If you want to move ahead in your career you need to be someone who people admire for doing good work (on time) and being easy to get along with. It sounds simple, but in reality there are probably many ways you could step up your game when you're on the clock. Take some tips from Kate Hanley, author of How to Be a Better Person: 400+ Simple Ways to Make a Difference in Yourself--And the World. Here are excerpts from her chapter on how to be a better person at work.
1. Mono-task one thing a day.
Multitasking is a fact of life and can sometimes be useful, but it's not always the best choice. When you work on the most important thing on your daily to-do list, invite your best thinking by closing your email program, putting your phone on airplane mode, blocking yourself from social media, and doing one thing. You'll get it done more effectively and efficiently when you do.
2. Discover your superpowers.
It's easy to dismiss the things that come naturally to you, because we tend to undervalue things that don't feel like "hard work," but these things you do easily are your superpowers. They help you make a bigger impact with less exertion. To discover your talents, ask yourself, What do people compliment me on? What do I do without even thinking? Where do I do my best meddling? Naming these talents will help you own them and put them to good use.
3. Put your superpowers to good use.
Okay, you know what your innate talents are. Now your work is to find more opportunities to use them. If you're a natural questioner, seek ways to do more research in your work. If you're great at making people feel comfortable, consider a move into client relations. You may not be able to customize a position that uses every one of your talents, but when you lean into your strengths you'll naturally start on a trajectory that suits you.
4. Share the stage.
Authors are lucky--they get an acknowledgments page to call out everyone who helped them write the book, directly or indirectly. You may not have a similar avenue in which to share your thanks, but find a way to do it anyway. Send out a team email thanking everyone who helped you achieve a goal at work, give a toast at a celebratory dinner acknowledging the people who helped you reach that milestone, tell a story at your next meeting about the ways your colleagues contributed to a recent achievement. As anyone who's taken an improv class can tell you, it takes presence, courage, and trust to share the stage with other people--all traits that will help draw quality people and opportunities to you.
5. Make a learning plan.
If you want your career to continue to grow, you need your skills and interests to keep evolving too. Ensure your growth by making a plan to keep learning. What skill would really serve you at work? Or, what have you always wanted to do but don't know how? Just like you want to dress for the job you want, not the one you have, you also want to learn things that will help you do the job you aspire to.
6. Pick yourself.
We spend a lot of time waiting to be picked--for the job, the promotion, the cool project. Wanting to be recognized by the powers that be is such a normal part of life that you've likely lost touch with how often you do it and how disempowering it is. If there's a project you want to work on, tell your boss you want in (and explain why you're a good fit and how you'll balance it with your other responsibilities). If there's a different job you'd like to transfer into, take a class to build the skills you'd need in that role. Whatever you do, don't just wait for it to happen. When you start to create your own opportunities instead of waiting for them to come along, you empower yourself. And that's when things start changing for the better.
7. Try less hard and get more done.
Free up time and energy by identifying the parts of your job that don't have a lot of impact--things like triple-checking your work, putting in face time, or gossiping--and then choose to care a little less about them. A good way to enforce that choice is to put more time and energy into the important things--which are things that deliver value to either the bottom line or your end client (ideally, both). Doing so will naturally crowd out any overwork you might be doing on the stuff that just doesn't matter.
8. Sit in the front of the room.
You walk into a large meeting room set up with rows of chairs. Where do you sit? Do you slink into a seat in the back? Or into an aisle seat so you can make a quick getaway? Where you sit reveals a lot about your approach to life. Try heading straight for the front of the room. Build your tolerance for taking up prime real estate and for being that visible. It's a little thing that signifies something big--that you're okay with being seen and that you're moving toward life, not away from it.
9. Be coachable.
Everyone has a blind spot or two--a weakness that they can't perceive. There's no shame in it. So when someone you trust points out a habit or a pattern that appears to be holding you back, be receptive to what he has to say and game for trying a different approach. In other words, be coachable. This is someone you trust, after all. Resisting objective feedback is a sure way to stay stuck.
10. Tend to your network.
Your extended network of friends, colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances is a crucial ingredient of your career success. You can't keep in touch with everyone all the time, but you can keep connections strong with just a little thoughtful effort--decide the handful of people you'll connect with monthly, the dozen or so folks you'll check in with seasonally, and the rest you'll contact yearly. Now put reminders in your calendar to match. Reaching out to ask how they are--with a small update of your own--is all it takes.
