Optimizers at Work

Virtual mountains of material have been written and taught on improving performance in the workplace. It’s been Roger’s privilege to work in this field for several decades and to have been close to the development of many outstanding ideas. At the end of this book we have included a bibliography of what we feel is some of the most significant material in this area.

At this point, though, we’d like to share seven of the most aligned, high leverage optimizers in the area of work. In highlighting these seven, we do not mean to imply that effectiveness in time and money management are not among the highest leverage optimizers in the area of work. They are. Consider the following:

  • Time. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, fully 90 percent of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities.[9 ]Also, a recent FranklinCovey/Harris Inter-active survey[10] shows that employees in the United States spend:

    • Only 49 percent of their time on activities directly linked to their organization’s key priorities

    • 32 percent of their time on activities that demand immediate attention, but have little relevance to their organization’s most important goals

    • 19 percent of their time on petty politics and bureaucracy

  • Money. An employee’s ability to manage money affects not only the dimensions of his or her job that relate to the company budget, but also other factors related to work. Research shows:

    • Two-thirds of employees say they have trouble paying their bills on time and “worry about money.”

    • On average, 15 percent of employees in the United States are so stressed by their poor financial behaviors that their job productivity is negatively impacted. (This figure is 20 percent in the military, and, in some work places, it’s as high as 40 to 50 percent.)[11]

These areas are so critical, both at work and at home, that we have included an entire chapter in this book on each.

But in addition we suggest the following seven optimizers as effective ways to enhance your performance on the job. They are not new, but are time-proven to bring significant results. The reason we’ve chosen these seven is because they are not only based on timeless and universal principles but are also particularly relevant in dealing with the challenges in today’s world.

Optimizer 1: Be Proactive

When you’re unhappy or frustrated or things are not going well, it can be tempting to say, “It’s the economy (or the board, or the stupid policies, or the change in the marketplace, or what’s happening in technology, or my dumb boss)!” People can always come up with reasons to blame as to why the job’s not getting done.

But if you’re going to be effective on the job, you’ll see things differently. Effective workers acknowledge their “response-ability” to take what action they can to create change. They focus their efforts on the things they can do something about.

In his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey lists proactivity as Habit 1.[12 ]Proactivity is accepting responsibility (or “response-ability”) for your own work and for your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and life. It’s acting based on principles and values instead of reacting based on emotion or circumstance. It’s focusing your time and energy on those things you can influence and letting go of those things you can’t. Proactivity is foundational to both personal and professional success and to every other habit of effectiveness.

Proactive people are a great asset to any organization. They generate ideas and action that make a difference. They take the initiative. They seize opportunities and make things happen.


Some years ago I was put in charge of developing a training program for a large organization. When I arrived, I inherited an administrative assistant who had been there for a while. In the midst of my challenges, I hurriedly checked her off on my list—“competent assistant”—and quickly moved on to more important things.

In the following weeks, though, I came to realize that she was one of my “most important” resources. This woman did everything I expected an administrative assistant to do very well. But she gradually began to do more. After a few sessions of dictation, she brought the letters in for me one day, opened and sorted, and she said, “If there are any of these letters you’d like answered in a way similar to the ones we did yesterday, I’d be happy to draft them for you to save you time. You could look them over and see what you think.” I was feeling a time crunch, so I thought, why not? The drafts she gave me were well-written and sensitive—better than I could have done myself. Soon, she was doing 95 percent of the letters without my dictation.

Because I was impressed with her writing, I asked if she’d like to be involved in creating a training manual. She agreed, so I gave her a particular section and asked her to jot down a few ideas. She not only put down her ideas; she produced an excellent draft of the proposed material. Eventually, she ended up as a trainer and assistant manager in the department. Finally, I discovered that she had a master’s degree in communication and had accepted the administrative assistant position at the time because that was what was available. She was one of the major reasons why that training program was so successful.

I’ve always appreciated human potential, but this woman raised my vision of how effective someone could be in proactively fulfilling a work role. Since that experience, my view of administrative assistants has forever been changed, and it’s affected the way I’ve interacted with every assistant since. Some of my greatest work associates have been people who started out as administrative assistants and increased their capacities and moved on, or became incredible assistants because that’s what they wanted to be.

Proactivity is at the root of personal job satisfaction, organizational and societal success.


