7 Tips for Developing a Strong Work Ethic

An Asian businesswoman using a digital tablet in an office

Do you feel like the 1930s Hoagy Carmichael tune ‘Lazy Bones’ is the theme of your life? You never get your day’s work done, you sleep in the noonday sun, and you loaf through the day. How do you expect to make a dime that way?

While this is a catchy and enjoyable tune, there is plenty of truth to it, particularly for the sloths of the world. And, yes, we’re talking about you!

Let’s be candid: many of us have a deplorable work ethic. Sure, we clock in our eight hours at work, but those eight hours should be put under a microscope. For instance, what’s the first thing you do when you get to work? Stand around the water cooler and talk about John Galsworthy’s book The Forsyte Saga. Then, throughout your shift, you keep checking your ex-partner's Facebook, tweeting about Kyrgyzstan politics and posting selfies on your Instagram. And, in the final hour of your workday, you’re sitting in the bathroom just waiting for your shift to be over.

This isn’t exactly the beacon of hard work and determination. It’s a sign that you need a shift in attitude, a change in course and perhaps a renewed outlook on your career. But why is this essential?

Before we get into how you can improve your work ethic, it’s important to distinguish why it’s needed.

Why Should You Develop a Work Ethic?

Does a strong work ethic mean burning the midnight oil, spending Christmas at the office and taking phone calls during your child’s Bar Mitzvah? No, that’s called being a workaholic. So, what is a good approach to getting the job done? There is an old joke that 90% of life is just showing up and, in many circumstances, this is true:

  • showing up to work on time
  • staying a little bit longer
  • doing more than the bare minimum
  • improving your skills
  • willing to take some work home.

These are all characteristics of a commendable work ethic that can help you land a job, earn a raise or be rewarded with a promotion. (Some might say that your ability to be positive while you clock in nine hours on a regular basis would be remunerated with good karma.)

Indeed, it is difficult to survive in today’s ultra-competitive labour market if you are a slacker. Considering how all companies are attempting to boost their productivity levels, you need to contribute; otherwise, you will fall behind your colleagues, receive a poor job performance evaluation or see your career stagnate.

And that last part is crucial to remember. You need a work ethic to progress your career; otherwise, you will be stuck on a treadmill, unable to go anywhere because you’re set in a destructive mindset. You can’t advance in your engineering, journalism or medieval poetry field if you’re more concerned about getting home as quick as you can to torture yourself binge-watching every episode of Wings.

The next big thing to understand how to embark upon a journey of hard work.

How Can You Develop a Strong Work Ethic?

If you ever read a business news website, you will typically come across an article about how the rich and powerful start their days. This usually consists of waking up at 4am, eating a high-protein breakfast, exercising and then starting to work on their to-do list.

Now, you might be wondering, ‘There’s a 4am now?’. But, in all seriousness, this should be the ultimate endgame. In the meantime, you need to take baby steps to get to that point.

Here are those baby steps:

1. Perform Some Introspection

These days, it is rare to be alone with your thoughts. Thanks to the prevalence of mobile technology and craving that next social media fix, we rarely just sit, be quiet and think. But it is time that you start now.

A little bit of introspection never hurt anybody. By doing this, you can figure out what you want to do in life, how you will get to a desired point in your career, what are your biggest challenges and what you should start bringing for lunch (those bologna sandwiches with extra mustard aren’t cutting it anymore).

One of the greatest advantages of introspection is the ability to be honest with yourself – that's pretty unique nowadays.

2. Start with Your Body

There is no other greater reward in life than building an excellent physique. Through hard work, sacrifice and dedication, you can become a Michelangelo’s David or, at the very least, somebody who doesn’t think standing up is an extreme sport.

On your path to attaining a respectable work ethic, you can turn to your body. It is easy to get out of shape, gain extra pounds and be lazy, but it’s hard to stay in shape, stave off that additional weight and work hard every day that ends in Y.

So, what should you do?

  • Give your diet a complete overhaul.
  • Wake up five minutes earlier every day, including weekends.
  • Go for a long walk either in the morning or after work.
  • Get involved in a new form of exercise.
  • Start a goal: weight loss, muscle gain or just being able to get out of bed without being out of breath.

As soon as your body is in the pink, you can pretty much achieve anything. Who knew self-motivation would be such a powerful career force?

