is necessary to fend of illness and to maintain the high level of energy needed to do our work.  Obesity is a problem in our field and in our country.  How can we role-model wellness to students if we do not take care of ourselves?  It isn’t about being an Olympian or a size O–it’s about having enough energy to do our work each day.

2) Become a morning person: Although I agree that people should work at the times that are most productive for them,  getting an early start maximizes your entire day.  It allows you to have “me” time first thing in the morning, commit to a regular wellness routine and and get a jump start on the day.  Do you ever feel like you are rushing to get through the day?  An hour of morning prep time can eliminate that in most cases.

3) Make administrative tasks a top priority: Deadlines matter.  While student crises situations, unexpected parent phone calls and a last minute project from your supervisor can all potentially derail a perfectly planned out day, being ahead of your administrative tasks makes these things much less stressful.  Do you have a proposal due in two weeks?  Make sure it is completed in one week so if/when those items arise you can fully give your best self to completing them without worrying about the administrative pieces.

Failure to complete these administrative tasks in a timely manner often has a ripple effect on your other colleagues.  Be mindful of this and create a reputation built on a history of being reliable.

4) Check your 80/20 balance: Are you feeling professionally fulfilled by your job at least 80% of the time?  If not, it may be time to move on.  There is a stigma in our field about when the “appropriate” time is to move on–especially for live-in/entry-level staff but the reality is if you are no longer giving your best effort then you need to move on.  Even if it is before the four years that you had previously planned to be there. Know your expiration date and make a plan to leave your department on a high note before moving on to the next opportunity.

5) Live a blended life: Stop measuring how many hours you are in your office and start measuring your progress, wins and contributions.  Salaried employees know that it isn’t about the 9:00-5:00, it’s about the time that it takes to get the job done.  Saturday mornings are my “catch-up” time for the week–find a time that works for you.

I don’t mind leaving at 4:00 to go for a run or getting a manicure on a Friday morning–because I know that the work will get done at other times throughout the week.  I tell my staff the same thing, too. Determine when/how you will accomplish your tasks even if can’t be finished during the traditional work day.  No one ever got ahead by doing the bare minimum.

6) Measure your progress each year in “progressively responsible duties:” When you are hired you are given a position description which outlines your job tasks.  Each year you should be able to add the new things you are doing.  You are building a professional portfolio.  The initial tasks should take much less time because you know how to do them.  Figure out what opportunities you want each year and resolve to ask your supervisor how you can gain experiences in those areas.  I want to hire folks who are professionally hungry and want to add value every day.  How are you continuing to gain new experiences every year?

There is no magic formula for figuring out how to balance having more added to your plate AND to avoid being burned out.  But what you can do is make wellness a priority, maximize each day, ensure that administrative tasks are taken care of in a timely manner, ensure that you are feeling fulfilled most of the time at work (or make a conscious decision to job search), live a life that allows for less rigidity between your personal and work life and to continue to seek for new ways to stay engaged.

What tips do you have for maintaining energy and enthusiasm for the work we do?

Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz

About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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19 Responses to “Creating Your Plan For Success at Work”

  1. reneepdowdy says:

    Great post, AMK! I am currently working on becoming a morning person for many of the reasons you outlined. For others who are trying, I found that starting with doing things I enjoy early in the morning is helpful as I make this switch. I enjoy tea, spend time with my puppy, read a few of my favorite blogs, and relax. It’s my goal to add in other tasks, but it’s important to know that these changes are not a light switch and to be patient with ourselves.

    What has worked well for me is frankly the academic cycle. It is indeed a cycle – you likely know what is coming and when the hard times are around the corner. Exercise special care and attention to your wellness during those times. For example, before RA training each year while a RHD, I would spend an afternoon at the spa, go out to lunch somewhere special, and exercise self-care. I would go into training excited and energized. I also worked to advocate for other staff when we were planning training and selection activities – does this need to be on this evening or can it be coupled with a night we are all already at work late? Is it necessary to have a 8am-10pm training day (absolutely not!)? You can be the person who helps to set healthy boundaries that protect everyone’s wellness and well-being.

    • Thanks Renee! Good ideas to “bribe” yourself into becoming more of a morning person. 🙂

      You are so right–as you move up you have more of the power to dicate how that academic cyle will play out in your own department–use it to your advantage!!

      Thansk for reading!!

  2. AnneMarie I see your points. They have merit and value. I am not a highered professional yet; I am still trying to break in, instead I was the social worker you alluded to. I believe one of the answers is appreciation for your efforts. It is easier to continue to take on more when the people you are taking on more for notice and acknowledge your efforts and the contribution you make . As a child protection worker, the families rarely realized the efforts you put in for them, as a public worker, especially in this economy, you were the object of frustration from taxpayers and administration. I thrive on intrinsic rewards but even I needed outside acknowledgement from time to time.

