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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