Several years ago, as we were working on a “wisdom literature” project, we ran across an amazing example of proactivity in the workplace and in society as a whole. We were in Australia and had the opportunity to interview some of the Aboriginal tribal leaders in several cities along the coast and also in the heart of the outback in a village called Yuendumu.

In sharing their ideas with us, these tribal leaders told of what they called the “cultural genocide” of their people—how early Caucasian arrivals sought to “civilize” and “educate” Aboriginal children by taking them away from their land and families—the two things that were deeply connected to their sense of identity—and relocating them in white foster homes so that they could be raised in the cities. The resulting social problems among the displaced Aboriginals—alcoholism, domestic abuse, etc.—were immense.

However, these leaders told us about the great proactivity of the women of their tribes. These women had recognized what was happening and took it upon themselves to initiate efforts to create a sense of identity and purpose among their people in their new and difficult situation. They worked hard to set up businesses or “co-ops.” They got them running successfully. Then they approached the Aboriginal men and asked them to run them.They also asked them to return to their positions as spiritual leaders of the tribes.

The sense of respect with which the tribal elders spoke of the women was very impactful.Though this kind of leadership was not their natural role in the society, it was easy to see that these women had risen to the need and taken significant steps to restore a sense of dignity and purpose so vital to the well-being of their people.

Proactivity is learning to see yourself as “response-able” and do response-able things.

How do you develop it? Take initiative. Always think, “What can I do?” Learn to listen to your own language. If you ever find yourself blaming or accusing someone or something else for your discontent—in word or in thought—STOP! Always focus your thought and energy on what you can do to make a difference.


In seminars, I often teach the principle of proactivity by dividing participants into teams of two. I then ask them to think about a problem or challenge they have at work, and to take turns describing these problems to their partners, doing everything they can to convince them that there is no way this problem is their fault and there is really nothing they can do about it.

After what is often very animated sharing, I ask people how they feel. The immediate responses are most often, “I feel justi fied!” or, “I feel so unburdened and relieved!”

But as we continue to interact, more and more I hear, “Yes, but I don’t really feel satisfied,” and, “This feels familiar—too famil iar. I’m afraid I’m too good at this.”

I then ask them to take this same problem and accept “response-ability.” I ask them to use only proactive language:

“I can ...”

“I think ...”

“I feel ...”

“My next step is ...”

I ask them to do everything they can to convince their partner that they can make a big difference.

Again they interact. This time, when I ask them how they feel, their responses are significantly different:

“I feel much more energized!”

“I feel empowered.”

“I feel hopeful.”

They begin to realize that the only people who were making them victims were themselves.

Consider the dramatic contrast between these two approaches. Most of the time, whether we see something as a problem or an opportunity is what makes it a problem or an opportunity.

Optimizer 2: Focus on Job One

The problem many people have in making the commitment to excellence is the tendency to translate that commitment as, “I now have to do everything everybody wants me to do perfectly.”

That’s impossible. It’s also strategically unsound.

Whatever your job, you will probably never be able to do everything that could be done . . . or everything you would like to do . . . or everything other people would hope that you would do. The key is to proactively determine what we call your “Job One” and to do that job very well. To do that one thing with excellence is far more important than doing everything with mediocrity.

One significant challenge to focusing on “Job One” is the focus/awareness dichotomy we described in Chapter 2—the tension between the need to concentrate and the need to be aware of and respond to other things that are going on. Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident that in the highly charged political environment of many organizations. While employees struggle with the need to focus on high priority projects, they also feel compelled to respond to the power plays, rumors, innuendos, and second guessing that goes on in the organization. As a result, a huge percentage of time and effort is wasted. The loss is not only the company’s; it’s also a loss to all the employees who go home feeling unproductive and dissatisfied. So what’s the solution?

Take the steps necessary to focus on Job One.

First, understand your organization. Whether your business is supplying bread to supermarkets, designing or constructing buildings, renewing drivers’ licenses, servicing automobiles, or selling computers, ask some key questions:

  • Why are we in business?

  • What goods or services do we provide?

  • Who are our customers?

  • What value do we contribute to our customers’ lives?

  • How do our customers pay for the value we provide?

  • What results are we trying to achieve?

Seek to understand your organization from the point of view of your boss, your peers, your customers, and your competition. If your company has an organizational mission statement, review it careful- ly. Inquire. Observe. Do all you can to understand the organization you work for.

