I was at this seminar last week. This middle-aged guy comes up to the microphone and begins to speak. He’s the only dude on stage dressed in a shirt and slacks – everyone else is in jeans. He grasps the microphone with two hands. He asks if there’s anyone in the audience from the insurance industry, but no one raises their hands because we’re Singaporean and we hate raising our hands.
He tells us that he used to work for a big, brand-name bank as a VP in insurance. He oversaw over a hundred insurance agents, and he was responsible for making sure that they met their sales targets. He didn’t mention his salary, but I could guess that it was several multiples of mine.
And then he got fired.
He’s got a wife and three kids and a dog. He searched and interviewed and searched some more, but even with his prestigious title, he couldn’t land himself another job.
He said something that stuck with me:
“All my life, the only thing I’ve been really good at was being an administrator.”
What If I Get Fired Tomorrow?
I’ve always found it useful to occasionally ask myself what I would do if I got fired tomorrow. If I had to look for another job, what would I tell the interviewer?
That I’m good at Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint? That I’ve got 3 years of experience in writing great reports? That I’ve got “excellent communication skills?”
If that’s all I have to offer, that only makes me an administrator.
Administrators aren’t very attractive to companies.
Administrators are forced to accept mediocre salaries while top performers get paid the income they deserve.
And worst of all, administrators are replaceable.
What Makes You Truly Valuable?
It’s no longer ok to simply keep your head down and do your job. Companies don’t want to hire (or keep) administrators anymore. They want people who are truly valuable.
Who are these people? They’re people who have done amazing work.
They ship products or services that improve people’s lives.
They can tell you how much they’ve made for their organizations last week.
They have hundreds of raving testimonials from customers, colleagues and superiors.
They have rare and valuable skills.
They create stuff – a business, a blog, a video, a website – that they share with the world.
And all around us, truly valuable people are excelling at their jobs, getting poached for better ones, and creating tremendous value in the process. Oh, and they’re also getting paid really, really, well.
How do we become truly valuable?
Two Hacks to Keep You on Track
No one becomes truly valuable overnight. We can only get there if we put in the hours and the effort in our daily work. That’s why I’ve started a system to keep me on the “Truly Valuable” track, and well away from the “Administrator” track.
Here are two hacks from this system:
1. The MITs
The first thing I do when I get into the office is to list out the 2-3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) that I need to get done that day. These MITs are specially selected to help me move forward in the key projects that will make me a top performer if they’re executed well.
I schedule those MITs into Google Calendar, and then I get down to work, sometimes armed with a cup of cheap coffee to keep me going. I accomplish at least one MIT before I let myself check email, usually around 10.30 or 11 in the morning.
This stops me from getting sucked into the whirlpool of ad-hoc and mostly trivial email requests, and ensures that I get at least one important task done at the start of the day.
2. The Hourly Beep
I’d love to spend my entire day kicking ass in MITs, but I can’t completely run away from administrative work. That’s inevitable for anyone working for a large organization.
The trick here isn’t to avoid admin work completely, but to stop yourself from getting sucked in to it. If you’ve spent an entire afternoon emailing, filing reports, setting meetings, and taking calls only to realize that it’s 5.30pm and you didn’t get any productive work done, you’ll know exactly what I’m taking about.
So I followed the advice from Peter Bregman, author of the productivity and focus book 18 Minutes, on a strategy known as the hourly beep.
Every hour, my phone gives me a single, subtle beep. You can use a stopwatch, your computer, or your phone – it doesn’t matter. At the sound of the chime, I stop what I’m doing and ask myself if my past hour has helped me move closer towards being a top performer.
If I’ve spent the past hour doing admin, that’s ok, but during the pause I deliberately commit to when I’m going to start on my MITs again. And then I jump right back into work with a renewed focus.
These beeps might sound disruptive, but they’ve helped me to deliberately stop spending too much time on lame admin work and focus on the truly important stuff instead.
What Are Your Results?
I’ve come to realize that the only thing that matters is what I’ve produced. Everything else – my job title, my salary, how big or prestigious my office is – is irrelevant.
People really, really, really care about results. They care about what you’ve actually done, because your results show what you’re really capable of.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have anything to show for it yet – most young people don’t.
But I’m hoping that the two hacks I’ve shared above will help you to get started. They’ve worked out really, really well for me – let me know if they work for you as well.
But whichever strategy you use, start building your results now. Don’t slide into the trap of becoming an administrator, because you totally deserve to be truly valuable.