3. Eliminate Trivial Distractions

There are more distractions today than ever before, particularly at work. Ostensibly, Sally from Marketing can’t help but prattle on about how her married sister got pregnant with the butler. Indeed, it’s difficult to either pay attention to a single thing or not be distracted by the distractions. And you know the distractions we’re talking about: social media, video games, Turner Classic Movies and the FX Network’s The Simpsons marathon.

It feels like it can be nearly impossible to get rid of every distraction in your apartment or office cubicle. Believe it or not, it can be done. But how?

  • When possible, shut off your digital tools, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet.
  • Give your mind a rest; a strong work ethic doesn’t mean working around the clock.
  • Eliminate either the hardest or draining tasks in your day first.
  • Unless it’s for professional reasons, deactivate your social media accounts.
  • When you have additional energy, be sure to work extra hard – do another 20%.
  • If you have a door to your office, be sure to shut it when you need to concentrate.

4. Become a Dependable Person

Did you hear? On time is the new late!

There are two ways to become a dependable person overnight:

  • be on time for an appointment, work or even as something as benign as the movie showtime, or
  • get to work early or exactly on time.

These may not seem like much, but these two actions can transform you into someone who is reliable. Think about it: if you routinely get to work 15 minutes late or you constantly show up to your date 20 minutes after you’re supposed to, everyone will view you as an unreliable individual.

Before you know it, you’ll turn the tables on everyone: they’ll be the ones arriving to dates and times late. Now that’s a swerve!

5. Do it Right

If you do anything at all, then make sure you do it right. This might seem easier said than done, but with a string of checks and balances in your life, as well as a good acumen for your industry, you can ensure you’re always doing your tasks, projects and everything else the right way. The worst thing that could happen to you is having to return to the same project two or three times over.

While you don’t need to be a perfectionist, you should aim for a minimum standard of high quality.

It’s like what Voltaire said: ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’.

6. Allocate Your Time Wisely

Time management is a lost art form. Despite a diverse array of automated technologies and digital tools that are meant to make our lives easier, we are horrific at managing our time wisely. Can you imagine someone today back in the 1930s who had to do everything manually? Nothing would ever get done!

If you have never been someone who managed their time, then here are a few suggestions:

  • prioritise – get the most important tasks done first and then work your way down
  • plan – the night before or the morning of, create a plan of how you’re going to tackle the day’s work
  • monitor – download an application that monitors your work and then check it at the end of the day
  • say ‘no’ – if you know you can’t get something done on time, then, as Nancy Reagan said in the 1980s, just say ‘no’
  • sleep – again, it might seem counterintuitive when you’re discussing time management or work ethic, but you need sleep in order to be effective.

Don’t waste your precious time by playing Solitaire on your computer or catching up on CinemaSins!

7. Complete Hard Mental Tasks

In your spare time, what do you enjoy doing? It’s most likely just shutting off your brain and doing whatever you feel like. But this is not a good investment of your free time. Instead, as you cultivate your work ethic, it is imperative to perform mental tasks. They may not provide that serotonin shot like you would from social media or video games, but they are an investment to attain success.

So, what should you begin doing?

  • Read more, and it doesn’t matter what it is: mysteries, history, economics or romance.
  • Do crosswords, preferably The New York Times crossword (the hardest one around).
  • Play mind games on the computer or in physical books to exercise your brain.
  • Problem-solve in real life, such as putting together a bookcase without reading the instructions or trying to get out of an escape room (yes, those are becoming hot commodities nowadays).
  • Host boardgame parties with friends and family.

Your brain is the second most powerful force in the universe, behind the universe itself. It is a vessel that needs cultivation, not abandonment.

There is plenty of discussion about the concept of work these days. Do we work to live or live to work? Is time the new status symbol? How come our work-life balance is so off? When will the office adapt to modern times?

You can have a serious talk about the state of work. That said, no matter what happens to this idea, you will always need a strong work ethic. It doesn’t matter if a business becomes more relaxed or if the workweek becomes shorter. If you live up to the myriad of examples from the most successful people in the world and try to emulate their behaviours, then you, too, can succeed.

Do you have any more tips you’d like to add? How do you develop your work ethic? Let us know in the comments section below.