Second, understand your role in the organization. As business consultant Peter Drucker put it: “The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks: ‘What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?’”[13] Define your contribution, not in terms of activity, but in terms of results. Create a “work” mission statement if you’d like. Make sure the contribution you define is aligned with the organization as a whole and leveraged for maximum positive impact.

Third, make sure your vision of your role is aligned with your boss’s vision and that of your peers—that there is agreement on what your Job One is. Ideally, this alignment would grow out of a goal alignment or performance planning meeting initiated by your boss. But if it doesn’t, be proactive. Make sure that you and your boss are on the same page.


One day a fellow consultant got a call from the CEO of a company he was working with.The CEO said,“George, I need your help. It looks like we’re going to have to let ‘Fred’ go. I hate to see this happen, but the results aren’t there. Could you visit with him to see if there’s any chance we can save him?”

George said, “Sure, I’d be happy to visit with him.”

In talking with Fred, George said,“Would you mind telling me what this CEO holds you accountable for?”

“Not at all,” Fred replied. He rattled off a list of responsibilities, and George wrote them all down. Then he showed the list to Fred.

“Is this right?” he asked.

“That’s right!” Fred confirmed. And he indicated that in his mind, he was fulfilling those responsibilities well.

Later, George was talking with the CEO. He said, “Would you mind telling me what you hold Fred accountable for?”

“I’d be happy to,” was the reply. And he rattled off the list. George wrote it all down.

When George put the two lists side by side, there were significant differences. He went back to Fred and said, “Would you be interested in the list the CEO came up with when he was asked the same question?”

“Sure!” Fred replied. He went over the list with increasing astonishment. “Oh, man!” he exclaimed, “This is really amazing!”

A few months later George got another call from the CEO. “I can’t believe the change in Fred!” he exclaimed. “There’s been a total turnaround. You’ve got to come and do this to the whole department. What did you do to the guy?”

George replied, “I gave him your list!”

Effective employees know that it’s critical that their list and their boss’s list match, even when their boss doesn’t. In the situation we shared above, what actually happened when George said, “I gave him your list,” was that the CEO paused a long minute and then replied, “I knew it! He cheated!”

Astonishing as it may seem, the sad truth is that in some people’s minds, good employees are just supposed to know.And if they have to talk about it, they’re either not qualified for the job or they’re wimps.

But excellent employees don’t settle for not knowing the key activities they’re responsible for. If they’re in a situation with a boss who doesn’t understand, they proactively make it happen. They approach their boss and say something like: “I’ve listed my strategic tasks for the next month, and I just left a copy on your desk. If you see anything differently, would you let me know?” Or, “I’m planning my priorities for the coming year and I want to make sure I have everything in the right order. Would you mind looking over this list and seeing if I’ve left anything out?”

If you haven’t taken steps to make sure your lists match, they probably won’t.And no one else is going to make it happen. So be proactive. Take the “response-ability” to make sure there’s alignment between what you do and the key strategic objectives of the organization, and that you and your boss—and also your peers—are on the same page.

Then stay focused on Job One. To paraphrase Peter Drucker: “Starve problems; feed opportunities.”[14] Let the politicking within the organization die from lack of nourishment. Trust your inner navigational intelligence to let you know if there’s something that needs your attention. Other than that, stay focused on what matters most.


I’m currently working with a small company of world-class software developers. The trust level in the organization is so high that there is absolutely no politicking. The developers focus exclusive ly on their work, and the amount of creativity and development that comes out of that group as a result is amazing. We’ve had large organizational clients literally shake their heads in amazement at the quantity and quality of the work these people have been able to turn out.

Doing your Job One well will make an enormous difference in the effectiveness of your organization. It will also give you a greater sense of personal job satisfaction. In addition, it will generally buy some forgiveness as you work to develop other capacities.

If your job is sales, for example, and your performance is just mediocre, the level of tolerance may be very low if you have difficulty learning to turn in accurate and timely expense and sales reports. On the other hand, if you perform superbly, significantly exceeding expectations, it’s almost a given that the tolerance for your learning curve on the reports will dramatically improve. You’ll probably never get a bonus or a raise from turning in good reports, but by doing the critical things that benefit everyone on the team well, you’ll probably secure the support you need to produce the results required for compensation and promotion.

Optimizer 3: Think “Teams”

With the intense focus on career and competition, it’s easy to view work through a paradigm of independent achievement—to think of my career, my accomplishment, my success.

