One of my personal rules is to give 150% effort whenever I can.
This first came into play for me when I had started a new position as the Manager of Information Systems for an Advertising Company.
I had talked my way into this job of supporting Macs, Windows PCs, and the website for this agency. The job offered me a significant step up in salary and much better hours vs. my previous retail computer sales job.
Here was the only problem – I was a Mac expert, but I had never used Windows PCs before. Nor did I have any Web design experience.
I tabled my pride and purchased Windows for Dummies and one other “Windows Basics” book. I studied these at home at night and then snuck into the closed office on weekends to figure out how to make everything work.
In a few months I has transformed a mishmash of 20 non-networked Macs and PCs into a solid, high-speed ethernet network with file sharing, networked printers, email and high speed Internet access. My coworkers and bosses thought I was a genius. (This was back in the mid 90s when email and high speed internet was just beginning to hit the business world).
I did all this extra work because I had given my word that I could support their computer needs and I felt I had no choice but to deliver.
For the website, I bought some other basic HTML books. I also bribed an an old high school classmate with dinner in exchange for a tutoring session. That didn’t turn out so well. Since we were an Advertising Agency, my basic photoshop skills and rudimentary HTML tables just couldn’t meet the design quality we needed.
So once again, I swallowed my pride and called a few tech sales guys I knew for their recommendations. I was referred to a startup Web design firm. I then convinced this web firm to give us a deal in exchange for introducing them to our clients. Then I built a business case and pitched my managers to use this firm. Our site became one of the best among our local competitors and we added web design services to our portfolio.
Through this effort, I learned how to manage a third party vendor relationship, how to present a business case internally for funding and how to build a new line of business.
It took many late nights and weekends, but all of my extra effort really seemed to be paying off. I was only 6 months into this job and had built a reputation as a go-to-guy in the firm. I was learning how to solve problems through a combination of research, concentration and sheer effort.
And then, the shit hit the fan in my personal life.
- My stepson was in the midst of his teenage rebellious years. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd, cutting school, sneaking out at night and getting into trouble.
- I’d be at work and I’d get a call, “This is the Police…we are at your house and are holding your son and his friends…your neighbors called when they heard loud music at 10 AM on a school day”. I’d have to go home with no notice and not return until the next day.
- I’d awaken to a strange noise in the middle of the night and when I walked downstairs to investigate, my side door would be wide open from my son, who had snuck out to hang out with his friends. After spending half the night searching for him, I wouldn’t fall back to sleep so I’d be a walking zombie the next day at work.
- My wife’s father got seriously ill. Then her sister had major surgery. I stayed home and played Mr. Mom with our two kids while she flew to different states to spend time helping her father and sister.
It seemed like all of these things happened simultaneously. In reality, they occurred over a span of several months. But when they were going on, I felt overwhelmed with them. I wasn’t able to work the extra hours like I had previously done. Nor could I focus all of my mental energy on solving work problems – I had my hands full at home. EVen when my hands weren’t full, I couldn’t always give full concentration to work.
The best I could do was give 75% effort some days. On my worst days, it was even less.
What were the negative consequences of giving less effort at work during these times?
I never shared with work what was going on in my personal life. I think I was just fortunate to work for two agency owners who were older and wiser than me. They recognized my extra effort when I gave it. But I think they were well aware that life happens to all of us and there would be times when I just couldn’t give even 100%.
It probably took me another 10 years to realize that what I had naively thought was a run of bad luck was just normal life. Events like these happen to everyone.
Spouses get sick, babies get born, families have problems, loved ones die, relationships end, kids graduate. There will be tragic accidents, joyous surprises, and seemingly big issues that you’ll laugh about someday.
During these times, it will be impossible to give 100% to your job.
So instead, I recommend that you give 150% when you can.
Then when life throws you a curve ball and you have to give work less than 100%, you’re still going to end up delivering more than you would if you had tried to maintain 100% all the time.
For me, the 150% Rule is how I’ve learned to balance my work and my personal life.
I still do it nearly 25 years later. It’s just a conscious decision now to focus my time and effort on one or the other for a specific period of time.
It has served me really well.
I have counseled many employees on this approach. I try to teach them this rule before the shit hits the fan for them. Because real life will happen.
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