Dec 27, 2011

My Six O'Clock Project

When I was a kid, my parents often emphasised the importance of hard work. My mother would even say, "It doesn't matter if you score badly in your exams, so long as you had studied hard and tried your best". At first sight, this philosophy sounds plausible enough. However, upon closer scrutiny, you might find that it doesn't quite hold up.

Consider your workplace. Make a list of the most successful people (those who are on the promotion track, those who got the biggest bonuses, and so on). Then for each of these people, write down what you think are the top 3 reasons for his or her success. I suspect that you'll end up with quite a variety of different reasons. For example:

"good interpersonal skills",
"smart and talented",
"very experienced",
"handles the high-profile work"
"outstanding problem-solving ability"
"because he has plenty of important clients"
"excellent communication skills"

Less politically-correct reasons (which is not to say that they are invalid) may include:

"his skin is of the right colour"
"sucks up to the Boss"
"very good at taking credit for other people's work"
"her father is the CEO"
"PSC scholars always get promoted even if they are idiots"

Anyway, my point is that there is little correlation between hard work and career success. People who actually get ahead in the workplace may get ahead for a wide variety of reasons, other than old-fashioned hard work.

Laziness is probably detrimental to your career progression. But diligence is definitely no guarantee of success. To see if this is true, check your workplace again. Make a list of the most hardworking people. You'll probably notice that some of your colleagues work very hard, but don't seem to even get appreciation, much less achieve career success.

(Actually, this is true of our education system as well. There are plenty of students who slog very hard and produce only mediocre grades).

Unfortunately, many Singaporeans are culturally conditioned to work hard. I say that this is unfortunate - because as I've already pointed out, hard work doesn't necessarily get you anywhere. On the contrary, there is a personal price to pay for hard work (think migraines, heart disease, stomach ulcers and hypertension). And excessive diligence at work will also deprives you of your personal time, including time with your family.

So ....

Come 2012, I am going to launch a new personal project. I call it my 6 p.m. project. My mission is to leave the office at 6 pm sharp as often as possible. Ideally, 5 days a week, for most weeks. I'll even keep a log.

On average, in 2011, I left the office around 8 pm. So if I now succeed in leaving at 6 pm instead, I save 10 hours per week, or 40 hours per month. That sounds pretty good to me.

I don't intend to get sloppy with my work. I do intend to become more efficient and productive. I plan to find good ideas and clever ways to get all my usual work done on time and done well, despite my working 40 hours less per month.

How exactly will I do that? Stay tuned. I'm still figuring it out myself. As the 6 p.m project progresses, I'll let you know the details.


lobo76 said...

personally, I view laziness as a motivation for innovation. When one is lazy, he wants to do as little as possible. So one has to think of working more efficiently. input less, output more!

Jasmine said...

Mr Wang, unfortunately I belong to the group whom everyone says work too hard, but enjoys little success. I often feel terrible about being the last girl in office struggling to finish work, while others, high flyers or otherwise, knock off much earlier.

But I've come to accept that some people have more successes at work than others, but it doesn't make me a lesser person. I like what I'm learning, perhaps it just doesn't suit me or I'm not talented at it.

That said, I've wanted to get myself home earlier for ages with no success. I tried GTD and so many prioritizing methods!

I'll join you in your project! hahah

Peter Mak said...

Good luck, Mr. Wang.

Anonymous said...

cc to your boss (Six O'Clock Project) already ? any response ?

Amused said...

I disagree. Everything being equal, hard work will get you places. How do you think the great sportsman (e.g. basketball) gets to be the best? Ans: by training 8 hours a day.

The more hard working student will always get a better grade.

I will hire the Mr Wang who works till 8pm over one who leaves at 6pm.

That said, I am all for spending more time with family. Life is more than just work and every decision one makes is a tradeoff. You will be a happier person and your family too.


Abao said...

interestingly it is also 1 of my wish list for next year, to end work on time and still produce results

SG Girl said...

I remember when I had my first job, I told my colleagues I couldn't finish my work. They told me:"Girl, work can never be finished. Prioritise your work. The less important ones can be completed the next day." So I learnt.

Over the years, I also learnt that hard work won't guarantee a promotion. I've seen lazy and not that smart ones got promotion; had no clues of their job duties; passed on their duties to their subordinates; making silly mistakes and left the mess only to be cleaned up by their hardworking subordinates.

If one has a selfish, lazy superior, no matter how hard one works, his/her hard work would not get recognised.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoyed reading your blog - best of luck on your 6pm Project, Mr. Wang!


勤能補拙 said...

There are plenty of students who slog very hard and produce only mediocre grades).

And these same students, had they not slogged very hard, would have produced dismal grades!

Slogging hard is important - it helps a mediocre student changes a dismal grade to a mediocre grade.

勤能補拙 - hard work can compensate (somewhat) for stupidity!

Anonymous said...

40 hours is exactly how long a typical European / American work per week! So if your working hours is typical of Singaporeans, it means Singaporeans squeezed 5 weeks of work into 1 month! Poor Singaporeans!

Anonymous said...

ahh. it depends. perhaps in the corporate world.

but for writers, musicians, athletes, etc hard work is a must. approximately 10000 hours to achieve what others term as talent.

Anonymous said...

For students, there is an alternative to slogging hard. It's called studying smart.

Anonymous said...

Leave at 6pm but stuck in MRT breakdowns or snail-speed trains end up reach home also 10pm or later.

recruit ong

Anonymous said...

One gots to have IQ and EQ, lack of one gets one nowhere.
BUT, whom You know and not what You know will make a world of difference, so, the work smart are always better off than the work hard.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha, Recruit Ong, but if you leave at 8 pm and get stuck in MRT breakdowns, you will reach home at 12 midnight or later.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang
I guess this 6pm resolution is an indirect outcome of the non-promotion?

It's a good move actually. There are tradeoffs in all things that we choose. If you choose to give more of yourself at work and are rewarded correspondingly, good for you. If not, you should devote yourself to other things in life. Organisations and bosses are self-interested entities at the end of the day.

Children grow up very fast. I just saw an old video of my older kid the other day. It was just wondrous how she has moved from a little tot to a little young lady.

Enjoy your time with your family!

And yes, do share how you can do more at work and STILL leave the office at 6pm sharp! (There are days when I leave "early" and feel extremely guilty ...)

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

It's not the hours. It's whether we are having fun doing what we do ;)

Now I have to find a gig as PC game tester!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Nah ... The non-promotion happened early in 2011 (Feb, to be exact).

Anonymous said...

"So great job performance by itself is insufficient and may not even be necessary for getting and holding positions of power. You need to be noticed, influence
the dimensions used to measure your accomplishments, and mostly make sure you are effective at managing those in power—which requires the ability to enhance the ego of those above you."

--excerpted from Jeffrey Pfeffer's book "Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't"

Anonymous said...

hooorah! mr wang for your 6pm initiative to be productive and efficient!

my 2 cents worth on success:

1) hard work only guarantees the ticket to enter the doors of success, the ol' saying the harder you work, the luckier you get, that has been true in my life experience.

2) getting the ticket to the doors wont guarantee the fast elevator ride to the top floor of success. that could be a number of factors: being at the right place, right time; family connections; smarter; bolder; quicker; placing the right bet on the right horse...also failure (sometimes massive) comes with success, we cant get it right ALL the time.

3) anyway, what is success? it may be different for different folks. promotion to manager, director, ceo? salary of $40K, 80K, 150K, 240K, 1 mil? contentment, happiness, fulfillment?

as for me, i work bloody hard, constantly learning to be a better self and all the while enjoy the journey to my destination.