But when we think about it, it’s obvious that “success” is very much an interdependent effort. We all stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us. We all rely on the talents and skills of those around us. Even “independent” contractors contribute to interdependent projects, and they generally have support systems— from administrative assistants to suppliers—who help them make their contributions.

The truth is, we’re better together than we are alone. And excellence demands the ability to maximize the effectiveness of our inter- dependence.


A couple of years ago I was asked to accept an assignment in a women’s service organization to which I belong. The task was to plan and carry out a monthly activity for the hundred or so women in the organization that would enrich their personal and family lives and provide opportunities for them to learn new skills and give service to others.

I was happy to fulfill the assignment, but I realized that the contribution would be much greater if others were involved. A good part of the purpose of the assignment would best be fulfilled as these women really got to know each other, contributed to the planning and execution of the activities, and shared their talents and skills with the others.

My first decision was to engage the help of two of the women as assistants.Together, we determined to rotate the primary respon sibility for the activities so we would each be in charge one month out of three and have supportive roles the other two months. This immediately gave each of us a sense of focus, freedom and cre ativity in planning, and a dependable network of support.

We then examined the functions involved in our roles and determined to create a committee of specialists to handle regularly needed tasks such as food assignments and PR. We ended up with eight women on the committee who all contributed time and talent to make the monthly meetings a success. We then made an effort to learn as much as we could about the talents and interests of each woman in the organization and to structure our activities around the sharing of those talents and interests.

It has been thrilling to see how the committee has developed and to see the tremendous contribution each committee member and each member of the organization makes to the success of the whole. By working together, we’ve been able to do some good things—without creating excessive demands on any one person’s time and resources.

One month, for example, during our two-hour activity, we were able to put together 50 kits for children fleeing from domestic violence. We made blankets and gathered contributions of stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons, and personal hygiene items for children who often run from home with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.Another month, we were able to assemble 200 hygiene, new baby, sewing and education kits to be sent to Third World countries.

By working effectively together, we’ve been able to maximize the time and resources we each have to give and to accomplish something that none of us could have done on our own.

Whether or not you’re in a leadership role, thinking in terms of teams enables you to work with others to maximize strengths and compensate for weaknesses in accomplishing shared goals. It encourages you to appreciate the talents and skills of others and to celebrate shared success.

Optimizer 4: Create Partnership Agreements

One of the most destructive myths in our society is the often unspoken and unrecognized myth that you can have a balanced life or be a great highly productive employee, but not both. The facts are that most workers are very busy, but according to the FranklinCovey/ Harris Interactive Survey of U.S. workers (available free at www.franklincovey.com/lifematters):

  • Only 44 percent clearly understand their organization’s most important goals.

  • Only 19 percent have clearly defined work goals.

  • Only 9 percent believe their work has a strong link to their organization’s top priorities.

  • Only 19 percent feel a strong level of commitment to their organization’s top priorities.

Can you imagine the impact of this lack of communication and alignment—not only on the organization, but also on the employee’s sense of purpose and job satisfaction? Can you see how paradigms that don’t recognize the reality of this situation translate into pressure to work longer hours in order to get things done?

The truth is, it’s not a matter of working longer; it’s a matter of working more effectively. And that’s something that’s in your proactive control.

Whether you’re working with a boss or a peer, your ability to align and focus makes an enormous difference in your job satisfaction, in your value to the organization, and in your ability to create life balance. As we said earlier, proactive employees make sure their list and their boss’s list match. They also make sure there’s shared vision with other members of the organizational team.

One way to create shared vision, vertically or horizontally, is to create partnership agreements. These agreements can be formal or informal, written or verbal. They can be as simple as a five minute conversation. The goal is to make sure there’s shared vision and— alignment regarding:

  • What you’re trying to achieve

  • Why you’re trying to achieve it

  • How you plan to achieve it, and how you’ll know it when you do

By creating well-functioning partnership agreements, you make it possible to focus time and energy into top organizational priorities—instead of wasting them on nonaligned activity and internal politicking. You open the door to effective synergy and joy in shared accomplishment. You develop a reputation of being a dependable employee and a “team player.” You significantly increase your value to the organization.

Keep in mind: you don’t have to be the “boss” to initiate the part- nership agreement process. You can proactively seek to create shared understanding wherever you are in the organization. Just make sure that the agreements you work to create are always in the true spirit of “win-win.”

The key to the success of partnership agreements is to always honor them—or to modify them together, should the need arise. The only surprise your partners should ever encounter is when you exceed expectations.

