Improving Your Work Ethic
Surveys and studies indicate that the most common reason for missing work is “being sick”. While this is a general term for many different things other studies show that on average 30% of workers call in sick when they are not actually ill. (This doesn’t include using sick days because you are out of PTO.) When pressed in other studies workers gave reasons such as not feeling like going in, needed to relax, needed a mental health day, etc.
Many of these employees calling in sick when they are actually healthy lack motivation or a desire to accomplish tasks at work. They have a poor or low work ethic. A work ethic is a set of values and ideals based on hard work and discipline. Building a strong work ethic means training yourself to be disciplined and follow these values.
Different companies and industries value different things when it comes to work ethic. Some may value time in the office while others value number of tasks accomplished. Even other value quality of work, so the fewer bugs your code produces. Regardless of the particular industries values a good work ethic includes time management, focus, discipline, and dedication.
To improve your work ethic takes effort, introspection, and discipline. This isn’t something that happens over night. It takes time, you will be working at this for a while and learning about yourself and your own motivations as you go along. Improving your work ethic will benefit you for a long time. Not only will your job satisfaction and reputation improve but you will improve your efforts in all areas of you life.
First off, you have to take care of yourself.
Being physically healthy will help you be more productive at work. Being physically unhealthy can lead to feeling lethargic. This could be from lack of sleep or not exercising regularly. It’s amazing how much replacing sugary drinks with water makes a difference.
Part of having a good work ethic is also knowing when it’s time to not be working. Working too much leads to mistakes and being overwhelmed. This in turn leads to burn out, where you are extremely unproductive. You need time to recharge, this makes you a better person and better connected to the users of your app.
Exercising will increase your energy level. Physical exercise will help you body but also energize your mind. Lack of exercise leads to imbalances of hormones and neurotransmitters. Push yourself, this will help build self-discipline.
A key to being productive is to be well rested. Being truly tired, not just procrastinating, means that you need a break. This is more than just getting enough sleep, that varies from person to person. It is also being mentally rested, which could be reading a novel, playing video games, painting, hiking.
Create your own set of standards.
These standards will help you define your work ethic. Set them high so as to give yourself something to aim toward. You are in charge of your own career, it’s up to you to work toward improving it. If you don’t like your situation at work then set your goals toward improving it.
Use your standards to develop a professional attitude. Professionalism is more than just dressing nice and showing up on time. It also involves your attitude, values, and how you carry yourself. Practice being positive and polite. Be respectful of others. Avoid gossip. Built up your reputation as an honest and consistent employee.
Creating standards is one thing, following them takes self-discipline. Stay focused on the goals you had when setting your standards. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by short-term, quick gratification. It will take time and training to be persistent in your standards.
Use introspection to learn how self-discipline feels different from laziness. Notice how you feel during times when you discipline yourself. Look at what it feels like to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Laziness drains your energy and motivation.
Look at your coworkers’ ethics for comparison.
Compare yourself to those who come into work excited to be there. Look not only at their attitude but also at their productivity. Are they more productive than you? Is their difference in attitude affecting how they perform on the job?
Attitude significantly affects performance. When you are comparing your work ethic to others make sure their performance at least matches yours. A positive attitude but poor performance is not a good work ethic.
The person with whom you compare yourself can be more than just a coworkers. Your significant other or a close friend may be loving their work while you can barely get going. Ask them how they maintain a positive attitude, you may learn something.
Learn what distractions you face and set yourself up to avoid them when working.
Distractions divert your focus from doing important work. This means you’ll not be able to put the attention and focus into doing your work. That reduces your emotional connection to the business and your coworkers. All of this reduces your work ethic.
We all have things that distract us from work. For some this may be social media, video games, TV. Whereas for others it may be distracted by bugs or tasks that are not their primary. It takes some self awareness to recognize what distracts you.
Avoid or eliminate distractions as much as possible. Turn off notifications and social media. Set times to check email once or twice a day, unless your job requires more frequent availability. In times of extra focus, set an away message and turn off notifications on things like slack.
When you are able to remove distractions you’ll be able to stay focused as long as needed. Building persistance will help train you to work for longer periods of time. Do this by working for set intervals, incrementally increasing the time of each work interval. Make sure to balance working hard with getting enough rest to reduce the risk of burnout.
Build and maintain a good reputation at work.
Work toward cultivating a good reputation at work. Be honest with your coworkers and managers. Follow the rules, especially the ones around punctuality, breaks, and time off. Be personable with your coworkers avoiding office drama.
It takes work to maintain the reputation you’ve built. This means that once you build a reputation you are not done. One bad act can ruin months or years of work building a reputation. People tend to forget the good quickly and remember the bad for a long time.
Being dependable will earn respect from coworkers and build your reputation. People will be grateful that you get a job done on time. Grateful coworkers will increase your satisfaction at work.
Build a set of habits that make a positive work ethic automatic and not a struggle.
The first habit to develop is a habit of persistance. Think of it like building endurance for a race, start small and gradually add to it. Measure how long you are able to work effectively before getting tired or easily distracted. Periodically take one day and work harder and longer than normal on that day. Make the following day light, you can plan this if you know you’re going to have a lot of interruptions. When you are feeling like quitting do another 20% before you stop or take a break. The idea here is to stretch your focus and persistance so that you’ll be able to work longer and harder on normal days before needing a break. Make sure to balance your persistance with times of rest to avoid burn out.
The next habit to develop is focus. Your aim is for bursts of focussed time. This can be draining. However combined with the persistance practices your ability to remain focused will grow with time. Start by using something like the pomodoro technique to timebox yourself on a particular task. During that time remain completely focused on the task. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted or rest until the time is up. Rest between times of intense focus by moving around or allowing yourself to indulge in distractions. All a bit of ramp-up time for the next high focus time.