11. Talk to your colleague before you talk to her boss.
If you're having an issue with someone you work with, speak with her directly about it before you go to her boss. It's professional courtesy, and it's also your responsibility to try to improve a situation before you involve a third party. This gives the coworker in question a chance to course-correct before she attracts what might be negative attention too.
12. Give better feedback.
If you have to give a direct report constructive criticism, set an intention to be curious (instead of judgmental) and helping her grow (instead of reprimanding) before you call her into your office. If your report has been missing deadlines, for example, she may have something going on in her personal life that you don't know about, and merely giving her a warning won't help the situation. Establish trust first by saying something like, "I'm guessing you're feeling a little nervous, scared, or angry right now. Are any of those true?" Once you've had some sincere dialogue, explain why you called her in, share what you've noticed, and ask for her thoughts on how to address it--then work out a strategy together. It's important to manage your own emotions about the situation first. If you call her into your office when you're angry, odds are good you won't be able to listen and she'll get defensive, leaving you both upset. You want to be able to keep a light tone and positive (or at least neutral) facial expressions--otherwise your message won't penetrate and you'll miss an opportunity for both of you to grow.
13. Ask dumb questions.
If you're confused about something, chances are someone else is too. So don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask for more information. The person you're asking will benefit too, because it's always clarifying to try and explain something more simply. (The one exception, of course, is asking a question because you were late or simply weren't paying attention--in that case, ask someone else who was there to catch you up afterward.)
14. Build a buffer.
The idea that you can manage time--which is, after all, a natural force subject to its own laws--is misleading. Really, all you can manage are your expectations. So here's a way to give yourself the experience of having more time: start overestimating how long things will take. Block out forty-five minutes for what should be a thirty-minute meeting. If you think you can write a presentation in two hours, give yourself three. It will protect you from constantly feeling rushed as one meeting bleeds in to the other or successive tasks take longer than you expect. When you stop rushing, you're able to be more present--and a little less annoyed in general.
15. Check email less.
Research has found that checking email less--three times a day, to be exact--provided as much of a reduction in stress levels as practicing relaxation techniques. It also saves time--you still send as many emails but spend 20 percent less time doing it. Use an app (such as SelfControl) to hold you accountable and set specific times of day when you won't check in, and when you will--and make sure it's never just before bed.
16. Rework bad ideas instead of dismissing them.
An idea that's proven itself unworkable is worthless--right? Well, not necessarily. So-called "bad" ideas often have the seed of a great idea in them, because ideas rarely emerge fully formed. (A classic example is YouTube, which started as a video dating site.) Many times it's the quarter-turn that makes everything align, not the 180-degree shift.
17. Delegate better.
Is it really worth it to ask someone else to take some non-vital tasks off your plate? It is if you do it well. (If you delegate and then micromanage, everyone would prefer you just did it yourself.) Give instructions to ask for help if the person gets stuck, but otherwise, let them at it. People who are doing something for the first time may make mistakes--focus on appreciating the effort more than the results at first and give positive feedback they can hear.
18. Take on uncomfortable tasks.
If you stick to tasks that you already know you can do well, you won't develop at work. Find manageable ways to try new things. For example, if you want to establish more of a voice in meetings with higher-ups, start speaking up more in meetings of your peers. Accept your missteps and view them as ways to refine your skills. Growth can be uncomfortable, but so is staying in the same place for too long.
19. Declare an end to the workday.
Fred Flintstone knew when the whistle blew that work was done. Many of us don't have those same kind of delineators in this age of twenty-four-seven connectivity, but it doesn't mean you don't need one. Even if your job demands connectedness, try to set your own rules for when you officially end your workday. Your boss or a client may text you at odd hours, but you don't have to be the one starting the conversations. The boundaries you set protect you from overload and burnout--and that's in everyone's best interest.
20. Make a better transition between work and personal life.
In addition to declaring an end to your workday, help yourself transition back into civilian mode by creating a simple ritual that helps you leave work stress at work--take the scenic way home from work, hit the gym, go on a walk, sing your brains out on the drive home, meditate for five minutes before you get out of the car. If you're bringing your work mindset into your personal time, you're short-changing yourself.
