If you have been in your job for any length of time, it has probably grown. You might have more responsibility. Maybe you are on some project teams. And you could be tapped for a variety of meetings, tasks, or new initiatives.
You have gained experience and expertise on the job. And if you’ve done well, people are expecting more of you.
Which is fantastic, because that’s where your professional growth comes from. Pushing the envelope and striving to make larger contributions is what you want to be doing.
However, all that activity can also put a lot of pressure on you.
All of your old responsibilities are still there. Somehow you have got to figure out how to do it all. And to do it well and on-time.
Which is why many people end up working longer hours. But at a certain point, all that extra stuff you do for work encroaches on your personal life.
Stress builds and problems start to seep from one to another, building a downward spiral.
This is when I have found it is helpful to double-down on the basics. Getting better organized, building stronger routines, and restructuring your schedule can pay huge dividends.
Master your job basics
In many of my jobs, I would fast become an expert. This helped me to grow and land new opportunities as we talked about above.
But it took me a long time to realize that expertise wasn’t enough. I needed to become a professional.
That can be a subtle shift, but it is profoundly effective.
Here’s the thing. As I became increasingly confident in my ability to cover my responsibilities well, I would get sort of lazy in a way. Because I always knew I could pull things off.
Eventually, I realized that my sloppy approach was wasting time and limiting my ability to take on more. And causing too many late nights, early mornings, and long weekends.
It did not serve me well when I treated my basic job functions as annoying evil necessities keeping me from the exciting new stuff I wanted to be a part of.
Eventually, I discovered that treating basic tasks with the respect and import they deserve, I became a much stronger player. I would gain true mastery over my domain, which paid huge dividends in both productivity and opportunity.
My time was more efficient when organized basic tasks better. My contributions to innovations were much more meaningful when I had a handle on the basics.
Start aiming for early completion of routine work
One of the easiest ways to get a handle on your basic responsibilities is to aim for early completion of routine tasks.
If you have a report that’s due every Friday, don’t wait until Friday to write it.
If there is a routine process to follow every day, do it first thing rather than putting it off.
If you need to attend a regular meeting, go five minutes early instead of five minutes late.
Getting in the habit of being in front of tasks rather than behind has huge power. Not only because you can withstand more last minute hurdles that otherwise would have had you struggle to meet a deadline (or cause you to miss it). But also because it starts an important mindset shift for you.
You start to treat these basic and routine tasks with importance. And you start to think ahead more.
Tiger Woods gets to the golf tournament early. Serena Williams packs her tennis bag neatly.
The basics matter to the professional. They see these things as important, because they are. The rest of us make a mistake when we are annoyed and bothered by uninteresting tasks.
Professionals don’t worry about interesting. They worry about results.
Larry Bird showed up earlier than everyone else for a game and he took over 300 practice shots as part of his warm up routine.
Discipline on the basics is what gets results.
Use the power of routine and templates
Starting to get a handle on things by shifting your targets toward early completion rather than last-minute flurries helps a lot.
But that can be a hard thing to keep up with if you don’t organize your approach further.
Your process needs to be honed too. And one of the best ways to do that is to leverage the power of routine.
It’s not just that Larry Bird showed up early and practiced 300 shots. It’s that he had a routine for doing so.
In fact, some of the most creative and innovative professionals rely heavily on strict routines. Because strict routines give you freedom.
Steve Jobs wore black turtlenecks and jeans every day to gain freedom from thinking about what to wear.
Seth Godin eats the same breakfast every day because “it’s one less decision” he has to worry about.
Sara Blakely uses Wednesday as her “meeting day” so that other days can be freed up for other tasks.
If you start to think about “automating” some of your basic necessary tasks in this way, it can really free up a lot of mental capacity.
And sometimes the best way to optimize your time is to optimize your energy.
Another way to take this to the next level is to work with templates. Maybe you write a summary report every week or month. Is that in a standard format?
It’s much easier to fill in an outline than to “invent” the whole thing each time.
You might write a lot of email. Do you often get the same questions? Having some boilerplate responses to cut and paste can be a game changer.
Answer the question well once and make it quick and easy for you to repeat it as much as necessary.
Do you have to run a regular meeting? Structure it with a consistent agenda, coach people on what you expect from them, and use templates for your notes. All of this saves time and energy and builds a routine that has power.
Getting asked to do more at work is good. It means that people have confidence in your abilities and that they value your input.
But this can lead to bad results for you and the company if you get overwhelmed. While the answer may include putting in some extra time, the answer can’t be that simple.
You need to scale your efforts by getting better at the basics.
Every great professional is a master of the fundamentals. They find a way to leverage the basics so that they can do the extraordinary.
Because they know that a strong foundation is what helps them to reach new heights.
You can do the same.
You can gain mastery of your job. You can aim for early completion of routine tasks. And you can build templates to make your work more consistent and easier to get done.
That’s how a professional works.