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9 Workplace Lessons to Help Improve Your Daily Grind

Understanding is temporal and changes whenever you gain new information, experience or shift your vantage point.

To quote Heraclitus, “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The daily grind often makes it difficult to look back on lessons learned in the workplace. Time is in short supply, but carving out a small block of it to reflect is important—the best people I’ve worked with frequently weigh the work they’re doing and the person they’re bringing to work.

1. A little stress is a good thing.

The best kind of stress? Urgency. Feeling hurried is invigorating and drives you toward the finish line. You want to hold tight to a sense of haste without losing the headspace needed for strategy and forward thinking. After all, even the broadest shoulders can’t bear the burden of constant anxiety for long.

2. Leadership isn’t just for appointed leaders.

Think of a time in your career when a project went sour. The response that stayed with you probably came from the person who made the first move, took ownership, and rallied everyone toward a better outcome.

Leadership in these cases doesn’t rest on roles and hierarchy, but on an ability toelevate the people around you.

Even if the conversation is hard, even when discussing your current shortcomings or failings, you always leave with sights set high and the belief you can get it done.

3. You are the easiest person to fool.

It takes awareness to always share the unblemished truth, but you must keep stubborn standards: no one executes well without a firm grip on reality. Remember, it’s the seemingly innocuous, almost “positive” white lies (“Um, looks great!”) that most often sneak in and warp fact.

4. Grade your work as a whole, not as an outcome.

Since the days of cave paintings, and probably before that, creative people have tried to judge their own work.

5. A failure to communicate is your failure.

The job of communication is, in the words of author Neal Stephenson, “to condense fact from the vapor of nuance.” The burden of understanding is on you, not your audience.

As author André Gide put it, “Everything’s already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again.”

6. Feedback is an outcome-oriented activity.

I’ve always favored the term “necessarily honest” over “brutally honest,” because feedback is instructive language given to positively influence behavior. Feedback should be as blunt as it needs to be to incite change, and no more. Even brutally honest feedback is about being honest; it’s never about being brutal.

7. Energy + focus = productivity.

Period. Throw out every productivity app you have and learn to get a good night’s sleep instead. Then remove distractions. It really is that simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy. Although it’s been said many times in many different ways, author Maria Edgeworth penned my favorite variation: “If we take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”

8. Research should seek truth, not validation.

The purpose of learning—whether through research, debate, or any other means—is to arrive at the truth.

9. Better judgement tends to show up late.

The worst regret is dealing with an eternity wrought from a hot-headed decision. H.G. Wells may have been asking too much when he said to wait for the common sense of the morning, but at the very least, have the patience to give it five minutes. What seems “right” in the heat of the moment often feels foolish once your good sense has had time to catch up.

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