21. Take time off.
In the average year, Americans let 658 million paid vacation days go unused. Repeat: 658 million days of paid vacation time, wasted! Now consider that family trips are one of the things kids remember most about childhood. Whether or not you have kids, take your vacation. Your life, your relationships, and even your bank account will be richer for it. Research has found that people who take their vacation days are more likely to get a raise or a bonus, not less.
22. Set better daily goals.
If your to-do list includes every single thing you ever need to get done, it will still be miles long at the end of the day despite how hard you work. That's a recipe for frustration. Instead, keep a master list of everything in a different spot than your calendar or planner. Each morning, choose a handful of those items to put on your daily to-do list. Maintaining these two lists will help you feel good about your progress without worrying that you're forgetting something.
23. Prioritize first.
This may take all the willpower you've got, but it is so worth it: make the first thing you do every morning be setting your priorities for the day--and not checking your messages. If you wait until after you've gone through your inbox to prioritize, you'll start the day in reactive instead of proactive mode. Your thinking is clearest first thing in the morning; put that clarity to good use instead of frittering it away on emails.
24. Get better at prioritizing.
Here are some guidelines for setting priorities in a way that helps you focus on the important instead of merely the urgent: Think about the things on your list that make the biggest impact and that mean the most to you--those are your highest priorities. Next come the things that have a big impact, even though you may not love them. For things that don't move the needle and that you don't enjoy, either delegate them or bang them out in one concentrated burst.
25. Shine brighter.
Someone will always be more experienced or skilled at work than you. But there's one area where you can choose to shine, every time, and that's in your mindset. It may seem a bit frivolous at first glance, but ask any chief executive, small-business owner, or other leader: every organization--even one-woman shops--needs people with heart, positivity, and gumption. You don't need any additional training or responsibility to be one of those people. You can decide to show up that way starting today. Do so by asking yourself, Where can I make an impact today? Whether it's something concrete, like volunteering for a task, or something softer, like a well-timed word of encouragement, know that even small efforts can create a big boost in morale for you and your colleagues.
26. Don't pass on bad treatment.
If someone yells at you at work, resist the urge to bring that upset home and yell at the kids, pick a fight with your spouse, or be mean to the dog. Find ways to let your anger out before you get home. A vigorous walk around the block, a kickboxing class, an angry letter that you never--never--send can all take the edge off so you can start fresh when you get home.
27. Manage your mood at work.
A lot happens in a typical workday, and much of it we have no control over--the snippy email, the unpleasant task that landed on your desk. Resist the urge to distract yourself with gossip or complaining. Remember: a shared workplace isn't an appropriate venue for the display of many natural human moods, and coworkers expect to be treated with respect and professionalism. Ask a coworker to tell you something good that happened or make your own list of things that have gone right that day, no matter how small. The things you place your focus on take on a bigger presence in your mind, and choosing to focus on the good will also lift your mood.
28. Focus on delivering value.
Wanting to do a good job is honorable, but it can also be paralyzing, in part because the definition of "good" is subjective and your inner critic may equate it with "perfect." To get you moving on daunting tasks, think about the value you'll be delivering. How do your end clients stand to benefit from your efforts? Will they get more profits, more support, more peace of mind? Knowing the final result you're trying to create will help motivate you to get going, and keep going.
29. Go for the low-hanging fruit.
Big projects can be so overwhelming that you do nothing. The secret to getting out of overwhelm is to remember that you only ever need to determine the next right step. And then take it. Taking some small action--particularly one that's easy--will help you start building momentum. After that, you'll be too busy to doubt yourself.
30. Seek out a mentor.
Mentors provide invaluable insight and support that help you elevate your career faster and more efficiently than you can on your own. So as you tend to your network, keep an eye out for someone who might able to play that role for you. If you can't find a mentor, hire a coach--look for someone who has expertise in the area where you'd like support, and with whom you also feel a good personal connection. Coaches in general can get a bad rap, but there wouldn't be so many of them if they weren't fulfilling a need. Put an encouraging voice in your ear to keep you on track.