Optimizer 5: Build on Your Strengths


Some years ago, I worked with the personnel department of a large corporation. Don, a recruiting and placement consultant on my staff, did his work with about average performance.

One day, I had the occasion to ask Don if he would do one of the tasks I delegated to staff members on a rotating basis. It was a project that required statistical analysis of a number of factors in the department. Though he had never done this task before, he agreed to do it.

When Don turned in the assignment, I was taken by surprise. The report had a quality of excellence and added value that I’d never seen him display in fulfilling his normal job. I immediately went to find him.

“Don!” I exclaimed. “This is phenomenal! You’ve done an excellent job on this report!”

He gave me a little smile. “I enjoyed doing it,” he replied. “I’ve always been good with numbers.”

Now he had me puzzled. “Why in the world are you in recruiting and employment?” I asked. “You seem to be doing all right, but you obviously have a great talent in the area of analysis. Why did you choose this particular job?”

Don looked sheepish. “That’s just it,” he replied. “I know I’m strong in analysis. But I never have been good with people. I felt I needed to improve in that area of my life.”

I shared with Don an important concept of effectiveness I have seen validated time and time again. By focusing on our strengths, we not only increase our productivity and personal happiness, but we also use our unique talents to make significant contributions that would otherwise not be made. Of course we need to improve in areas of weakness. But to become overly focused on weakness keeps us from connecting to our inner strength and areas of greatest contribution.

A short time later, when an opening for an analytical job came up in another department, with Don’s approval I recommended him for the job. He enjoyed the assignment and performed with excellence. Within a year he was managing the section. Interestingly, as his confidence in his new job grew, he became more relaxed about interacting with people, and, for the most part, his weakness took care of itself.

As we’ve said before, it’s not necessary to have the “perfect fit” job in order to love your work. But when you can align your work with your talent without sacrificing your most important priorities, why not? Working in your area of greatest strength enables you to maximize your contribution and increase job satisfaction.

Optimizer 6: Continually Improve

The only time you can coast in life is when you’re going downhill. So if you want to be an excellent worker, you need to be involved in continuous improvement. And there are at least two effective ways to do that.

The first is to seek feedback.

Most of us don’t really like feedback.We like to do what we want to do, and we assume that if anyone disagrees or gives us flack, it’s his or her problem. But effective employees recognize that we all have blind spots—problems and weaknesses in ourselves we just can’t see. By asking for feedback, really listening to it, weighing it thoughtfully in light of our own heart-set, and implementing what our inner wisdom tells us to do, we can become much more effective . . . and build relationships in the process.


As a writer, I remember the fear and trepidation I felt when I received one of my first magazine articles back from the editor. In my mind was the vivid image expressed by Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when she saw the editor’s marks on her work and felt “as a tender parent might on being asked to cut off her baby’s legs in order that it might fit into a new cradle.”[15]

But as I opened the envelope and cautiously began to go over what he had done to my “baby,” I found myself slowly becoming more impressed. This wonderful editor had not diminished the content or altered the style, but his well-placed suggestions genuinely improved the capacity of my words to communicate authentically and effectively.

Over the years, I have learned to respect a good editor. I have also learned the value of having many eyes review my work. After spending hundreds of hours on a project, I find there are small errors I can read over 20 times without spotting. And as others express different ideas and perspectives on content or style, I find an increased ability to look at my work more objectively and to change it to better communicate with a wider range of people.

Often, I listen and implement. Sometimes, I listen and decide not to implement. But I have learned to always listen. And in the process, I have become very, very grateful to those who are willing to give feedback.

When people sincerely respect and pay attention to others, it often enhances their own work, but it almost always enhances their ability to interact effectively and to solve problems on the job.

One simple but effective way to seek feedback is to select a sample of people—bosses, peers, customers, reports—and send an anonymous questionnaire. Attach a memo along these lines: “I’m trying to find ways I can improve. Would you please take a few minutes and give me some honest feedback?” Ask someone else to type up the results so that complete anonymity will be preserved.

You might ask questions such as these.

  • From your perspective, what do I do that is most useful?

  • What are my greatest areas for improvement?

  • What one thing do you think I should continue doing?

  • What one thing do you think I should stop doing?

  • What one thing do you think I should start doing?

If you send out that questionnaire once or twice a year, you’ll get some great information. You can read it, think about it, and look for ways to implement it.

