9 Ways to Get Serious About Your Work

9 Ways to Get Serious About Your Work

Michael TorbertThis is a guest post from entrepreneur Michael Torbert, owner of Semper Fi Web Design (custom WordPress development shop), founder of Semper Plugins (premium WordPress plugin store), developer of the All in One SEO Pack (#1 most downloaded WordPress plugin), and co-author of WordPress All-in-One for Dummies. This list draws from his experiences ranging from his high school job working at a retail store, to the Marine Corps, to corporate life, and to his current position as a small business owner. You can find him blogging at http://michaeltorbert.com or on twitter at @michaeltorbert.

1. Be motivated and dedicated. 
If you aren’t motivated to do the best you can for the interests of the company, and are just a clock watcher, or are using your job as a paycheck until something better comes along, you’re bringing other people down, and are stealing from the company.

2. Have intellectual curiosity. 
In school, and in entry-level jobs, you’re taught most of what you need to know, and told a few other things to learn. In real life, when working a higher level job, you’re expected not only to learn what you need to know, but to be able to discover what those things are on your own.

3. Ask all the right questions. 
During meetings, ask questions, and make sure you understand what other people are discussing. You don’t have to understand every single technical detail from a different field, but it’s important that you understand the general idea of what’s going on it the company, and understand certain things that you’ll need to know how to do. It’s also important that you understand the way your work will impact other people’s projects, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean to ask questions just to be asking something. Everything you say should be significant and have a purpose.

4. Take notes. 
Really. Take notes on everything. If you’re talking to someone, you should be taking notes. Make a shortcut to Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac) and use it. Use Evernote, Google Docs, or a traditional pad of paper and pen (gasp!). Do impress your boss, coworkers, and customers with your ability to retrieve information from a previous conversation. Don’t make them repeat themselves.

5. Take it seriously. 
People often say that you should be easy-going, or to take things lightly, so that you aren’t stressed out, and are generally more pleasant to be around. I say take things seriously. Too often I see people not taking part of their profession seriously. I don’t mean their entire job – I mean the little things. When your boss tells you to do something, it may not seem important to you, but it’s important enough that someone who makes a lot more than you decided it was a good idea. Treat the task as such.

6. Do your job as if you own the company. 
Don’t just do the bare minimum. To say to do your best isn’t quite right either. If you aren’t doing everything you can to make the company succeed, you’re stealing money from its owner. There’s someone else who will do better. Your job isn’t to just do what you’re told – it’s to make money for the company.

7. Dress the part, or better. 
At my last job, I remember walking in for the interview wearing my best suit, and someone sarcastically asked, “who died?” The CTO was wearing an old t-shirt and cut-off jean shorts. Obviously, there was no dress code to speak of, and this was reflected in the attitudes and work performance of the staff. Dressing professionally gives other people the impression that you’re a professional, and it makes you feel like one. This helps you to actually be a professional. My girlfriend’s old boss didn’t just wear a suit – he wore cufflinks. She was so used to only seeing him as a professional, that when she saw a picture of him in street clothes, she couldn’t believe it was him.  This is directly related to the next point.

8. Be all that you can be, and aim high. 
When I was in the Marine Corps, we had a saying: always do the job of the rank above you. If you’re a Private, you should be learning (and doing) the job of a Private First Class. If you’re a Corporal, you should be doing the job of a Sergeant. Set goals, and constantly move the achievement bar higher. Don’t fall into a rut where you get comfortable doing just your job, which is really just the bare minimum.

9. Be confident. 
When you’re talking with people, act like you know what you’re talking about. (It helps if you actually do know what you’re talking about.) If you act like you’ve got a purpose and are confident, people will assume that you’re well-informed and an expert. Otherwise, they’ll see a weakness, assume you don’t know what you’re talking about, and will walk all over you.

Bonus #10

Spelling Counts. In high school, a student raised his hand during a math test and asked, “does spelling count?” The teacher replied, “spelling always counts.” Remember, this was a math class. Nobody expects you to be an expert on grammar usage, or to be a walking dictionary or thesaurus, but you need to be able to express yourself intelligently to your boss, coworkers, staff, and clients. In life, spelling always counts.

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  1. My favorite is asking the right questions.

    It’s relevant for everyone in a company/startup to be asking any and all questions that come to mind. It will layout a good foundation of communication and trust among the team.

    Too many times I’ve been in meetings with developers and clients and people aren’t asking questions. What comes from that? Assumptions.

    Assumptions are dangerous. :)

    • Matt, great point … assumptions are indeed bad.

      My favorites are taking ownership and aiming high. You mentioned on Twitter about passion … and I think those come out of passion and show in the work.

      • Great article Michael.

        I had a boss one time who had a policy that if you were proposing a project, activity or change in process that you had to thoroughly explain it on one page. He did not want to wade through 20 or 30 pages of stuff to get your point. If you could get his attention on one page he could always ask for more detail.