Finally, you need to build a habit of doing things right the first time. Hastily finishing a task or project leads to poor quality. This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect but at least meet a minimum standard. For example, when you are coding using useful variable names is a minimum whereas creating extensive documentation may not be necessary. Set aside a time for cleaning up after you create something. Solving a problem or creating something can be messy. Give yourself time to go back and clean up the code after you get the problem solved. Set two deadlines for yourself. One to complete the task. One to review and polish it. Take some time between milestones on a task or project and work on something else. If it’s something you can’t go back and undo take extra time and care in doing it.
In order to maintain a positive work ethic use your time wisely.
“Never leave that ‘till tomorrow which you can do today.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Having a strong work ethic means starting your day strong and on time. A lot of people mistakenly believe that being late equates to laziness. Consistent tardiness could be from many issues including unfamiliarity with traffic to poorly planned morning routines. Whatever your reason, identify why you are consistently late. Once you know the problem adjust your morning routine to address what is causing you to run late. Have a strong consistent morning routine. Get up and get moving first thing in the morning. Stand up and move around before turning off the alarm clock. Being punctual is a habit that can be developed with practice. An easy trick to tell yourself you have to be there before you actually do. Another is to give yourself a non-critical task to do before the thing which you are to be there. Start your day off doing something challenging that you would rather avoid.
If at all possible opt for working a flex schedule. You may find that your motivation dwindles around 3 pm or that it falls off mid morning as picks back up after lunch. There are a lot of benefits to working a flex schedule. It allows you to do your work when you are most productive. You are still putting in the same amount of hours, they are just more focussed. It also allows for things like mid day appointments or picking up kids from school. Many offices, especially remote work situations, are moving toward a flex schedule.
Like with building a focus habit, set aside specific times for work. For most of us our work time is set by our employers. That means we have to set aside times in our day when we know we will be productive to get the heavy lifting done. When this comes into play most is on side hustles or if you are in school. It could also be if you work a flex schedule or are self-employed and have some freedom over when you do your work. Take an introspective measure of your performance and find the times that you are most productive. Make this a time of no disturbances. Let friends, family, and colleagues know not to interrupt you during this time.
Jump on tasks right away, don’t wait to begin. Having a strong work ethic means not waiting to get started on the things you need to do. It’s very easy to never start if you delay getting started. Procrastination can seriously hinder your ability to stay motivated.
Resist the temptation to procrastinate, especially on important tasks.
Develop a habit of performing tasks immediately. Keep the phrase “Do It Now” constantly in the back of your mind. Don’t let yourself get distracted or procrastinate if you still have things on your to-do list. There is a time for relaxing and you should not avoid it, but if you are trying to get work done you need to focus on working.
Make a commitment to your self that you will do what needs to get done. Once you start something don’t give up until it is finished. Tell yourself that you will rest, or play that game, or whatever the temptation after you finish the task. Make sure you keep your word to yourself, that will serve as a reward and reinforcement for the next time you have to stay on task.
Look into what is motivating (or in this case not motivating) you to procrastinate. Try to understand the root of the problem and where it is coming from. Are you tired or burnt out from doing too much? Do you need to step back and re-evaluate the problem or task? Are there outside considerations like relationship or financial issue that are distracting? You may find that the work you are doing isn’t challenging enough. Understanding what is driving you to procrastinate will guide you in your efforts to overcome it.
Make a 30-day commitment to resist procrastination. This will give you a starting point to building a strong foundations for long-term success. For one month set aside periods of time that are devoted to completing tasks. This could be a time during your work day to get job tasks complete. It could also be time off work to accomplish personal goals or side projects. During this time when you feel the urge to procrastinate remind yourself that you are building a new habit and push through the urge.
You are going to make mistakes, don’t let them ruin your progress.
Having a good work ethic means being able to pick yourself up quickly when you fail. Failure is going to happen at some point, none of us are perfect. If you allow it to take up too much of your thought process then you’ll destroy your motivation. Embrace failure as a learning experience that will help you do better in the future.
The speed of work and amount of focus you have will vary throughout the day. You’re not likely to be at full productivity right off the bat when you start working. Likely you’ll have some amount of ramp up time. This may be more or less depending on when it happens. You may have less ramp up early in the day, but need more when you come back from a particularly frustrating or boring meeting. Factor in your ramp up time when you are setting your focussed work times.
While accepting mistakes as part of the process, still focus on excellence. A goal to do well no matter what you are doing will in itself increase your motivation. Make sure to rest when you are getting tired or burnt out. Not resting when tired opens you up to mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise make. Death marches may get a product out fast, but they leave mounds of bug fixes in their wake. Procrastination may be an unhealthy way of dealing with criticism or creative block. Don’t worry about getting the perfect product out in the first iteration, plan to come back and refine.
The final chapter is titled Onward, Healthy Programmer. The chapter starts with a story about Dr. Jeremy Morris who’s research into life expectancy associated with job lead him to become a prolific advocate of general fitness back in 1950. He remained physically active up to his death in 2009 at the age of 99. Unfortunately for many of us our jobs do not provide the physical activity necessary to remain healthy. The first section of the chapter talks about continuous improvement. In it Kutner describes the Japanese concept of kaizen which literally translated means “good change” but conceptually is more akin to “continual improvement.” He goes on to talk about setting up continual improvement on your health and fitness routine. In the next section he talks about creating social habits. Here Kutner talks about how making changes in our lives can be hard and is made easier through encouragement of our friends and family. In the final section he talks about the joy of being healthy. He talks about how the suggestions in the book are designed to be fun and productive. This is a short chapter that closes out the book nicely.
Tricks of the Trade
Time is the only resource. The others are projections of it.