Of course, you don’t want to become feedback centered—like the politician who was asked his position on a particular issue and replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t read the polls yet!” You may want to have your own mission statement firmly in place first so you can measure feedback against it.

Your objectives in getting feedback are to see how others perceive what you’re doing, to evaluate how what they see relates to your own center of principles and values, and to become aware of any blind spots you may have.

It’s generally a good idea to send a thank-you note to those who respond:“Thank you so much for taking the time to contribute to the feedback I have recently received. As a result of this feedback, here are some things I’m going to work on.” This kind of specific thank- you increases the likelihood that people will respond to questionnaires from you in the future. It affirms their investment of time and effort and lets them know you’re paying attention to what they say. It also communicates to others that you’re a person who is sincerely willing and trying to improve.

Now you may say, “Wait a minute! I’m not so sure I want to do this. I might hear something I don’t want to hear.” Our answer to that is: “That’s the best stuff to hear . . . and better now than later!” If there is something negative, it’s much better to hear about it now— when you can do something about it—than in an exit interview several months down the road. What’s more, if you don’t hear about it now, you might never hear about it. Perhaps nobody will ever tell you the real problem, and you’ll go on to job after job feeling haunted . . . unappreciated . . . wondering . . . never knowing . . . and not having enough information to see the problem and to change.


Years ago I was working for a large corporation.When review time came around, I did not receive the evaluation I’d expected. From my perspective, I’d done everything I was supposed to do and I’d done it well. But the evaluation I received was only average.

When I expressed my concern to my boss, he told me there were other factors involved. Evidently, a few of my peers thought I was more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than in being a good team player, and that perception was getting in the way of my ability to contribute.

I was devastated. I had no idea. While I’d struggled with some ladder-climbing issues in the past, I had worked hard to resolve them and was satisfied in my own mind and heart that my motives were on track. I felt terrible to think that anything I’d done had kept me from earning the trust and credibility I needed to be effective in my job, and that our work may have suffered as a result.

As much as the feedback hurt at the time, I now appreciate the courage it took for that supervisor to give it. And I realize that if I had proactively sought feedback much earlier, there were things I could have done to deal with the problem so it would never have come to the point it did.

I will never forgot the lesson I learned on that job: Get feed back! Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it hurts. But you’re much better off knowing and doing something about it than living with the consequences of not knowing.

If you’re ever feeling unappreciated on the job, it may be a red flag that the time to get feedback is now. And if the feedback hurts, here’s one way to deal with it:

First, be grateful for the pain. You’re normal. You’re alive. Say to yourself, “All right! Now it’s confirmed—I’m a normal person!”

Next, take the feedback, put it away for the night, and go do something that puts it in perspective. For example, go see a disaster movie—complete with wide screen and Dolby digital sound.

The bigger and more dramatic the disaster, the better. After you’ve spent two hours watching earthquakes, raging rivers, asteroids, or monsters wipe out half the earth, you’ll be able to look at the feedback with much better perspective. With half the world’s population being destroyed, the fact that one person wasn’t happy about something you did on the job doesn’t seem so critical. So go home and have a good night’s sleep. By the next day things won’t seem so bad.

Finally, look at your feedback in context. Remember that as important as what feedback tells you about yourself is what it tells you about others—about how they feel and what’s important to them. So balance their feedback in light of your own mission and goals. And also use it to gain insight into how you can improve your relationships with those who’ve taken the time to share.

A second way to apply the principle of continuous improvement is to invest in professional development. As we indicated earlier, research shows that people entering today’s work force can expect to go through six to eight job changes during their lifetimes. And technology is changing at such an incredible rate that if you don’t keep up, you’ll be quickly left behind.

So who is going to prepare you for the next opportunity, the next change? Who is going to update you on new technology? If you’re waiting for someone else to do it, you may be in for a long wait. Fortunately, some companies provide resources and there are other opportunities available. But now—more than ever before—the individual is the one who has to take the responsibility to learn, grow, and prepare.

So make it a way of life to always be learning. Read books. Listen to tapes. Take classes. Peruse trade journals—in your own field and in related fields as well. If you’re in construction, keep up on real estate. If you’re in the restaurant business, keep up on advertising, tourism, and travel. Keep abreast of emerging technologies, issues, and trends. Expand your horizons. Be prepared so that if your job opportunity changes, you won’t be left in the dust.

