Editor’s note: Busy employees aren’t always the most valuable ones

January 15, 2012

Before I came to The Washington Post, a mentor of mine asked me how I planned to approach my new job.

I’m going to work like crazy, I told him. I’m going to arrive early and stay late. I’m going to volunteer for any and all assignments. I’m going to ... .

He interrupted.

Everybody thinks they work hard, he counseled. You have to work smart.

Better advice I have rarely received.

I started off with my head down, plowing away. I thought I was working hard but I didn’t realize how good I had it.

I remember once complaining about how much work I had on my plate: I had to edit two A1 stories on deadline!

Oh, those were the days.

We thought daily newspapers were high-tempo journalism.

Now, we live in the age of 24-hour Internet news cycles, where there is a premium on being fast and thorough — and lean.

I used to say, pile it on, try to make me break.

Now, I know better.

I’ve had to learn how to prioritize and multitask.

I don’t just make lists anymore; I make lists of lists.

And I’m not alone. Inevitably when I make my rounds in the local business community, I hear people talk about how they are toiling harder than ever.

Few expect that to change any time soon.

Indeed, the unemployment rate may be ticking down, but much of the new hiring is mostly to replace key people or to pursue can’t-miss opportunities.

It’s almost as if we have settled into a new hyper-productive reality. Hard work is the new status quo.

As a result, job creation becomes more dependent on company creation, which is why there is so much talk these days about policies to support innovation and entrepreneurs and small businesses.

It also means the task of nurturing talent becomes all the more important.

It’s easy to appear busy. The employees who make a difference are the ones who can think strategically and optimize their efforts for the greatest good.

They are the ones who can work smart.

beyersd@washpost.com

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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