Avoiding Work: The Secret To Getting Ahead

Do you want the C-suite or a C grade for your career?

Photo by Anthony Da Cruz on Unsplash

It may sound counterintuitive, but it is a secret to success. One of the best ways to get ahead in your career is by avoiding work. Focus on important projects. Prioritize work that brings visibility and recognition. Is that conniving and calculating? Definitely. But you have to ask yourself whether you want to aspire to the C-suite or to a C grade for your career.

What To Avoid

Avoiding work is different from working hard or having a good work ethic. If you are like me and work for a large organization, people probably bombard you with requests from all directions throughout the day. Many of these do not fit neatly within defined job responsibilities. Even with a team, it is impossible to accomplish everything people ask.

The same is true at smaller companies. You generally have broader responsibilities at these places, but that doesn’t mean you should do everything that people ask. Prioritizing what is a “need to have” versus “nice to have” is crucial, but you should also be asking yourself which projects will bring visibility and recognition.

Some may call this approach vain. Others may point out that people — especially entry level hires — must slog through mundane tasks to earn the opportunity to perform the sexy ones. Both points are true to varying degrees, but even entry level employees who want to get ahead should consider which projects are more likely to advance their careers. Like the notorious “gunners” in law school, getting ahead requires cunning focus not only on work product, but recognition. As the gunners figured out long ago, it doesn’t matter if you do not please everyone at work. This isn’t social hour — you’re not supposed to be friends with everyone or perform what is effectively community service by helping everyone complete their tasks. Think about what will get you to the next level.

I stated the following in a previous article, Five Proven Ways To Get Ahead At Work:

In addition to pitching projects, volunteer. Constantly. If your boss or senior leads mention something that needs to get done, think of ways that you could make it happen. State how. New and important work does not go to the meek.

I should have qualified the instruction to volunteer with “only for important projects.” To build trust you may think it’s necessary to volunteer for anything and everything, but you risk becoming a receptacle for meaningless tasks. Everyone may start throwing all useless jobs into your bucket if boundaries are not set from the start. If something is important to the decision makers, it is probably important for you. Just know what you are taking on, why it’s important for the firm, but most importantly, how it will get you ahead in your career, one step at a time.

How To Avoid It

Avoiding tasks that do not bring praise or glory to you or your organization is as much an art as creating brilliant work product. Saying “no” without more is divisive. Colleagues will perceive you as selfish, not a team player, and someone who does not work well with others. We all know people like that at work. The more skilled way of saying “no” to a task you deem unimportant is by suggesting one or more of the following:

  • A different direction — articulate compelling reasons not to engage in the activity;
  • Someone who is better suited — make sure to emphasize what attributes and/or skills make them a better fit;
  • “My plate is full” — highlight everything else on your “plate”, but careful, everyone is “busy” at work so your priorities must be persuasive; and/or
  • Delay into perpetuity — a more passive aggressive option that bets on the fact that people may forget or eventually come to realize the unimportance of the task.

By using these tactics, you can free your schedule to work towards personal career progression and success. You should also employ this same type of scrutiny when interviewing for a job — will the role give you a platform to succeed and grow? Will it help you take the next step? What will your day-to-day look like? These are all questions you should be asking accepting the role. Avoid menial and inconsequential work before even starting it. For an anecdote on how I handled a recent interview, read Inside My Interview At Amazon.

Relentlessly Focus on the Objective: Self Improvement and Growth

This may not always align with the goals of your organization. Unless you have an equity stake in your company though, that may not matter. Some may be shocked to hear that, but in the end, this is an “at will” employment world (at least in America). You need to look out for yourself because nobody else will (no matter what they say).

Your objective should always be self-improvement and growth. Even if you are happy and complacent in your job, if you don’t constantly work to improve your skill set and standing in your organization, you may become “redundant” as they say in corporate speak. At the rate technology changes and evolves, it’s imperative that you develop the requisite skills as needed and then work relentlessly to showcase them to the powers that be whenever possible.

This objective centric approach will help you identify the unimportant tasks that you should avoid. It also helps to “shift to neutral” whenever chaos strikes, which it inevitably will in the work world. As explained in that article, “a neutral mindset is about owning any mistakes that have been made and not letting them become more powerful than necessary. It is about focusing on the next objective.”

So do yourself and your career a favor. Focus on your own development by avoiding work. You will find its one of many secrets to getting ahead professionally.

Originally published at https://polispandit.com on February 21, 2021.

Writer and philosopher on law, politics, and random social commentary. Check out my lifestyle blog at polispandit.com.

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