Hack Your Job

It was prob­a­bly three years ago when my friend Roz Duffy intro­duced me to the phrase “hack your job.” We were both talk­ing about what we’d do dif­fer­ent­ly at work and how we might reimag­ine what we did every day for eight hours plus. When Roz said “hack your job,” I did­n’t even know what she meant. I felt like that was some­thing bet­ter left for the folks who built the web­sites that I pop­u­lat­ed with copy. (I copy-ulat­ed!)

She urged me to think dif­fer­ent­ly about work. In fact, she sug­gest­ed that I pur­sue every oppor­tu­ni­ty to make my job my dream job. I explained that I’d tried and done and exe­cut­ed any num­ber of things to make my job chal­leng­ing, includ­ing run­ning with a head full of steam into the estab­lished order, only to bounce back. She was­n’t accept­ing excus­es. I kept moan­ing about “burn out” and I start­ed to see what she meant. I need­ed to look at my job with fresh eyes. If I want­ed to remain employed — and you can bet I did — then it would behoove me to real­ly focus on mak­ing my job as cool as I imag­ined it could be.

It’s great advice to any­one look­ing to real­ize their pro­found res­o­lu­tions going into 2012. One of the things I’ve been able to think about this week are my 2012 goals and how I hope to achieve them. Part of that is rethink­ing the way I approach my job, the way I inter­act with my col­leagues and the way I go about exe­cut­ing my plans. The dev­il may be in the details, but you need to think big so those details don’t seem menial. If you find your­self “check­ing the box,” then maybe it’s time to think about hack­ing your job.

So what do I intend to do dif­fer­ent­ly? These days, it’s not enough to be a trou­bleshoot­er. You can be whips­mart, but you need to take those crit­i­cal think­ing skills past the point of no. “No” is easy. My tod­dler says “No” like he invent­ed the word. At work, “no” is a dead end. My goal for 2012 is to trans­form “no’s” into the “yeses” that make my job more excit­ing and engag­ing, as well as improve the work of those around me.

I plan to edu­cate more in 2012. I don’t know what changed in me between the time I taught an intro course at Hunter Col­lege and now, but some­where along the way I for­got what it meant to teach. You can’t just moan and groan that peo­ple sim­ply don’t know things; if they don’t know things you do, then it’s your respon­si­bil­i­ty to bring them up to speed on top­ics rel­e­vant to the work. If there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to be an author­i­ty at work with­out being obnox­ious, it’s incum­bent on you to do the heavy lift­ing. In the short run, it may seem ardu­ous, but you know what, your cowork­ers will respect you for tak­ing it on and they’ll appre­ci­ate the oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­stand where you’re com­ing from. Once you’ve edu­cat­ed, every­thing starts to fit togeth­er bet­ter and you’ll stop feel­ing like you’re at odds with your depart­ment, or that you’re a fish out of water. Chances are, your cowork­ers see you the same way.

If you know me per­son­al­ly you’ll think this word of advice is very fun­ny, but I plan on being more aggres­sive in 2012. Noth­ing I’ve writ­ten above comes to fruition with­out push­ing for those oppor­tu­ni­ties. For me, this means think­ing about work the way I thought about school: the “cre­ative” or “knowl­edge work­er” needs to incor­po­rate debate and reflec­tion into their dai­ly rou­tine.  For me, I need that engage­ment to feel whole, to feel like I’m con­tribut­ing and being heard. But as I said above, unless you’re fol­low­ing through on that agen­da, they’re noth­ing more than emp­ty threats. The only way to actu­al­ly “hack your job” is to do it.

Last­ly, be gen­er­ous. It can­not be stressed enough. There is no bet­ter bul­wark against job secu­ri­ty para­noia than being gen­er­ous in every aspect of your work. Peo­ple want to trust you and to be trust­ed. If you can assure them that you’re on the same team, you’ll spend much less time and ener­gy (same thing, no?) wor­ry­ing about who’s say­ing what about whom and that makes you more effec­tive at your job. Most impor­tant­ly, it improves your image at work and that’s real­ly impor­tant. This is not to say you should be the Pollyan­na of your work­place; gen­eros­i­ty applies to crit­i­cal think­ing skills as well, some­thing I cov­ered imme­di­ate­ly above. But be mind­ful of oth­ers in those crit­i­cisms, get past “no,” make your objec­tive clear and edu­cate every­one you work with to that end. You’ll be glad you did.

Short ver­sion? Write a plan. Exe­cute against it. This isn’t just about “man­ag­ing up” and oth­er CYA efforts we all under­take from time to time. Get past “no” and get hack­ing in 2012.

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