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How to Make Yourself Indispensable

How to Make Yourself Indispensable

Make Yourself Indispensable

    Let me ask you a question: could you disappear? If you didn’t show up at work tomorrow, if you weren’t home at 6:00 for dinner, if nobody ever heard from or saw you again, would it matter?

    OK, these are depressing things to think about, but that’s exactly  how many people feel, day in and day out, in their jobs and even at home. They feel unappreciated, unchallenged, ineffective, and in the end, completely irrelevant.

    In some cases, it’s the situation itself, and if the paragraphs above describe you, you really need to be thinking about how you can change or get out of your situation. Maybe you work for jerks, maybe your job simply has nothing to offer society, maybe your marriage long since stopped working, maybe you’ve fallen in with a group of friends who ultimately aren’t very good friends.

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    But in most cases, it is what we bring to our jobs, our home lives, our social lives – or, more to the point, what we don’t bring – that leaves us feeling, well… disposable. And if you’re going to turn that around, you’re going to have to start by making some real changes in your life and in yourself.

    None of the ideas below are easy – but none are impossible, either. All they require is that you make a conscious choice to make yourself indispensable, make a plan, and put that plan into action. You might be surprised at how much your life can change – and often, how quickly!

    1. Network

    One reason people can feel like they don’t matter is because they’re “out of the loop”, cut off from where things happen. In today’s world, this is practically inexcusable. The Internet as a whole is little more than a giant social networking tool, and tools explicitly for bringing people together – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Skype, and on and on – abound.

    Join and use one or two choice social networking tools. Off-line, select 10 or 20 people who are prominent in your field and introduce yourself to them. Write them letters or email, give them a call, leave comments on their blogs, whatever it takes to make yourself known and to show what you’re capable of. Don’t fawn; approach them as equals or, at least, as potential mentors.

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    Finally, join and become active in professional or recreational organizations – especially groups that are local to where you live and work. Use MeetUp to find local meetings of people who share your profession, interests, or hobbies.

    2. Love

    Both the easiest and hardest thing we humans do is love. It’s easy because we’re made for it, wired up in all sorts of ways to respond to and offer affection, social unity, and physical presence; it’s hard because to truly love means to make ourselves incredibly vulnerable and, in our society, it’s very hard to find it in ourselves to trust that deeply.

    But try it. And not just with your partner, your kids, your parents and siblings – try to be a loving, caring person in all your relationships. I’m not suggesting you break any laws or anything, only that you approach every person you interact with as a person with their own needs, desires, and motivations and see how you can help them satisfy them. Look out for the people around you, be there when they need someone to lean on, and be open with them about your own life.

    3. Excel

    No, not the spreadsheet. Be excellent at something. Figure out the thing that is most satisfying to you and learn how to do it better than anyone else. That might mean a trip to the library, a couple of night classes, or a full graduate education. But whatever it means, do it – there are few specialities in this world so esoteric that there isn’t a powerful demand for people who do it incredibly well.

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    4. Create something

    Your world changes when you create something and put it out into the world for everyone to benefit from, whether it’s a book, a blog, a painting, an invention, a magazine article, a weekly newsletter, a company, a piece of furniture, or a recipe. Partially it’s because suddenly you’re useful to someone, no matter how few, but mostly it’s because the things we create contain a little part of us, a spark of who we are – a spark that much of our society conspires to smother and hide away.

    5. Innovate

    Although innovation is a creative exercise, I’ve chosen to treat it as something different from creating something because innovation, to me, is about solving problems rather than personal expression. Yes, that’s an artificial distinction. Bear with me, please.

    It would be an understatement to say that the world, and the people in it, have more problems than we know how to deal with. Some are extreme – hunger, pollution, illness. Some are less so – boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction. Figure out how to solve any of those problems, and you will be anything but disposable!

    6. Make people feel good

    Around here, we talk a lot about being productive, about avoiding distractions and keeping focused on your goals and overcoming procrastination. But as humans, it its crucially important that, at times, we be entertained. And it’s just as important, from time to time, that we be reassured. A joke, a compliment, an engaging discussion about the latest film or book – these things add a little light to the lives of those around you. Being the guy or gal people can trust to brighten up their day will always attract attention.

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    7. Share or teach what you know

    As a teacher, I know first-hand the feeling of helping people to learn, of sharing a new way of looking at their world and giving them tools to make their own way in it. No matter what your areas of expertise are, there are people out there who want – no, need – to know it so they can have more power over their own destinies. It’s not all that hard to put together a class, seminar, or workshop on just about any topic – check with your local community college or university extension program for starters – but not all teaching needs to be formal instruction, either. Seek out opportunities to share what you know informally throughout the day.

    8. Be eccentric

    Eccentricity is valuable not just because it can be quite entertaining, but because it represents a significant difference in the way you view the world. While this can be alienating to some people – usually people who are already alienated by the rest of their lives – others will seek out and reward you handsomely for your insights.

    How do you become eccentric? Short of taking lots of LSD, which I don’t advice, I’m really not sure. I include there because it’s one way to make yourself indispensable, not because it’s easy to do! But if you can’t just flip a switch and become eccentric, maybe you can learn the lesson eccentrics teach – to seek out the different. Closely examine your own life for the parts you’ve let be suppressed – or suppressed yourself – and bring them out into the light of day. Embrace the things you’ve worked so hard to hide.

    That’s a start, anyway.

    9. Make a difference

    What matters in all these points is that you make a difference in people’s lives. Do that, and the world – or at least some of the world – will hang on your every action. As you go though your daily life, keep an eye out for the ways in which you can make a difference, however great or small. What little tweaks might make someone’s life or job a little bit easier? What systems or processes are just fundamentally wrong, and how would you fix them?

    Adopt a difference-oriented mindset. Overthrow your commitment to the status quo, because the road to the status quo is littered with the husks of disposable people. Do that, and the rest will follow, and you will have become indispensable.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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