How to Build Your Work Ethic

I read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, a few years back. It includes many memorable stories of The Beatles, Bill Gates, and Robert Oppenheimer, to name a few. A common theme that runs throughout the book is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, which claims that recognition and success come after an individual works in excess of that time in their chosen craft. Gladwell’s theory shows that you must have a strong work ethic to constantly achieve your goals.

That begs the question. How far along on your journey to 10,000 hours are you?

Any entrepreneur knows that success for her startup isn’t going to come overnight. Any exempt corporate employee remembers back to the long hours as a non-exempt employee required to build her leadership acumen. Both know that 40-hour workweeks are a thing of the past and the number of 60-hour-plus workweeks that are put in often measure productivity.

As you climb the ladder towards your career goals, consider the following to try and make your 10,000 hours as consequential as possible.

Know Yourself – There are assessments that will help you understand your behaviors, strengths, and motivators. With that information, you will be much better equipped to surround yourself with others who complement your skills. Take the Strengthsfinder, Myers Briggs, or TriMetrix. Each can provide you with valuable insight into who you are, but will also help you identify character traits in those around you so that you can better lead them. I would also consider recognizing the times at which your body doesn’t work as effectively. If you think more clearly in the morning, go to work before everyone else gets there. If you work better at night, stay at work later so that you can complete tasks faster. Lastly, by exercising and eating well, you may have additional stamina to allow you to put in the hard work required to reach the 10,000-hour threshold faster.

Surround Yourself with Competent People – No one man can know how to be a great accountant, marketer, or human resources professional simultaneously. Have a mentor who can guide you through challenging times. Hire creative people who you trust and can delegate to. If your team is comprised mainly of introverts, hire extroverts for balance and fresh perspective. If your team is younger, bring in experienced professionals to help transfer knowledge and educate. By surrounding yourself with people who are great in the areas you may not be passionate about, you are freeing yourself to work smarter on the things that will truly drive growth in your business.

Plan the Work, Work the Plan – If you are going to spend 10,000 hours doing anything, it would be much better to surpass specific milestones each step of the way. Educate yourself on the basic tenets of project management and become great at their implementation. Establishing strict processes and timelines will help you to stay on task. Working hard on irrelevant things is not wise. For more information about establishing plans, check out my other blog post here.

Be Seen as the Expert – Are you an accountant? If so, are you a CPA? In human resources? Are you a SPHR? How about project management? Are you a PMP? The letters after your name aren’t there to make you appear knowledgeable. Use them to show credibility. You’ve attained knowledge, but also a trusted network of like-minded professionals who consistently support and push you to stay current your field’s trends. If certification is not available to you, become the expert in the program manage. If you know more than any other person in your organization about a specific topic, doors will open for you to display your skills to more influential people. Certification or unparalleled expertise will give you further time spent on the topic you are committing 10,000 hours to.

Ignore the Lackluster – I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say: “The work will still be there tomorrow.” Of course it will, but I didn’t want to do it tomorrow. I wanted to move onto the next project. The project that was leading edge, pushing the boundaries, and driving change. You can put in 10,000 hours repeatedly doing the same work, or you can be the change maker who develops a blue ocean strategy for your firm. Bill Gates didn’t rest on his laurels after he sold a few operating systems. He pushed the envelope and found new ways to get Windows into the hands of new businesses and consumers.

Working hard at something is rarely easy. Opportunity costs alone are enough to get you to consider a different path. But, if you have an unflappable work ethic, the 10,000 hours will be here before you know it. Wayne Gretzky said it well when he said: “The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day.”

Gretzky put in his 10,000 hours. How many years will it take you?