How to Become a Rockstar at Work: A Deconstruction of the Best Career Advice I Ever Got (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second of a 2-part series. In case you missed it, I’d recommend taking a minute to check out part 1 here. That’ll give you the background as well as the initial keys to building up your rockstar status at the office. If you’ve already tackled part 1, feel free to dive right in!

Plan your day and week

Similar to taking notes, planning our weeks and days is something each of us should be doing on a regular basis, but laying out a game plan is yet another easily overlooked exercise. When it comes to managing our days, most of us tend to be reactive rather than proactive.

For this point, John Marshall provided two sub-bullets:

  • Don’t let your inbox plan your time
  • Realize it’s okay to put off less important tasks to accomplish BIG things instead

Let’s look at these in reverse.

Realize it’s okay to put off less important tasks to accomplish BIG things instead

A common issue with not planning is that you often end up spending your limited time on low-value tasks, focusing on the urgent rather than the important. Sure, knocking out dozens of small to-do list items may feel productive, but it’s not leaving a noticeable mark on your team or organization. This happens to the best of us from time-to-time. That’s why laying out your day proves ever more important.

Knowing what needs to get done and having a blueprint in place for achieving those goals keeps you focused. Do this by identifying the one or two BIG items you should be working on, the ones that will have the largest positive impact and potentially negate the need to do other items on your list. Then block off large chunks of time to focus on those high-impact, high-value projects instead of spinning your wheels putting out fires all day.

When you’re focused on tackling major projects, you’ll be forced to let the occasional smaller requests slip through the cracks. It’ll definitely feel uncomfortable at first, but try testing the waters here. Usually you’ll find that the horrible outcome or backlash you imagined never materializes. Personally, I’ve seen those small tasks show up repeatedly on my to-do list, but now they fall to the bottom “if-I-can-get-to-it” portion of the list. Week over week, these tasks, where I normally would have spent my time, seem stay on my to-do list. The funny thing? Nobody ever asks about them again.

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. — Mark Twain

Need help with outlining and prioritizing your own to-dos? Check out the Productivity Planner. I use it daily and weekly to help me keep track of my projects, what I’ve completed, how long it took, and ways to improve moving forward.


Once you start using a tool like this, you’ll notice trends over time like the fact that meetings are eating into too much of your day or that many projects take 2-3 times longer than you originally expected. Great — what a wonderful learning opportunity! Now you can better plan your day, work to eliminate unnecessary meetings (or cluster meetings together at the very least), and be vastly more effective.

Take note of what needs to change. Then iterate. Rinse. Repeat.

Don’t let your inbox plan your time

Many of our days get derailed before we ever truly start working. We show up to the office, open our inboxes, and proceed to power through emails, checking boxes off other people’s to-do lists rather than our own. And for some godforsaken reason, we even leave Outlook open with notifications popping up as new messages stream in. It’s as if the world will implode faster than the Falcons during the 2017 Super Bowl (it’s okay, I’m from Atlanta) if we don’t respond to the latest alert within seconds.

Ready for the truth?

Email can wait.

One image that really drove this point home for me comes from Tim Ferriss’s Four-Hour Work Week. Remember that old Drug Free America commercial with the fried egg? “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Now replace the word drugs with email and see how constantly checking your inbox will wreak havoc on your day. Without having a plan in place for managing your inbox effectively, it literally becomes impossible to focus on anything meaningful as shown in the first image below.

Email is a productivity killer.

As Tim points out in his book, the key here is to be responsive but in a deliberate way instead of haphazardly clicking into your inbox every few minutes. His recommendation? Set regular times to check your email, batch the job so you can answer them all at once, and then close the program and move on to your bigger goals. This is how you drive results while simultaneously avoiding the email trap and the resulting overwhelm.

What a relief it was to hear our CEO actually utter the words, “Don’t let your inbox plan your time.” Whew!

Lead by example

This was John’s last and most emphatic point. In fact, he laid out eight key ingredients to being a better leader, providing a solid starting point for self-reflection and improvement for everyone in that room. Some of his points are closely related, so I’ve combined them where appropriate.

Invest in yourself and learn new skills

The best in the world invest constantly in themselves, so why should we be any different? Whether it’s books, classes, podcasts, coaching, or building relationships, continue pushing to become a new and improved version of yourself. Even if you feel like you’re too old or tired or stressed or [insert excuse here] to learn new things, remember the world continues to innovate and evolve. If you’re not keeping up, at some point, you’ll get left behind.

