I was promoted as soon as I stopped working overtime – here’s my advice to others climbing the career ladder

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The 24-year-old Susannah Scheller was sitting in a room full of people who were attending the event her company was organizing. As she was finishing up some work tasks whilst listening to one of the speakers, it suddenly struck her how completely and utterly exhausted she was.

Susannah had been working crazy-long hours for years. An 18, even 20-hour workday was nothing unusual to her. She had felt mentally and physically drained for a long time, but that day, in the middle of a room full of strangers, Susannah finally realized: I can’t keep doing this.

So, Susannah decided to go from working as much as 20 hours a day to working (quite) strictly 8.30 to 17.30 with a one-hour lunch break. Then, just a month after she stopped working overtime, she received a promotion and became the Technical Director at Grow Disrupt.

Coincidence? Susannah thinks not. She’s sure that her experience proves – it’s not the number of hours you put in that counts, but how effectively you prioritize and do the work that actually matters.

I’ll let Susannah continue herself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Susannah Scheller, Technical Director at Grow Disrupt

Overtime work is a habit that’s difficult to break

I’ve always been a very task-oriented person with a high sense of responsibility. To me, done was always more important than done effectively, and that’s how I ended up working such long hours.

That day, in that conference room, I realized I have to cut it back. My mind was scattered across all the projects I was working on. I was exhausted and I wasn’t efficient. And I could not continue to sabotage myself like that.

Switching from working 18+ to 8 hours a day didn’t happen in one day. In the beginning, my schedule looked like a big mess. My mindset might have changed but my workload and responsibilities hadn’t. So, I was missing deadlines left and right, struggling to complete my tasks, and fighting with myself not to fall back into working overtime again.

What helped was talking to my boss who suggested that I start each day by reprioritizing my tasks, as well as always doing specific tasks at the same time every day. That helped me to structure my workday, manage my time more effectively, and regain control over my work life.

I’m at least 2x more productive since I stopped working overtime

Two months into my new schedule, both my productivity and the quality of my work had improved substantially. Today, I’m able to accomplish more in a day than I could in three days back when I was working 20 hours a day. I’m at least twice as productive as I used to be.

Not only had my work quality and productivity improved, but I had also gotten better at what I do. By simply focusing on my direct responsibilities and high-priority tasks rather than trying to do the work of an entire department, my skill levels had risen. My boss had noticed that, too. So, she offered me a promotion, which I gladly accepted.

Tips for others aiming for a promotion (from a person who just received one)

Here are three tips I’d give others aiming to climb the career ladder:

One – know where you want to go. 

First, have a goal or vision, then work towards it. Unless you know exactly where you want to go, you won’t know what steps you need to take to get ahead.

Prior to receiving my promotion, I had defined a goal for myself. To me, it was important to be more productive at work, so that I can take more time for myself. My initial goal was to get to the point where I could get everything done within 8 hours a day and still provide for myself. And so, I started to look for ways to get there.

For example, if you want to be a better sales rep, you may consider investing in courses that are going to help you close more sales. But if you’d rather work in marketing, investing in sales courses won’t get you where you want to be. In that case, you may want to look for ways in the company to start contributing as a marketer and build up your marketing skillset from scratch.

Two – find a mentor or surround yourself with people you admire.

To me, my boss became my mentor. She helped me pull my work life back together and deal with the overwhelming workload. I admired her time management skills and productivity, and when I approached her after just switching to a standard 8 hour workday, she was happy to pass on her knowledge to me.

One of my big philosophies has always been that you become like the people you admire. So, if you’re aiming to get a promotion, surround yourself with people who are where you want to be, or at least a step further than you are now. Learn their techniques, implement the tools they’re using, etc.

Three – focus on excellence.

Money and opportunities always show up where excellence is. So, if you’re aiming to climb a career ladder, focus on your one thing and find ways to become excellent at it.

Anybody can be the person who stays late in the office every other night, but that won’t necessarily make you better at what you do. Besides, we all know that sooner or later, you will burn out and may even start to feel like a drain on other people in the company. 

So, instead of working more, focus on the quality of your work. And find ways to be excellent in other areas of your life, too – in the way you relax and take care of yourself. I think when you find that balance, it will feed your excellence both at work and in life.

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