You want to succeed in your job? You don't have tons of time for developmental seminars and you don't want to wait until the boss retires to get that promotion. Instead here are 10 easy things that will help your career today.
1. Stop worrying about your co-workers. Jane comes in late. Steve slacks off. Holly's presentations fall flat. What do all these things have in common? They are none of your concern. They become of concern only if you have to do extra because of them. If Jane's coming in late means you have to go to a meeting she's missing, then it's your problem, but if it doesn't affect you, ignore it. You'll be happier and better able to focus on your own work.
2. Give in to the boss's quirks. Sometimes you get a boss who is completely irrational about something. The boss wants everything done in Comic Sans, so just go ahead and do it. Your manager hates it when people wear jeans, even though it's not a violation of the dress code, so don't wear jeans. These things are mild annoyances, so just go with the flow. Your boss will be more likely to reward you for being such a good employee, even if it's just about wearing something other than jeans.
3. Show up on time. I'm a big believer in results, but lots of bosses love face time. They just assume that On-Time Olga is a better employee than Late Lisa. It doesn't matter that Lisa actually performs at a higher lever than Olga. If your boss values face time, be on time. Better yet, be in before the boss. (Even 30 seconds makes you look fabulous.) Yes, this is stupid. Still, it will help.
4. Take a vacation. I've just praised the effects of face time on your career; now I'm telling you to get the heck out of the office. You need some time off if you want to be your best. Make sure you take it. Remember, it's just as much a part of your compensation package as your salary is.
5. Take a risk or two. Try speaking up in a meeting, or suggesting a solution to a problem that isn't directly your responsibility (as long as it doesn't undermine your boss or your co-workers). Present a new idea. Prepare to be shot down, but go ahead and try. People will admire your initiative.
6. Look for the positive in everything. Whenever anything goes terribly wrong in our family, everyone responds by saying, "This will make a great story someday." And it does. After all, no one wants to hear, "I got up, went to work, checked my email, did a few spreadsheets..." They fall asleep before you get to the part about going to the company cafeteria for lunch. When bad things happen, remind yourself that this is not only a great future story, but also a great opportunity to learn something.
7. Take a class. Learn something new. Expand your horizons. This is especially critical for the older workers--not because you need to know more than your younger counterparts, but because people assume you aren't up to speed and aren't capable of learning new tricks. Learning a new skill just demonstrates that you can keep up with the best of them.
8. Give sincere thanks for criticism. One summer in college, I worked as a secretary for my dad's business. One of my tasks was to proofread his reports. (He's a real estate appraiser.) Whenever I found a mistake, either with grammar or a mathematical error, his response was the same: "Thanks for catching that." No defensiveness, no embarrassment that his 19-year-old daughter had found a typo. Just sincere thanks that I'd found a problem and fixed it before it went to the client. Start doing the same. Look, even if your boss is irrational (see number 2), you should be thankful she's telling you up front rather than blasted you in your performance appraisal.
9. Start exercising and eating right. You want to get ahead in your career? Be and look healthy. You'd think it would just matter if you "are" healthy and not what you look like, but the sad reality is people judge you by your weight and clothing choices. So, if you want to get ahead, you need to play the game.
10. Stop expecting others to manage your career. If you just sit there, working hard and smiling at all the right people, you're probably wondering why you didn't get picked for that special project, or why you didn't get the promotion you think you've earned. You have to speak up and let people know how you want your career to go. Bosses make all sorts of false assumptions--Jane doesn't want to travel because she has kids, Steve is quiet, so he doesn't want to move into management. If you don't speak up, they won't know their assumptions are false. (And don't be too judgmental about your boss--we all have to make assumptions because it's impossible to have full information on everything.)