The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Heard

“You should never be done working.”

This is far and away one of the stupidest and most foolish things I’ve ever heard. Let me provide the context.

I’ve written before about the need to, “Work Smart, Not Hard.” The goal is to accomplish a task, not to work for the sake of working. If you can complete something in 6 hours, there’s no need to take longer.

Some time ago I was working on a political campaign, directing one of the campaign offices. The terms I had given staff and interns was fairly simple. “These are the goals we’ve been given by the campaign headquarters. We are going to meet and then SURPASS these goals.” The results were important, how long it took and how we achieved them, (while remaining ethical), was irrelevant.

While other offices in other locations may have taken 8 or 10 or 12 hours to meet measurables of making phone calls or knocking on doors, the incentive I gave to staff was to work hard, be creative and finish the goals in an effective and efficient manor. If they finished in 7 hours, they could take a dinner break. If they finished a few hours early, go home and get some rest. The point was to meet the goals, then surpass the goals, and prove we could do it quicker, better and more effective than anyone else.

You should never underestimate the importance of giving staff the ability to prove themselves, and the ability to be rewarded for doing their job properly. Especially if you’re not able to provide a financial incentive, allow them leeway on their schedule and provide them with time freedom. “So you worked your tail off and finished all the reports by 3:30 on a friday? Thanks. See ya! Enjoy the early weekend, you earned it.”

Unfortunately there are some that can’t comprehend this. Typically they are mid-level managers who think that sitting at a desk blankly for eight hours somehow constitutes work. “How dare you leave after only 7 hours! Don’t you know I’m paying you to work?!” You can’t explain to them that you did twice the work in half the time, compared to the goof-off next to you who worked slowly and did everything backwards. They won’t understand it.

Unfortunately politics perhaps more than any other field is filled with these bureaucratic managers who got their positions because of favors or personal connections. One of my mid-level managers may just have been one of the most incompetent individuals I’ve ever worked with, but he had a decades long relationship with the high-er ups, so he got the big job and title. Meh, it happens.

One week he came out to our office for a couple of days. On day one we worked all systems go, and “finished.” About 9:30pm. Campaigns are almost a 24/7 affair, so 9:30pm is actually pretty early. But that was the deal I had made with my staff. Work hard, come up with ways to do more with less, and be efficient. Let’s show the main HQ we’re the best office there is, and then I’ll reward you by letting you leave, “Early.”

The next day I got an earful from Mr. Mid-Level Manager. After calling all the staff to a meeting to stand around the circle, he chastised us for leaving early. “You should never be done working,” he said. “Other offices are staying until 10 or 11 or even midnight. It’s important to keep going… You should never be done working…”

It's a little more difficult when the stupid is working on the campaign though

It’s a little more difficult when “stupid” is working on the campaign though

The staff I’d worked with looked at me with, “Is this guy serious,” glances I’ll never forget. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing in his face. We were consistently hitting and setting new high marks and were finishing in the top echelon of offices night after night. Clearly something was working.

Despite the physics of not being able to work forever and needing to take breaks for sleep and food, this guy had no idea what he was talking about. When exactly could we be, “done?” 11pm? Midnight? 2am? A perpetual state of working with 40 minute naps in between? I didn’t argue with him, this clown was connected to the boys in charge, but it proved what I and the rest of my staff had known for sometime, he had no idea how to measure success.

Whether its politics or business or your own personal life, set your goals, meet them and then surpass them. It’s truly silly how every industry in the world assumes we all need exactly 8 hours to complete our daily tasks. If you can work hard and be more efficient and finish in 7, you should be rewarded. Despite our office constantly meeting and surpassing our goals night after night and being one of the top offices on the campaign, we were told we weren’t working hard enough by someone who had no business managing a fruit stand, much less a campaign.

Focus on the results, meet and surpass your goals and rewards your employees for a job well done. In the end you’ll create a better place to work and you’ll provide you and your company the edge most, sadly fail to achieve.