The 5 Habits of “Easily Getting By”

This morning I was thinking back on the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and considering to select it as the next title we would read for our UX group’s book club. It has a great list of principles (though long winded) that can be applied to make competent people into highly effective people. Before you can be highly effective, you have to have a minimal level of capability, and one of those capabilities is to not lose your job.

I’ve known a enough people in my career where I thought, “How does this person still have a job here?” These people don’t stand out and rarely contribute anything super valuable to the team, but they still manage to collect a paycheck every week.

To me this is interesting because ambitious people all want to succeed, but what about the other 80% of the population (making the number up) who are just there because it’s a job? Taking some time to understand this helps us identify traits in others (and yourself when you’re not interested in your work) when you become a manager of others. I remember my mom worked with this lady who was always so funny. She had a great personality, was always talking and seemed busy. I asked my mom why she wasn’t the boss ( I was 7 years old at the time) and my mom laughed then telling me the woman was actually very mediocre at her job. She showed up on time, left right when the clock struck five, and never did anything more than she was asked for. So I wondered, “Why do they keep her around?” The answer is simple now. The woman was doing the absolute minimum to get by and go unnoticed, a strategy to coast through her job.

Another interesting part of the principles below are that you have to do all of these before you can truly become “Highly Effective.” Stop and think about that for a second. It’s hard to stop and think about something like this in our American culture because we are trained to jump to the next big thing immediately or win the biggest trophy without creating the building blocks first. Before you can be great, or even good, you have to be average. Before you start thinking that you’re going to be the next Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, or any other business guru, learn to do the absolute minimum first.

Show Up On Time

I remember being told when I started my first job out of college, “It’s nearly impossible to get fired when you show up everyday on time.” It’s true. It builds trust with others by showing that you have a level of responsibility. It also shows respect for others time.

There was a case study I read in a management course about an employee who has quickly promoted up the ranks because he was “such a hard worker.” He came into the office on time every morning and stayed late into the late. Management thought he must deserve a promotion for putting in so much effort, it would also set a great example for the office. It turned out, the employee wasn't putting in a lot effort, in fact, most of the time he was just surfing the web, watching videos, and taking care of personal matters all because he didn't have internet or a phone line at home. He received promotions purely based on the perception of work he was putting in, which leads me to my next habit.

Don’t Leave Early

People have red flags, whether valid or not, when they see others leave early. Unless you state it’s an emergency, people are going to jump to the conclusion that you are not putting in your fareshare of effort. It’s unfair, but it’s human nature.

This is especially frustrating for my wife who gets into work 2 hours before the rest of her co-workers. Even though she leaves just an hour before them (and works through lunch) co-workers give her mean looks as she leaves office. Several people have stopped her in the elevator over the last year and asked demeaningly “Leaving so soon?” even though she works 2 hours more than them every workday.

Complete What is Asked of You

It’s tough as a manager to fire an employee who has completed everything you have asked of them. If you completed the task, but the quality wasn’t at the level expected, maybe you can blame it on “miscommunication” or lack of “training” the first few times. After a while though, completing a task at the quality level expected will be necessary to “get by.”

You could be demoted for consistently turning in low-quality work, but it’s unlikely you’ll get fired. There are too many other people who won’t even complete the task to begin with that they need to focus on getting rid of first.

Don’t Overextend Yourself

It’s important to commit to only what you can do. This goes for work productivity, relationships, and financially. Live and perform within your means and abilities. When you over-stretch yourself, you end up letting others down. Letting others down is a red flag for them to distrust you.

Pay Your Taxes

You have to do it to avoid jail, unnecessary legal fees, and lots of time speaking with the IRS. My mom went through part of this after having been screwed over with a company buy-out that her broke and some random CEO and CFO with millions of dollars. It was hundreds of hours of her life taken away (over 5 years) from her fighting with the IRS and convince them she was taxed on money she never received. That’s a lot of time and stress on top of being a single mother of three children. Had she had the money to pay off the initial tax or a lawyer to get it taken care of, she would have gotten a large portion of her late 40’s back.

B Parsons