I’ve been reflecting on whether I feel proud of the work I’ve been doing lately. The feedback’s been good, the clients’ seem happy but in truth, although I know the work has been respectable, I also know I could have done even better. While there’s an argument for being content with doing good work, and sometimes that’s the best any of us can do, it doesn’t sit well with me. So I’ve been giving thought to how to be more purposely proud of our work.
In this context, pride is that feeling of deep pleasure and satisfaction that comes from doing great work (rather than the excessive self-esteem version that purportedly comes before a fall). It’s also – conveniently – an acronym for Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence (or Daily Effort).
Most of us have had the experience over our careers of doing great work. Those few standout presentations, projects or programmes of work we know we gave our all to, and still feel quietly proud of. It may have been the delivery of something others thought was practically impossible. It may have been rallying a team and getting the best out of everyone. It may have simply been the way we conducted ourselves through a period of great difficulty.
At midlife, when we look back over our careers, it is the great work that makes it seem like all that effort was worthwhile. What’s more, given that by now we have a good grasp of our gifts, it’s time to leverage these to make the very best use of them for our own satisfaction and others benefit.
Fortunately, I think there is a systematic approach we can take that helps to ensure we do great work more often. Conveniently, this can be approached using three P’s:
This is about taking the time to consider the piece of work ahead of us and giving thought to both the strategic and tactical questions we need to answer to ensure success:
- What am I trying to achieve here?
- What would real success look like?
- If I was to up my game with this piece of work, what would I do differently?
- If I break this down into its component parts – what do I need to do and how long do I estimate each part is likely to take?
- When will I ensure time in my calendar to get this work done?
- What could get in the way of following my plan and what’s my ‘if…, then…’ plan?
Taking the time to rehearse and pay attention to the details, makes the difference between good work and great work:
- Where do I tend to let myself down? e.g. typos, leaving the work itself till the last minute, getting it (or me) there just in time instead of ahead of time, not rehearsing enough so the message is not quite as clear, memorable and inspiring as it could be?
- Where, how and when will I put in the extra effort to ensure I am well prepared?
In his great book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield makes the distinction between the amateur and the professional. Aside from putting in the hours every day, the professional focuses on the work rather than the results, knowing that if they have truly given their all, there is little more they can do but move onto the next challenge without that being tainted by rumination on what might have been.
- If I was to approach this work as the consummate professional, what would I do differently?
- How would approaching this as a professional impact, for example: the tools I use, the way I present myself, the way I chose to interact with others?
- Given this, where will I put in the effort to raise the professional bar for myself?
Reflecting on these questions, it’s obvious that all of the above requires both greater clarity and greater effort. It may be that time and inclination prevent us from adopting this approach with every piece of work, however, in order to enjoy the deep satisfaction that comes from doing what we do really well, I think it’s at least worth applying this approach to those pieces of work that most closely align with what we want to be known for at work.
As Cartoonist Ted Key observed: “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence”.
Do you have an example of ‘great work’ you’ve autographed with excellence? What made it so?