Dear Self: Quit Doing the Bare Minimum.
You wouldn’t want your mechanic doing the bare minimum required to make your family car safe to drive. You wouldn’t want your surgeon doing the bare minimum needed to keep your heart pumping. You wouldn’t want the chef at your favorite restaurant doing the bare minimum to ensure the food you’re eating is safe to consume.
You expect people to go above and beyond. You want people to go the extra mile for you, in situations when your life depends on it and otherwise. You want to know that people care about their craft and care about you, right? I know I do. Yet, there’s a troubling trend in the workforce and entrepreneurship right now, and it all has to do with two things: effort and reward. Too many people believe that you should be lavishly rewarded simply for putting in the effort -- any amount of effort. Launch a startup? Get hundreds of paying customers in a matter of weeks. Quit eating bread? Overnight Instagram fitness model.
It seems silly when you read it, but for some reason, that’s how we’ve trained ourselves to think: “Because I went through the motions, I now deserve a reward.” And in case you suggest I might be exaggerating, this entire post is based on a conversation I had with a friend and fellow entrepreneur. He told me a story about an employee of his that asked, “Hey, so if I start showing up to work on time, do you think I can get a raise?” It’s a toxic way of approaching life and work.
That's why I want you to join me in saying goodbye to “the bare minimum.” In the startup world, we call it the MVP -- Minimum Viable Product. It’s a very helpful mindset to get things launched, but I feel I’ve seen too many “MVPs” as an excuse for just being lazy. Here are four ways to keep the bare minimum from creeping into your life and your work.
1. Ask yourself: “Am I proud of this?”
Don’t seek perfection, but do seek to feel proud of the work you do and the progress you make toward a goal or directive. In order to feel happy and fulfilled in your role, you have to take pride in your work. You have to believe that what you’re doing is important and has meaning. Asking the above, simple question along the way will force you to stop and consider whether you’re truly putting time and meaningful effort into your work, or if you’re simply going through the motions to check another item off the list.
You can also frame the question this way: “Would someone else be proud of me for this?” Either way, answering it will help you imagine how others might perceive your actions and attitude while working to complete a task or project.
2. Act like your reputation depends on it.
Another way to eliminate the bare minimum from your work is by remembering that the way you work can ultimately influence your reputation or the feelings and opinions other people have about you. (Note: Before someone purses their lips and starts wagging their finger at me, I’m not suggesting that your happiness and joy needs to be dependent on what other people think. Far from it.)
You own the work you produce; even the smallest projects or tasks matter. Every action you take is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken your reputation. A good reputation can lead to more opportunities to grow, more trust and more responsibilities. A bad reputation, as you can imagine, can have the opposite effect: fewer opportunities, less trust and fewer chances to take on more tasks and duties outside of your existing role.
Remember this as you get assigned projects you don’t like, have to respond to an unhappy client or spend all day completing a long list of tedious tasks. You can choose the way you approach your work, and you can choose how you talk about it with others. Act like your reputation depends on it, because usually, in the end, it does.
3. Work for the role you want.
It’s a fairly common saying in the workplace, but it rings true now more than ever: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. In other words, don’t wait for someone to give you more responsibilities, more tasks outside of your current role, or more questions to answer. Seek them out yourself.
Be proactive and position yourself as a valuable resource that people around you can rely on again and again. Don’t put in the bare minimum because that’s all you were asked to do. Do your job and then attack challenges and opportunities that no one asked you to think about. It’s the fastest way to grow as an individual and to elevate yourself within an organization.
Admittedly, sticking your head into someone else’s role without permission can also really earn you some enemies (I had to learn that lesson the hard way). Do it to be genuinely helpful, with permission, and the right people will respect you for it.
4. Treat every day like it’s your last.
And finally, on a serious note, treat every day like it’s your last, because it could be. Don’t wait until tomorrow or some unknown day in the future to have a better attitude or make a bigger impact or do more important work. Do those things now, because you might not have the opportunity later.
I’m not suggesting you become a workaholic. I’ve done my fair share of 100-hour workweeks, which is why I’ve written about how important it is to find balance by not trying to always emulate someone like Elon Musk. I’m talking about more quality of work, not more hours.
Cherish the opportunities and relationships you have now, and make the most of each day you have, and when you grow old in age, you can look back and feel confident that you put your best self and your best work into everything you did over your life.