In Chapter 5, “Time Matters,” we’ll discuss how you can manage your time to effectively invest in professional development and keep up on personal effectiveness technology.

Optimizer 7: Just . . . Work!

As we observed earlier, some people simply know how to work. Perhaps they were raised on a farm or in a family culture that valued hard work. Or perhaps they learned from experience or observation what it takes to get results, and they developed the capacity to do it.

However they may have learned it, when they come on the job, you notice it: “Boy, that guy is a real worker!” Or, “She really knows how to get the job done!” On the other hand, you also notice those who generate a lot of movement and noise but basically don’t get much done.

People who have learned to work are a great asset to any organization. They’ve developed a skill that produces results, and they can transfer this skill to any job they have.


My father definitely knew how to work. He was raised on a farm. He spent many hours milking cows, picking cotton, and bailing hay. By the time he was eight, he was earning his own money for clothes and other personal necessities.

Following a bout with Malta fever as an adult, Dad was forced to change to a job that didn’t involve animals. So Mom, Dad, and I (I was three at the time) moved into the city, where he worked at a service station for a number of years.

Dad was a great service station worker. Whatever amount of time it took most mechanics to do a brake job, my dad pushed his skill until he could do it in less than half the time. In the evenings and on his one day off a week, he worked for 18 months to build the house he and Mom lived in for 30 years.

At one point Dad decided he wanted to do something that would provide more income and allow him to be with his family on Sundays. So he worked and studied to pass stringent tests required to become a State Farm Insurance agent. I remember as a teenager helping him study for those exams.

Shortly after Dad was accepted as an agent, the company made a college degree a mandatory requirement for acceptance. But Dad’s lack of a degree didn’t hold him back. During his 20-year career with State Farm, he broke every record in his region. With Mom helping as his office manager, he wrote several hundred “apps” a month in a time when one app a day was the stan dard for success. He won repeated awards for his success at the district, regional, and national level, eventually gaining recognition as one of the top 50 agents in the United States.

Following his retirement, Dad worked helping neighbors till their gardens and helping my mom create a family literacy center in our community. As long as he could work, he did work—even with significant health problems that would easily have slowed others down.

Dad was a man who knew how to work, and I believe his legacy of work will impact our family for generations.

In this day and time, it’s easy to confuse “activity” with “work.” People can be busy—even to the point of spending long hours on the job and coming home exhausted—without really “working.” And the meager results bear little correlation to the amount of time and effort expended.


I remember when we first moved onto our little minifarm. I was out digging irrigation ditches when a couple of older neighbors who had been lifelong farmers dropped by. After watching me for a minute, one of them remarked, “Well, at least he knows what to do with the business end of a shovel!”

They picked up a couple of shovels and proceeded to help. Even though they were considerably older, those two men were able to move a lot of dirt in a very short time. Through their lifetimes of work, they had obviously gained competence in using the principles of leverage, focus, pacing, effective use of energy and persistence.

This is a very simple example, but it impressed me with the truth that no matter what you do, you only really learn how to work by working.

You’re much better off if you can learn to work before you move into the competitive workplace. But wherever you learn how to work, learn it. If you don’t, you’re much more likely to get caught in the “activity trap,” where sheer busyness deludes you into thinking you’re doing something important . . . when you’re really not!

If you know how to work, you have the foundational skill that will enable you to be successful in any job situation.

[9 ]Bruch, H. and Ghoshal, S. “Beware the Busy Manger.” Harvard Business Review. February 2002.

[10]FranklinCovey/Harris Interactive “xQ™” (Execution Quotient) Survey of 11,045 U.S. workers, representing executives, managers, and front-line workers across 11 major industries, including banking and finance, retail trade, healthcare, public administration and government, military, technology services, telecommunications, education, automotive, accommodation and food services, and communications. Survey results are accessible at www.franklincovey.com.

[11]Virginia Tech’s National Institute for Personal Finance Employee Education, presentation to the AICCA Mid-Winter Meeting, San Diego, CA, January 14, 2000.

[12 ]Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989, pp. 65–94.

[13]Drucker, Peter. The Effective Executive. HarperCollins, New York, New York, 2002, p. 52.

[14]Ibid., p. 98.

[15]Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. Grosset and Dunlap, New York. Reprint of 1915 Little, Brown edition, p. 281.

Life Matters. Creating a Dynamic Balance of Work, Family, Time & Money
Life Matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work, family, time, & money
ISBN: 0071441786
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 82

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