31. Become a better writer.
Your work may have nothing to do with writing, per se, but how you string words together in emails, reports, and presentations plays a big role in how effective you are and the impression you make. Ask a friend with a flair for writing to edit a few of your pieces, highlighting their changes, so you can see what needs tightening up. No one like that comes immediately to mind? Here's an easy and effective tip: whenever you can, write a first draft, set it aside for a day, and then look at it with fresh eyes. You'll be able to quickly identify and address mistakes before sending it out.
32. If you're not the right person, refer.
When you're asked to pitch in on something that you know isn't for you--not your business, not your skill set, not your interest--suggest a person or other resource that you think would be a better fit. This isn't about passing the buck; it's about helping the asker find what he needs and passing along an opportunity to someone who has the potential to appreciate it.
33. Say the right thing after "I don't know."
Nobody enjoys looking stupid, but no one has all the answers either. At some point, you're going to be asked something you don't know the answer to. Rather than being mortified, or bluffing, all you have to do is admit you don't know the answer and then commit to finding it out. Throwing in a "That's a great question" or "I wonder who we could check in with on this" shows that you're open to identifying the holes in your knowledge.
34. Get ahead by being where you are.
If you were an employer, who would you want to promote? The person who is dotting every i in her current position? Or the person who is slacking because she's gunning for a promotion? Any time you want to move up to the next level, take impeccable care of your existing deliverables. It shows you are the kind of person who takes on and embraces responsibility, which always makes a favorable impression.
35. Negotiate better.
Negotiation is a collaboration, not a battle. Getting better at it is empowering and helps you get what you want. Here are some basic principles to make it less fraught: Seek to understand what the other party wants. Be creative in thinking up ways to meet those wants as well as your own. Listen more than you talk. If you accept less--a lower salary for example--ask for something in return--more time off, a more flexible schedule, etc. Finally, get comfortable with being quiet and waiting for a response. A successful negotiation is one that satisfies both parties--be patient, get creative, and get there!
36. Finish strong.
Athletes know that victory is often decided in the last few moments of a contest--the chest-thrust of a sprinter or the outstretched fingers of a swimmer mean the difference between gold and silver. While your work project likely isn't as once-in-a-lifetime as an Olympic event, learning to manage your energy so that you have some gas in the tank for the end stages will improve your results exponentially with only incrementally greater effort.
37. Work smarter, not harder.
The eighty/twenty rule--otherwise known as the Pareto principle for the late nineteenth-century economist Vilfredo Pareto who noticed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people--says that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts. Spend some time thinking about the simple actions that, when done consistently, result in big strides toward your goals--strengthening relationships with the 20 percent of your clients who generate 80 percent of revenue, for example, or making sure you get ninety minutes (approximately 20 percent of an eight-hour day) of focused time to produce your best work (no meetings or Facebooking allowed). Now make sure you prioritize those needle movers when planning what you'll get done in a day or a week. Small, meaningful steps taken with consistency can take you everywhere you want to go.
38. Set goals that stretch you.
If you only ever set goals that you know you can hit, you may never get out of your comfort zone, which is where the magic happens. Let's say you set ten quarterly goals: make one of them something that feels at least mildly impossible. "This might be crazy, but I would love to ________." Make it related to something that excites you, and give yourself permission to surprise yourself. Going after a big goal will stretch you. It will also make you stronger.
39. Develop your ability to focus.
The ability to focus seems a rarer commodity every year--the (potentially) good news is that as such, it's getting more and more valuable. Take stock of what you already know about creating the conditions for focused work, and educate yourself about some new techniques that help you get in the zone and do great work. Honing your ability to pay attention will help you stand out, make you feel less scattered, and serve you well in all your pursuits, at work and in the rest of your life.
40. Redefine winning.
There are many ways to think about "winning." It could mean that you've defeated someone else. Or it could mean that you've hit a personal milestone, or succeeded alongside a team. How do you define it? As motivating as it might be to want to crush your competition, you'll probably get a lot more gratification out of outperforming your previous efforts or succeeding with others than you will from vanquishing rivals.
41. Welcome questions.
When presenting your thoughts, whether in a formal presentation or in a team meeting, be sure to save time for questions. It's not the equivalent of a pop quiz that you could potentially fail, it's a chance to customize your thoughts to specific situations, which ultimately helps clarify your thinking. If someone asks a question you don't know the answer to, all you have to do is say, "I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to look into it further and get back to you." And then be sure to do so.
