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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Get a Reputation as a Hard Worker (Without Staying Late Every Day)

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So much of advancing in your career has to do with making the right impression—with the people on your team, in your network, and inter-departmentally, too. That means, to some degree, performing well at work is all about getting noticed.

For many people, the way to accomplish that is to work late each day in order to demonstrate just how hardworking and dedicated you really are. As long as you’re not rushing out at 5 PM, you’ll develop the reputation for being a reliable, loyal employee…right?

I recently spoke over the phone with Mercedes De Luca, the COO of Basecamp, to get her insight on how people fall into this trap of working longer and longer hours for just that reason. As an employer and manager who’s committed to her employees’ well beings, De Luca especially wanted to explain the value of not working overtime as a company perk in itself.

According to her, “People do feel that if they’re working long hours, they’re working hard. But those two are not synonymous. The first thing is breaking that mindset.” And there are simple ways to do just that.

Long Hours Alone Aren’t Enough

If you consider yourself a hard worker, you know what never really clocking out feels like. You’re constantly plugged into your email, or worse, you might even notice that work stuff starts infiltrating your me-time. To be honest, unless you set a hard and fast boundary for yourself, you’re the one to blame when it comes to working more than you’d like.

“A lot of it is self-imposed,” De Luca explains. “Even if you have a boss that says ‘Don’t work too late,’ I think a lot of people still confuse or still equate working long hours, being the last to leave the office, responding to emails at 11 PM, and so on, with being noticeable.”

I know it might be hard to imagine how you could possibly get the same amount of stuff done in less time, simply because you’ve settled into a routine that has you believing you can’t possibly leave at 5 or 6 PM. But really challenge yourself to notice when you’re staying late as a work necessity, and when you’re doing so for face time alone.

Part of the problem could be that you’ve simply adjusted to the work load and work pace involved with regularly staying late—essentially, you space your work out so that accomplishing everything on your to-do list takes you into the night. De Luca says it’s easier to notice those gaps once you start looking for them.

Be aware of whether you’re spending your time meaningfully at work (especially around that afternoon slump or during those big meetings). If you think your time and energy could be better distributed, don’t be shy about bringing that up to your manager, especially if that will lead to better results for your work or even your company as a whole.

Make Clear Definitions for Success

This can look like a daily to-do list of actionable goals as well as more solid ones for your particular role by week, month, quarter, and so on. If you have concrete progress to point to, you can start establishing, little by little, a culture of meaningful and guilt-free productivity.

We all know what it’s like to stay late because we feel a certain pressure to. But De Luca makes an extremely important point here: “Staying late—you can’t put that on your resume.”

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Your long hours—they’re not going to necessarily propel you forward in your career if that’s all you have to show for what you’ve done in your position. “What’s going to matter,” she says, “is your accomplishments and whether or not they help the company go forward.” That means defining success clearly for yourself, for your peers, and for your boss. One foolproof way to do that is to really use data and numbers to your advantage. Really understand what constitutes a fine day and a productive one.

De Luca says, for example, “If your role is to produce X number of articles or get Y number of engagement or drive Z revenue, I think what you want to do is be able to point to that success. You can say, ‘Yeah, I left at 5 PM, but that’s because I achieved the goal that I set out to do.’” It’s a powerful and freeing thing to say you’ve accomplished what you said you would—and if that takes you less time than you thought, you’re allowed to own that.

One thing to be careful of when it comes to this strategy: Don’t assume the work will speak for itself. Be your own advocate in building your reputation—otherwise people might assume you’re only doing the bare minimum. “You may have to share that you’re on track and working towards your results and reinforcing them,” De Luca says, “But if people say, ‘We want you to help grow the X customers we have,’ and you say to them ‘Today, we got 50 new customers,’ that’s more impressive than answering all your emails and attending all your meetings.”

Results help you get noticed—not long hours in and of itself. I know, especially in a work culture where people stay late, it can be almost shameful to be the only person clocking out right at “early” a couple times a week.

“It’s a matter of reinforcing what you know to be valuable to the business,” De Luca explains. “Be comfortable with being noticed by sharing the progress against the results that you agreed to.” And as long as you can point to your progress, there’s no point in staying late for appearances. Let yourself call it a day—you’ve earned it.