High Performers Double Check Their Work

It seems simple and obvious. However, I seem to have this discussion with seemingly everyone, so I’m going to assume this is actually some secret sauce that I have uncovered: the quickest and easiest way to up your skill level is to double check your work.

I think math class burned the phrase “check your work” into our minds with some negative connotations. I also think people are just generally trying to move too fast, and attention to detail really suffers in an era of incessant multitasking. Doing something 80% or 90% of the way may be good enough, but good is the enemy of great. If you want to be a high performer and to have a sterling reputation then you need to set the quality bar high and keep it there. If you hand off work that is actually incomplete or wrong then you gum up the works, you look unprofessional, and you waste valuable time and money. Don’t make people double check your work for you unless that is what they are literally paid to do (i.e. editors, auditors, etc). Even then, your goal is to make their lives as easy as possible so they can work efficiently instead of cleaning up stuff you could have caught yourself.

One of the great things about this piece of wisdom is that it is universally applicable. Ordering, writing, cleaning, coding, building, planning, presenting, calculations. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, it will always be to your benefit to double check the quality before handing something off.

Should you re-read that email you wrote to make sure you don’t sound like an idiot? Yes, you should. Should you review your own pull request, or better yet, review your code before making a pull request? Yes, you should. Should you double check that everything in your Amazon order is correct before buying? Yes, you should.

Start building the habit, and eventually it will become second nature. It is amazing how many things you will catch and how many snafus you will avoid by simply taking a few extra minutes to look things over. And, if something is really important, then go over it three or four time for good measure. Call it quits there though. There are diminishing returns, and it will either be good enough or it needs peer review from someone else with fresh eyes.

Professor Scott Galloway’s Career Advice

Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business. His company L2 creates some amazingly funny and insightful content, including this video on Scott’s “unsolicited career advice”:

There is a lot of wisdom into what Scott says, and I will incorporate some of these ideas into the core values section in the future. I have taken his advice on many fronts, and I shown this video to direct reports as an example of things to keep in mind.

In particular, developing skills that differentiate you, are key to the success of the business, and your colleagues do not seem to want to do them will make you insanely valuable. One of these for me was focusing on being good at software engineering, project management, and people management. Most engineers are completely uninterested in the latter two which provided plenty of opportunity to shine.

I have marked all of my favorites in bold below.

  • Get certified
    • College graduates had half the unemployment rate of those with a high school diploma during the 2008 recession
    • College graduates will, over the course of a lifetime, earn 2x as much as those with just a diploma
  • Be remarkable
    • Develop not just one area of expertise, but two skills that don’t always naturally go together
  • Invest in variance
    • Look at the six or eight things that are key to your firm’s success, and identify one or two that you can differentiate yourself by becoming an expert in
  • Move to a city
    • 2/3rds of economic growth will take place in cities
    • Being in a city forces you to work with the best so you improve
  • Boring is sexy
    • The sexiest of careers are hard to get into and may not make you wealthy
    • A lot of money is in things that aren’t sexy
  • Delay gratification
    • “The power of compound interest is the most powerful force in the Universe.” ~Einstein
    • This is true not just for money, but for your own efforts
    • Invest in areas of your life where the payoff is in the future, but your efforts aggregate over time
  • Demonstrate strength and grit
    • Fortune 500 CEOs exercise every day
  • Don’t follow your passion
    • Be passionate about being great at something
  • Ignore the myth of balance
    • You are only young once. Take advantage and work your ass off
  • Fight unfair
    • What are you willing to do that the majority of the people around you aren’t?
    • What are you willing to do that your colleagues won’t?

You Were Born Good – The Daily Stoic – Part 4 of 366

The human being is born with an inclination toward virtue.

Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 2.7.1-2

I remember the very moment I moved from the religious segment of the population to the non-religious segment of the population. My family is Catholic on my mothers side, and I spent a decent amount of my childhood doing all of the traditional things: Sunday school, religious readings, countless church ceremonies, and painfully long services during the holidays. In general it seemed fine; it was even fun sometimes. And then one day it came time for First Confession, and I just did not understand the concept.

Why does everyone assume they are bad? Sure, maybe we have done some stuff we regret and we may want to talk about it, but why is the assumption that I need to confess that I did something wrong? I mostly felt like I was just being a pretty normal kid that did normal kid stuff. What was wrong with that? And then I started thinking more about original sin, and it pushed me away even further. Everyone is a sinner because someone screwed up thousands of years ago? That doesn’t even make sense.

But what Musonius Rufus says above does make sense. We are born with an inclination toward virtue. Evolution favors those who are willing to work together and be kind to each other. Our default mode of operation when we are born is to not be an asshole; that is something a few people learn along the way. That means there is hope in this too. You were born good. If you are no longer good, or perhaps just not as good as you would like to be, you have simply deviated from your baseline. It is not your destiny. It is a matter of seeking out better ideas and behaviors, and then spending the time and energy to focus on returning to the original you.

Who Get’s The Lion’s Share? – The Daily Stoic – Part 3 of 366

Aren’t you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time can’t be directed to business?

— Seneca, On The Brevity Of Life, 3.5b

“I’m so busy! But it is better to be busy than bored!”

Hang around me long enough and you’ll eventually hear me say this. It is like a catch phrase. And, to a certain extent, I think there is some truth to it: I would rather have too much interesting stuff to do than not enough. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was actually bored.

However, I started to introspect this earlier this year. Sure, I’m busy. Everyone is busy. It is a chronic problem in America. Can I stop being busy? Am I busy with the right things? Also, if people are so busy, how do we find so much time for Netflix, Youtube, Facebook, and so on? Most people delegate their reading activities to be occasional, or a few minutes before bed when their brains are already tired, but this is backwards. We should make time for the important things, and that includes time to “dedicate to wisdom.”

Stop being busy, and stop making excuses. Take a look at where you spend your time, and be intentional about dropping things that do not add value and maximizing time on the things that do. In particular, make time for thinking about the biggest questions in life so that you are always working towards some answers.

Nourishment of your mind and soul are not second to anything else. Focusing on them will pay dividends into everything you do.

Some parting thoughts on this concept:

  • Reserve for yourself the lion’s share. Tend your own garden, and then give the rest of your time graciously to those people and things deserving of it. The remnants are for things that don’t matter, not the other way around.
  • Everyone has time to study philosophy. Maybe its a podcast while you are in the shower, a Youtube video on the toilet, a book before bed time, or an hour every weekend. The time is there, you just need to make use of it.