25 things I’ve learnt from 4 years of work

As I transition to being a student again, I thought I’d write down 25 things I’ve learnt. It started as a list of 7 but, somehow, there seemed to be many more that were just as important. Brevity is clearly not a strength as yet.

1. You are better off focusing on your “learn-rate” and skills than rewards that look good. Your learn-rate is the intensity with which you learn – focus hard on it. Seek learnings from all sources – teammates, bosses, peers, subordinates, books, movies – just be a learning machine and forget about rewards. In fact, be actively wary of jobs that give you too much of what’s considered good too early.

2. Being so good you can’t be ignored is one part. It isn’t enough – Learning to market your work is just as important.

3. The train you are on matters a lot more than how smart you are. Luck matters. I had a unique opportunity in the last 2 years that enabled me to work across 5 countries in 3 continents. Sure, I didn’t mess the first one up but I’d be a fool if I attributed it to my skill. Being at the right place at the right time helps a lot. And, being skilled, positive and open increases your odds of doing that. Allow luck to find you. But, don’t rely on it.

4. You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you ask for and what you negotiate. A PS here – you get the best possible results when you find others to champion your cause and negotiate on your behalf.

5. Build a great board of directors and do it deliberately. You are the CEO of Me, Inc. Execute well and seek counsel over long term strategy. A big part of learning is learning from the experience of those wiser than you and spending time with a great Board can vastly improve your learn-rate.

6. Last minute work will kill you in the long run. Avoid at all costs.

7. A well scoped project has no need for long hours of work and definitely no need for weekends. Your best 0 error work is done when you are working comfortably with 100% focus. Remember – we only have 3-5 super productive hours in a day. Focus on getting the most out of them – the rest is gravy.

8. Get your shit together. Be organized and responsive. That doesn’t mean checking email at 2 in the morning. It means banishing procrastination, being orderly and being responsible. It is a way of doing things.

9. Things have a way of working themselves out if you put in the work. The law of unattraction works here. Stay calm and let the universe do its work. (This is bloody hard)

10. Drive your own review and feedback process. Work hard on not allowing weaknesses to get in the way by actively working on them, one at a time (e.g. a weakness every 6 months/year). Pay a lot of attention to your strengths. Your weaknesses are a way of reducing unforced errors and your strengths are how you hit your winners. When you are a beginner, avoiding unforced errors matters most. But, as you get better, your winners count for more.

11. You can only push so much. After a point, it becomes counter productive.

12. Take some time to understand human nature. Working with and moving people is where great change is made. You may not like all you see but you can definitely learn to understand and accept it. Understanding what drives people is always useful.

13. Understanding people is only possible if you take the time to understand yourself. Self awareness is a learned trait and it boosts our ability to deal with that other large beast – insecurity.

14. Work on a project outside work. At the very least, have a hobby that you care about. Use your weekends well. Good weekends drive good weeks. That said, don’t take this to an extreme. Let your hair loose and do an all nighter that messes with your sleep patterns often.

15. Actively build and maintain a support system of people not connected to work. I call this group framily – or close friends and family. Keep them engaged in your life by working on small projects with them, e.g. by volunteering together.

16. Sleep 8 hours, eat breakfast, and exercise nearly everyday. A healthy mind lives in a healthy body.

17. Book at least 1 good vacation and 1 great vacation during the year. It does wonders to your productivity.

18. Read. A lot. This is the single biggest driver of your learn-rate. If  you’re wondering how to make time, here are 3 ideas. 1. Cut down your TV time 2. Try audio books while at the gym 3. Use every minute of your commute

19. Mistakes are an inevitability. Don’t worry about the mistake – worry about the process that led to the mistake and focus on a creative, constructive and corrective response. I repeat that every time I make a mistake – focus on a creative, constructive and corrective response.

20. Every experience is what you make of it.

21. Your reputation is everything. Guard it carefully. If you don’t create and manage what you are known for (i.e. your brand), someone else will.

22. Try to never be guilty of a bad attitude. This is hard, especially if you are stuck in frustrating circumstances, but important.

23. Manage people the way you’d like to be managed and not on how some bad manager managed you. Don’t be a jerk.

24. Make the effort to understand the politics. Politics is inevitable if there are more than 3 people in a room. Avoid politicking if you can, however. Keep the game as clean and as meritocratic as possible. (A general rule when it comes to politics – if you’re unable to identify the sucker at the table, it is probably you.)

25. What got you here won’t get you there. This is the simplest and most important principle. If you’ve been doing well so far, the bar will soon be raised and you will have to use your accumulated knowledge and wisdom to figure out the next curve and reinvent yourself. Drive the change actively… what got you here won’t get you there.