    • Maria–thanks for reading and commenting. “Appreciation for your efforts” is indeed key. I send out 3 cards each week to thank staff, colleagues, students and other folks who continue to go above and beyond. Our work is not always lucrative at entry level and so I make sure to thank the folks who are demonstrating care and commitment to the work we do in other ways.

      I wish you the best of luck in your job search!!

  3. Dena Kniess says:

    Great post! When you mentioned police officers, that’s my younger brother. My brother is my hero, he works for the K9 Unit in Charleston, SC, has three children, and works his job as a police officer and also another off duty job to support his family. I know the trauma and violence he sees is much more than I do, but he always greets life with a sense of humor, does not complain, and just keeps moving forward.

    One thing that helps me (I still need to be more of a morning person), is what you have mentioned, take care of yourself, exercise, and make use of your down time. Also, sometimes you may not be able to do everything and knowing what you can say “no” to is helpful. I do not like to say “no” all the time, however my “no’s” are usually, I can’t devote myself fully to this right now, so I need to pass.

    • Thanks Dena! I appreciate the story about your brother–absolutely a hero!! 🙂

      Strategically placed “No’s” are indeed critical. It frees you up to be able to thrive the next time you want to say yes to something! 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. AMK — Number 6 especially resonates with me as I near the end of my time as an new professional and I’m feeling the push to find challenges in my work. I’m also re-learning the time management technique that got me through college — more scheduled events on my calendar means better use of my unscheduled time. Scheduling in time for wellness has definitely been a game-changer for me too.

    Thank you for writing the challenging posts and making me think deeply about my work.

    • Hi Becca! Would you ever intentionally skip a scheduled meeting? Probably not. So, by making wellness part of your schedule you are commiting to it in ways that hold you accountable 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!!

  5. Thank you for this. (5) resonated with me, I made it a point a couple of years ago to end my days at 5 and allow some pre-planned weekend dates and times to complete those projects that didn’t necessitate me being in the office between 9-5. During our busy times, I encourage my staff to work half a day or come in later the next day to maintain their personal balance. I’ve learned that I am OK scheduling that hair/nail appointment on a Wednesday morning.

    • Hi Michelle–thanks so much for reading and commenting. I totally understand this–you have to do what works for you, keeps you sane, and maintains high levels of productivity, too. Kudos to you for finding a system that works for you!

  6. Rebecca Lee says:

    Thank you for writing this! Sometimes we look at the opportunity to do more as a burden, however it often pays off in the long run. “More” can often mean a new assignment, committee, or special task from the VP. This can also take away from the primary responsibilities of your position. We need to continue to encourage others to make sure to reach the stage of getting more without sacrificing their actual daily work.

    • Thanks Rebecca! You are right–the payoffs can be huge! A good supervisor will check-in to ensure that you are able to balance both but self-monitoring and reaching out when help is needed is also key 🙂

  7. Great post. I have really made a concerted effort to stop saying “busy” when others ask how I am. While I may be busy, that’s not the best word to describe how I am. After all, who isn’t busy these days?!

    I need to continue to work at making wellness a priority and use my early morning time better. With a new puppy, having a routine is critical, and incorporating some “me” time more important than ever. I’m half way through Tom Rath’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, and am loving some of the tips for each area. It’s about starting small and making minor changes. That gets the ball rolling.

    • Kate–I couldn’t agree! Change the dialogue–both in your head and in your words. It may also re-frame how you think about the day. I have a friend who when I ask her how she is doing she always says “Blessed and grateful.” I aspire to always have that same mindset 🙂

  8. Ellen Malito says:

    I completely agree. I don’t think it is about a magic formula. You can’t tell someone how to do it. Everyone needs to find what works for them and we need to respect this within each other. Some things motivate me that burn others out and vise versa. I find myself motivated by accomplishment and by being able to take on projects and challenges while looking forward to what is to come. I’m looking to advance myself and our department. I don’t find staying stagnant healthy for organizational culture.

  9. genarstack says:

    Well said, Ann Marie. I just told a colleague the other day “No one hears a person complain about being overwhelmed and having too much to do and says ‘we should give that person more responsibility!'” It’s about successfully managing what you have and being realistic with yourself and others. The rewards don’t come from being the most busy, they come from getting the most done.

    • Thanks Gena! Love this sentence–“The rewards don’t come from being the most busy, they come from getting the most done.” Truth!! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

  10. mcolpitts says:

    Anne Marie, this is a great post. I shared this with some people hear at work and they appreciated it as well. I love the morning person stuff, that has been good to me this last few months as I have been trying to improve that specific point.

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