This column grew out of a previous column and as such, is more a supplement. If you have not yet read that missive, please do so now before continuing. While that one was meant (somewhat) as a tongue-in-cheek delineation of what one should not do to get ahead in the business world, this one offers some sound, basic advice on how to be successful.
Some of you might have read books on how to succeed in business and life. You've probably spent a fair amount of change buying several of these books only to find that the advice given is essentially the same no matter who the author is. Now that you've helped make someone else successful, I'm here to give you completely free advice on how to become successful.
I'm absolutely certain someone, somewhere, has written down these same three rules and has, perhaps, put them in book form for you to purchase. These three rules might even be in one or more of the books you already have so what I am going to say won't be anything new or exciting. What makes my three rules so special is you don't have to read twenty pages in a book to get to the good stuff.
These three rules can also be used during interviews to wow and amaze your interviewer with your keen intellect and insight. But you have to get the interview first. In fact, these three rules can be applied to almost any situation.
Rule Number One: Organization
I can hear the groans already. Everyone, including your mother, has probably told you you have to be organized. Most would take that to mean military-style organization where everything is in it's place or maybe the Felix Unger (for the older generation) or Adrian Monk (for the younger ones) type of organization. In some regards, that is correct. Things need to be in their place. But it doesn't have to be as draconian an issue as you think.
Certainly, being organized means putting things in their respective place. After all, if it's not in a particular place, it isn't organized, is it? But you can still have disorganization while being organized. For example, both at home and work, I have several small piles of papers or documents. Each pile is devoted to one particular issue. At work, I have a pile of papers that is solely composed of notes I have made when resolving issues. Names, phone numbers, machine names, all are listed on my crib sheets. This pile is in a constant state of flux as I recycle the paper which have my notes on it when the note is no longer needed.
Another pile is devoted to information I want to hold onto for a while until I'm sure a project is done, at which point I can recycle those papers as well. Still another pile is devoted to documentation which is used fairly regularly and is easier to have lying around than in a drawer somewhere.
Organization does not have to rely on piles of paper. Another area of organization is that three pounds of grey matter encased in your skull. Being able to organize your tasks in your head has several benefits. First, it forces you to think about what you want to do and in what order. Second, using your brain to organize also causes you to remember things more fully. After all, if you have to think about what order you want to do something, you are more likely to remember the individual pieces.
Some might argue that planning should go along with organization. I take the opposite viewpoint in that if you don't have a plan or goal to accomplish, what is there to organize? Think of the difference between order and anarchy. With order, the plan is to bring some semblance of structure and harmony to anarchy. It is how you accomplish that task where organization comes into play.
Using your brain to organize things also has the long term benefit of leading to the next item on the list. . .
Rule Number Two: Adaptability1
It's one thing to be able to organize your tasks and complete them in an efficient manner. It is another thing entirely if you're highly organized but still fail if those carefully laid plans are upset by something unexpected. That is where adaptability comes into play. It sounds simple but you would be surprised at how many people can't adapat to changing circumstances.
If you are reasonably adept at Rule One, this rule should be fairly easy to master. It is merely a different form of organization. In a nutshell, adaptability means being able to reorganize your thoughts and actions yet still achieve your goal. Put another way, and to use a military axiom, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy".
Being able to reorganize your plans to fit current conditions takes practice though for some, it can come naturally. Think of it as mental juggling. You had organized your actions one way only to find that something has changed so now you must reorganize your actions. That's all there is to it.
Finally, what some might consider the biggest rule of all. . .
Rule Number Three: Communication
Of the three rules, this one is probably the most important. Communication, in all its forms, is essential to being successful. While some might think that knowing something other people don't is a good thing, think again. If you know something critical to the operation of a business and do not disseminate that to others around you, what happens if you get run over by a bus (or wildebeast depending on where you live)? That's right. Things come to a halt and the business has to scramble to figure out how to accomplish your task because you didn't communicate your process to anyone else. Would you want to be the person who has to figure out how to make 'X' operation work because the person who did the work didn't tell anyone?
Communication does not mean you tell everyone every minute detail of your job or life but rather, hit the highlights. Let them know about things they will need to know if something happens to you or if you leave. For example, if you know of an error message that occurs on a piece of equipment, the reason for the error and how to correct it, write it down and tell those you work with about the solution. If a piece of equipment is going to be down a while for repairs or upgrades, inform those who will be affected by this downtime so they can prepare for the outage. By inform, I don't mean five minutes before the equipment is turned off, but days if not a week or more in advance. Shout it from the top of the building if you have to but communicate your intentions to people
Communication is not restricted to a work environment. Your personal life has many instances where communication is also critical. For those of you, unlike myself, who are living with or are married to someone, communication is probably the one area, next to monetary issues, that you can improve upon. I don't mean waking up every morning and telling your significant other you love them (though there is no reason not to do this) but rather, letting them know about things which may impact them. Have a late-day meeting that might run you late for dinner? Let your partner know so they're not wondering where you are. Need to stop at a store on the way home to pick something up? Let them know so if they need something, you can pick it up while you are there rather than making a special trip (this also helps cut down on the amount of fuel you use).
Communication is not only a verbal aspect. I mentioned above that writing down a solution to a problem is a way to communicate, and it is one area the vast majority of both businesses and people fail to utilize. No one, me included, can remember everything about everything. That is why I make notes when solving the world's problems.
Some problems occur frequently enough that their solution becomes second nature. You know how to resolve the issue because it happens once a week. But what about those problems that happen once every six months? Can you remember how to fix those issues without having to look up the solution every time? Of course not, which is why I ask my co-workers, whenever they come across such an issue, to write down the solution so everyone can access it at a later time.
Let's put it this way. If you're out one night and strike up a conversation with some hot stud (or studette) and you get their phone number, do you try to memorize the number or do you write it down? If you're like most people, you find a napkin, borrow a pen and write it down. If you're willing to write down a phone number for future reference, doesn't it make sense to write down solutions to problems? "Document, document, document" is a phrase that should be ingrained in your vocabulary.
Another area of communication deals with access codes. No, not the kind to launch nuclear missiles but passwords for financial accounts, web pages, cell phones, anything where you need a code to access an account. As before, what happens if you get run over by a wildebeast on your way to work? Aside from the novelty of being run over by a wildebeast, will the people you work with be able to get into areas you have access to by using a code? What about the one you're living with? Will they be able to get into your accounts if the need arises?
I realize it is a huge security breach waiting to happen, but write down all your accounts and associated codes and make someone you think might need those codes aware of the list and where it is located. Maybe put the list in an envelope and seal it, checking it every so often to verify it is still where you put it and it is still sealed. This requires trust on your part so choose wisely those who you make aware of the list.
Being successful does not mean you will become rich. Successful in this sense merely means a more efficient way to accomplish your goal. Following these three rules should result in a less stressful environment as you will no longer have to scramble to complete assignments or make multiple trips to stores. In return, you will become the model of efficiency and the envy of your co-workers as you seemingly have everything under control. You will also have time to comtemplate more important questions such as, "Can I really fit an entire Whopper in my mouth?" or, "Why doesn't hots3xygrl32 answer my emails?"
The biggest problem you will have by following these three rules is that you might have too much free time on your hands. If this happens at work, you will need to organize your day in such a way to adapt your workload to this extra time while still communicating to your superiors you are accomplishing your goals. Simple, isn't it?1I realize in my previous column I said that having adaptability would not get you ahead. Which is true. You can have the ability to adapt to any situation in your current position and you will be successful but in the larger scheme of things, it will do nothing to get you ahead. Confusing, I know, but I don't make the rules.