February 10, 2013

Don't Confuse Effort With Results

Posting that you're "Hustlin'" doesn't provide you with a higher paycheck.

"Hustlin'" doesn't make your product better, or your sales pitch any more strong. It probably doesn't have a lot of impact on the macroeconomic climate, and shouldn't sway consumers to your company instead of that from the competition. Similarly, there are no certificates given for the most harried-looking people, who can often be seen running around stressed from meeting to double booked meeting, and saying they can't possibly be aware of your last update, let alone the outside world, because they are snowed in under a mountain of e-mail.

What I've seen from my near 15 years working in Silicon Valley is that, often in concert with our "burn the midnight oil" philosophy, people aggressively try to prove their value through how busy they appear. Yet for every salesperson or product marketing manager who can't get back to you, there are anonymous genius coders who still manage to surf Reddit and take casual lunch breaks without the company falling apart.

Being excessively "busy" is not to be celebrated. Instead, it could be displaying that you are overmatched in your role. Work is not supposed to be a life of leisure, but if you really do have thousands of unread items in your email box (I've seen people with almost 100,000 and usually have zero myself), or can't find a hole in your calendar to "catch up", there's probably something wrong with your time management.

Meanwhile, the simple fact that you took an effort isn't something you can cash. After one too many failed demand generation campaigns or trade shows that didn't pan out, I remember my boss, the VP of Marketing, saying "Don't confuse effort with results." Just because I, and my team, had worked hard didn't mean the numbers were there to justify what we had done.

Admittedly, it's especially easy in Marketing to do activity for activity's sake. How many weekly status meetings have I endured, hearing people run through their list of completed tasks that may not have pushed the ball forward, but instead kept them occupied the previous week? How many client meetings and vendor calls and messaging workshops were less than impactful? After a while, it's as if there are three different groups in the room - those who realize the activity is just to say something happened, those still talking, and the last people who haven't gone yet, waiting to fluff up their own reports to outdo the last guy.

The secret comes in determining the right measurements and data that shed light on where you can make impact. Carving away the bits that are trivial, and hitting the Archive button instead of reply, can be transformative for you and your goals.

That's not to say a strong work ethic isn't valued. I've never been very good at taking vacations and often joke that if you are a salaried employee, there are no days off, as you're paid the same any hour of the day, year round, not just Monday to Friday. But being good at what you do is made even stronger when you're efficient at it, and accomplish all you need to. That means not feeling the need to tell the world you're "Hustlin'", not having to declare email bankruptcy, or looking like you're in the midst of drowning when deadlines approach.

Being busy doesn't make you incredible. Being incredible can make you busy. Some of the best people in technology know when to turn off all the distractions so they don't crush everything in their path. Even Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, famously leaves work at 5:30 every evening, and maintains successful life balance. The thought is, "if she can do it, why can't you?", but the underlying issue is one of prioritization, filtering and execution when much is expected.

Just because you put in the hours, hustled a little bit and did what was expected, doesn't always mean the results will be there. You have to know what your goals are, and watch your results constantly to tie activity to impact. So the next time you read that someone is "Hustlin'" or run into a colleague who can't wait to tell you how busy and overloaded they are, just wonder why that is, and how you can avoid it.

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