        In adition, you have to really understand your subject to write an abstract or executive summary.

        • Thank you Jim. I absolutely agree with you.
          One tip that didn’t make the list (but I thought about) was brevity. Whether it’s a resume, proposal, or email, you should keep things clear and concise.

  2. Terrific article, I retyped just the headings and put it up on the corner of my whiteboard :)

    I can tolerate typos but not spelling errors (or grammar) from people who are supposed to be making large corporate decisions.

    For example, someone in a management position that sends me an email that says something like “Their is a new project well be meeting about… ” or something similar. It makes me cringe.

    In addition, as a follower of Michael, thanks for helping me find startupsofa.

    • Hi Paul,

      I’m glad to have let you know about startupsofa.com. Cory does a great job with this site. He’s definitely a resource you’ll want, and it’s wonderful that he’s willing to share his experience with us here. I’m honored to have a guest post on his site.

      That’s wonderful that you’ve printed the article. Can you take a picture of it and send it to me?

  3. Fantastic insight.
    Spelling always counts. No matter what technical subject you are discussing, the spelling and grammar reflect your attention to detail on the subject.
    This extends to CV or resume. If you cannot be bothered to update or spell check the most important document YOU own, what will your performance for the company be like?

  4. Awesome! Thanks for sharing! I totally agree with your points.
    For me asking questions is the most important thing to keep in mind! It helps you to not only understand everything but also shows that you are interested.

  5. Excellent article, Michael, for any age. I learned so much from doing temp jobs because, if you took it seriously, folks loved to teach you more. I’ve moved forward many times learning this way. No matter how small the task. Of course, learn from those who follow your above guidelines and have that ‘pro’ attitude.

    It’s amazing how interconnected knowledge is. I learned about cost acctg from an entry level job at GE (decades ago). I was bored and asked what the ‘factor’ I used was for. It was about copper. Later I applied for a position that most would have said was ‘above’ my knowledge. I couldn’t use acctg terms… but I do what the variable was for sugar related to Welch’s… from what I learned about copper and motors at GE.

    Never quit learning. Look for the patterns. thanks, Michael. And yes, I do use your plugins. :-)

    • Hi Ellie,

      Thank you for your comment, you make a very good point. My first job as a retail store cashier in high school was where I really learned a lot of life lessons that I still have and use today. Entry-level jobs may not always be great for your bank account, but if you pay attention and work hard, they can be great for life lessons.

  6. Nice article!

    I always quote Stephen Covey on that point – “seek first to understand, then be understood”.

    And to encourage question-asking, I’ll mention – “the *only* dumb question, is the one you don’t ask”.

  7. If you’re in a position where you need to do presentations, always prepare them yourself. Nothing as bad as looking confused with something someone else thought would fit the bill.

    If you do your own preparation it automatically forces you to think about options and variations etc, and gives you the confidence to get your case across and answer questions.

    (Learnt that one from experience!)

    • I consider every time I’m at work to be a ‘presentation’ of ‘Me’; what value I bring, what professionalism I bring it with, and why I am the best choice to be there tomorrow and the next day and days after that.

      Why would you consider presentations to be any different than any day you are working???

  8. During meetings we kind of lose patience because the person on the other end seems to speak endlessly asking a few relevant questions brings the focus back to the agenda of the meeting. You can also control the meeting if smart relevant questions are asked, you are actually in control of the meeting.

    • Hi Rick,

      I don’t think so. As I said in the post, I’m not referring to the big picture of the job. I’m talking about the little things that don’t always seem important to you.

    • What’s wrong with being serious?

      Responsible people are serious about their responsibilities. I don’t see any other way to be responsible. Do you?

      Remember, if you don’t take your assignment seriously, there are many more just as good as you at it, and they would love the opportunity to show your employer how much more seriously they take the position you temporarily have.

  9. Michael,

    Excellent points, every one. It is so boring to be around people who aren’t engaged with whatever they do. While I’ve been self-employed 90% of my life (copywriter, photographer, editor) I’m still an “employee” for my client/customer and they get every ounce of my engagement. And if you ever want to become an entrepreneur you are going to have to be engaged–or fail. So why not start right now? As an ad and magazine writer I’ve found that everything and everybody is interesting if you dig deep enough.

    I have also found that craftsmanship is transferable. Learn to master one simple thing, and you will take your skills on to the next thing, even if they are vastly different.

    • Michael,
      Your second paragraph makes perfect sense.

      It’s (life is) a matter of ‘Mastering’; being your best. And you are right: Once you have ‘Mastered’ the accomplishment of a first goal, you have the tools to repeat.

      Well stated.

