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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