This series of posts is dedicated to enhancing your soft skills. For many technologists, the day-to-day grind of work tends to keep us focused on the SQL Server part of work and causes us to overlook the Professional. While we, as technologists, spend the majority of our time honing hard, technology skills, but it’s important to remember that we are first and foremost employed to add value to the business processes of the organizations we work for. In this series I will cover a wide variety of topics, including soft skills like management, teamwork, communications, time management, and negotiations, as well as semi-soft skills like budgeting, project planning, project estimation, and so forth. And let’s face it, people who are good at the soft skills while also having strong technical skills often see better career growth and more opportunities than those of us who are purely technical.
To begin, I provide some homespun wisdom about effectiveness and efficiency in our jobs. These words are, of course, loaded with meaning and have produced multitudes of academic papers and big-name, New York Time best selling books. Everyone wants to be more effective and more efficient in their job. While I might bring up some of the more imaginative ideas and innovative concepts at other times in the series, I want to be direct with you today. Just as the simplest concept for financial well-being (“Spend less money than you earn!”) is sometimes the hardest to implement, so too the simplest concept for effectiveness and efficiency can be hard to make a workplace rule.
The first and most elementary rule of efficiency is to spend the majority of your time working on projects that are your forte. Management studies have shown that people aren’t just 50% or 80% more productive when working on what they’re best at, they’re actually 300%+ productive compared to activities where their skill is merely “satisfactory”. Here’s an example, if you’re really good at crunching code, do not spend lots of time attending and running meetings. Delegate that to another member of your time or find someone on your team who does enjoy that sort of thing. If you’re exceptionally good at performance tuning or designing databases into relational integrity works of art, do not spend all of your time writing requirements. You’re simply ruining your sweet spot for productivity.
Of course, many of us are on the prowl for a promotion or better job, which often require us to spend more time working on activities that are outside of our forte. I’ll address how to get back to your strong points when your job asks more of you in a future post.
Now, there’s a similar easy and elementary rule for achieving high degrees of effectiveness. The primary point to remember in being effective in your job is to focus your activities, at any given time, to only two or three things on which your performance will be judged. This might sounds simple and easy, but I’m constantly surprised how many people find it almost impossible to say “No” when more work comes their way (and this also applies to their personal life at the PTA, with the kids’ activities, with the church or volunteer organization, and so forth).
It’s very simple. If you cannot focus on successfully closing out a small set of activities, you’ll fail once you reach the point of being overwhelmed. Think of a juggler who seems quite competent juggling three balls. But when they try to juggle five balls, they’re lucky that they can keep one of them from falling to the ground. Plus, anyone watching is thinking “That person can’t juggle at all!” because they never saw the juggler successfully keeping three balls in the air. So, learn how much you can handle and then, when asked to do more, respond with “I’d love to take on this new project, but what of my existing projects has to be put on hold?” Taking on too many projects has the additional very detrimental effect of upsetting your work/life balance too, because most of us try to complete more projects by spending less time recuperating or with the family.
As with efficiency, we’ll come back in the future to specific techniques you can use to stay on task and limit the number of active projects you’re responsible for, even when management is asking you to take on more than you should.
In the meanwhile, think of other soft skill questions you might have and I’ll address them in future posts.