42. Think about how you present yourself.
Whether you think about it or not, the clothes you wear to work send a message about who you are and how you want to be seen. What do you want that message to be? Do you want to be seen as a trendsetter or buttoned-up? Do you want to blend in to the background or stand out? You don't need to be obsessed with your appearance, but do be thoughtful about what you're trying to convey.
43. Embrace the three stages of work.
Anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant can tell you that there are three distinct phases to cooking--prepping, the actual cooking, and cleanup. These three phases apply to any project. If you're planning an event, for example, there's the work required before the event, during the event itself, and then not only dismantling the space but also doing a postmortem so that you know what you can improve on next time. Being mindful of each phase and allotting time for each one boosts effectiveness and serenity, as knowing where you are in the process provides a certain level of peace.
44. Get more skillful at identifying problems.
Albert Einstein said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution." Einstein was noting that the problem has its solution buried within it. When you're faced with solving a problem at work, first put on your detective's hat and investigate the true nature of the problem. Does that other department have a personnel problem, or could this be a communication issue? Should you post a sign reminding people to shut the door completely, or should you replace the balky latch? When you consider a problem from many angles, your solution is much more likely to address the root rather than merely the symptom.
45. Plan your leisure time.
The thought of planning your time off may seem like an oxymoron--if it does, you may not be making the most of your personal time. Don't leave your recharge and recovery time entirely to chance--you and your loved ones want to enjoy it as best you can. Spending some time midweek thinking about what you want to do this weekend makes it much more likely that you will actually do those things. Don't worry, you don't have to plan every moment. You just have to give some thought to what you want to do and when you'll do it.
46. Book your work time.
Focusing on important work requires good chunks of time, which won't magically appear on your calendar if you don't schedule them. Each week, look at your schedule and decide beforehand when you'll be at your desk, working on producing your deliverables rather than, for example, attending meetings. Then schedule those blocks of time in your calendar and don't accept meeting requests or schedule phone calls in those hours.
47. Make time for your soul work.
Every job comes with a long list of responsibilities, but you have an obligation to do the work that speaks to your soul too, even if it doesn't show up anywhere on that list. When you plan your week, make sure to block out a chunk or two of time that you can devote to the work that's speculative--the proposal for the new project, or even the art you create on the side that keeps you a passionate and engaged person--because that energy will spill over into the narrower confines of your "job" too.
48. Tell her about the spinach.
Your after-lunch meeting is about to start when you notice a coworker has spinach in her teeth. Sure, it's awkward, but it would be much worse for her to realize after the meeting that it's been there all along. Tell her about the situation with as much clarity and lightness as you can, because surreptitiously gesturing toward her mouth will only make her confused. Stay with her long enough to let her know when it's completely gone.
49. Reach out to the new person.
Starting a new job is equal parts exciting and scary. You don't have to be best friends with every new teammate, but you can certainly be part of the group that makes her feel welcome. A great way to make a new hire feel at home is to give her a piece of paper with your email address on it, and say, "In case you have any questions you're too embarrassed to ask out loud."
50. Make a new pot of coffee.
Every pot of coffee will eventually meet its end. Many people will take that last cup and put the empty carafe back on the burner--not my problem! Be the person who takes the minute or so it requires to make a new pot, if for no other reason than because you'd hope someone would do the same for you. And hey--if it's the second-to-last cup, that legitimately isn't your problem!
51. Do your dishes.
If it's tempting to dump your empty takeout containers in the office sink so you can get back to work more quickly: resist that temptation. People really, really don't like this! Unless there is someone who is being paid to keep the kitchen clean, your dishes are your responsibility--think of it as the metaphorical equivalent of picking up your dog's poop. It's just the right thing to do. (Also: if the food in the fridge doesn't belong to you, eating it isn't your responsibility.)
52. Remember the mission.
When work gets hard, go back and reread the mission statement of the company. (If you work for yourself and you don't have a mission statement, write one.) Remembering the goals that the company is aiming to achieve can re-inspire you and help you take a bigger-picture perspective to whatever obstacle may be in your path.