  10. Lots of assumptions are made…!! otherwise really motivating.. did not liked about the dress code … your knowledge / dedication pays not the dress..!! may be I am more liberal in dress.. that makes me conformable…

    • What is ‘conformable’?
      Not to be rude, but the reality is (and I’m going to be equally strong in my choice of words as the business world is to competition): “There comes a time when you have to put on the ‘big boy’ pants, learn to tie a Windsor knot, and understand why you don’t wear brown shoes with a blue suit. If you think you are serving your family (aka children) by settling for a lesser position and income simply because you wish to dress and act like an adult child, well that’s your business. I personally, would think more of my goals, aspirations and the well-being of those who depend upon me. Being ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ is not the same as being the best you can be. So. Are you up to the task of being responsible; or, do you prefer to be ‘comfortable’. (Which is the word I’m assuming you meant to use in your post.)

  11. You made some really good points. The dressing in business atire for an interview is a biggy. The first impression of a job applicant is more important that most realize. As an office manager of a large real estate office, I hired a job seeker with less experience and less education than another applicant if they dressed the part, carried themselves with confidence, and shook my hand with a firm grip.

    I’m now a freelance copywriter and even though I work at home in my PJ’s, I wear business atire to meet with a prospective new client.

    Dawn Baird

  12. My favorite point from your list was the second one, “Have intellectual curiosity.” There’s always more to learn, but you must be in charge of deciding what you need to know and assigning yourself the task of acquiring knowledge and skills. In “real life,” the people who never stop learning are the ones most prepared to take advantage of opportunities.

    I enjoyed your post. Thanks!

  13. As a part-time CFO and turn-around specialist for Oil & Nat Gas Drillers and construction companies I’ve been faced with the dilemma of what to wear many times at these types of businesses. As a very muscular guy I usually fit right in with these rough and tumble guys. But the owners are always in jeans and t-shirts and If I wear a tie they about laugh me off the planet. I’ve resolved it by wearing a suit & tie the first time we meet and then khakis and a golf shirt after that.

    Then again, after all the new taxes and Obamacare issues kick in next year and the Federal Reserve’s money mill dies a horrible death I’ll have so much turn-around business that I’ll be able to work in my underwear!

  14. First of all, All in One SEO is awesome and as soon as I can justify the expense, I plan on getting a custom-designed Semper Fi template.

    I notice you’ve got a few days growth on your photo and no tie. This may be a perk of being self-employed, but I think it also makes you look more approachable. If you were too clean shaven and wore a tie, I would be a little suspicious. I can never understand the value of profile pics in business suits unless someone is in a line of work that demands it. Your point is well taken, though. If you dress sloppy, your work is probably sloppy, too.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on your last point. Poor spelling and grammar are signs of laziness.

  15. Great post. I totally agree with the 7th point – dress the part. My organization had a casual dress code and I used to believe that since we are in a creative field and work online with little client interface, being casual is the way to go . But ever since we have switched to a professional dress code, our work environment has changed and I feel the employees take work more seriously.

    • Hi Poonam,

      If this were Facebook I would “like” your comment.
      Having been in both work environments, I can certainly see the allure of a casual dress code. However, in most cases, people really do seem to take themselves more seriously when they dress the part.

  16. I believe that all of the suggestions are equally as important. The post general theme almost impossible to miss; it is better to give a good and considered effort than to be less than thorough in executing your duties. I believe that developing good habits would eliminate the need to consistently think about implementing these suggestions. Typos are a killer and now-a-days should not be made. I learned a lot by reading this post.

  17. You stated: “Nobody expects you to be an expert on grammar usage, or to be a walking dictionary or thesaurus, but you need to be able to express yourself intelligently to your boss, coworkers, staff, and clients. In life, spelling always counts.”
    I beg to differ. I contend “EVERYONE” expects you to be an expert on grammatical usage; and, a walking dictionary. “Why do you think spelling counts?” Without knowledge of the English language, including grammar, composition, spelling, and discourse; you will always come in second place at best. Is that acceptable to you? On a personal level? Really??
    And people wonder why the US educational system has slid from first place in the world during the 50’s and 60’s to 37th place currently. Is that really acceptable to any of you?

  18. Great article. I’ve seen so many times where ‘dressing the part’ has given someone that extra confidence to position themselves for better opportunity. Sadly, I frequently see people who don’t consider their dress and hair when representing their business. It most surprises me when they appear sloppy in video – which sticks around so much longer!

  19. Nice post! I stumbled here from your SEO plugin site I think.

    I would have added one more thing to it “Maintain your Dignity”. However that is personal thought.


  20. Being a professional by wearing professional clothes help a lot. In my job we don’t have a dress code and people are so used to slouching that it affects our productivity as it makes people sleepy. If you are professional in your clothing, it makes you aware on how you act and keeps you from slouching. No slouching means more productivity!

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  22. Great post and some good advice – but I would say the opposite is true for an entrepreneur or business owner. Your advice is great of you want to be a yes man – or woman!! Or get promoted !!

    I personally can’t work with anything or anyone that goes against my core values – I would say, be true to yourself, stay yourself, know where you are headed, and still maintain that professional edge that Michael suggests in his points.

    BTW – best plug in ever – Thank you – lovin’ the All In One SEO Pack!!

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