As Tony Robbins says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Prioritize your time

We all have the same 24 hours in any given day, and yet, there are some people who seem to accomplish the world in that amount of time while others wrap their days wondering how they didn’t get anything done.

Get the most out of your limited time by planning and prioritizing your day, letting little bad things happen, and learning to tune out the noise. A constant feeling of busyness or overwhelm likely indicates a lack of priorities. Fix that uncomfortable feeling by figuring out what’s most important to you and what has the biggest impact. Then focus your energy there. Ignore the rest.

Do the basics right

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Reaching more advanced levels starts with having the right building blocks in place. Those blocks then serve as the foundation for future growth and success, but if they’re not properly laid and maintained, your whole endeavor could be threatened with even the tiniest bit of stress.

John Wooden, a former UCLA basketball coach who won 10 titles in 12 seasons, started each season teaching his guys how to properly tie their shoes. That’s right — no dribbling drills or layups. Shoes! You see, improperly tied laces meant the possibility of blisters or even sprained ankles, which meant missing games as a result. And that’s why John Wooden started his sessions with the most basic of tasks. Even if it seems remedial, the foundation counts.

At work, getting the basics right could include any number of “trivial” things like:

  • Coming prepared and having a plan for your day
  • Showing up to meetings on time
  • Connecting with your internal/external customers
  • Being kind and respectful
  • Learning how to listen
  • Valuing your and other people’s time
  • Proofing your work for accuracy, clarity, and conciseness
  • Doing what you said you were going to do

Stop bitching

Not gonna lie, I was a little shocked when I heard these words, but they definitely make sense. People love to complain. In fact, research shows that complaints can be rattled off as frequently as 50 times an hour. That’s nearly one complaint per minute!

Whining provides a great way to vent about frustrations, to get something off our chests. And let’s be real, venting can also be a great way connect with others who are upset about the same issue.

On the flip side, though, there are harmful side effects to constantly voicing discontent. Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, points out that complaining rewires your brain for negativity, causes your body to release stress hormones, and also infiltrates the moods of those around you. It’s no wonder that a CEO would want to put that fire out in a hurry.

Need help with tempering your criticisms? This Fast Company article outlines 6 steps to successfully lessen complaining. Give it a shot!

Get a mentor, be a mentor

For many, the word mentor tends to conjure up a stilted, formal relationship as if you need to craft an application for mentorship, submit your portfolio of accomplishments, and then wait to become “the chosen one.” While that could certainly be the case, in reality, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, you don’t even have to know someone personally for them to be a mentor to you! How awesome is that?

Most importantly, finding mentors doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. The key is simply connecting (in person, through blogs, videos, or books, etc.) with others you can learn from. Pick someone you look up to, whether they’re a few steps ahead of you career wise, a financial guru, travel afficionado, or productivity genius, and start learning from them. Allow yourself to be exposed to new, often uncomfortable ideas and be open to challenging your own deeply held beliefs and assumptions; it means you’re growing.

Not everything your mentors suggest or do will work for you, and that’s okay. That’s the beauty of it. Take the bits that resonate, cobble them together, and craft your own journey.

On the flip side, consider giving back to others around you as well. One of the best ways to solidify your own knowledge and understanding of a subject is to teach it to someone else, hence becoming a mentor yourself. Regardless of title or status, you, too, can help others learn and grow and become better versions of themselves along the way. Are you up for the challenge?

Stay humble and hungry

Lastly, don’t get complacent.

No amount of success today can promise continued success tomorrow. To climb to the top and stay there, you have to keep your head down, focus on the task at hand, and never rest on your laurels believing you’re untouchable. No one is.

Think about all the once great companies who have tanked in recent years because they got too comfortable or failed to innovate:

  • Blockbuster couldn’t keep up with Netflix
  • Kodak missed the digital camera boat
  • Taxi companies are being crushed by Uber and Lyft
  • Borders shuttered its doors thanks to Amazon

The list goes on and on with one key point underscoring the overall lesson: Stay humble. Stay hungry. It’s the only way to stay relevant.

Next Steps

This piece, combined with my previous post, presents plenty of information and ideas to get you started, but as mentioned in part 1, don’t feel compelled to tackle all of these points at once. That’s a recipe for disaster or perhaps more accurately stated, a recipe for inaction. Start small by picking one point and master that. Then build up to a second and then a third. Once you’ve internalized those, you’ll gain serious momentum and see the results of your hard work as you begin your journey to rockstar status.

Need help holding yourself accountable? In the comments tell me which of these bullets is number one on your list and how you’ll take action on it today. I can’t wait to hear from you!


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