What’s the best way to become better at your job? We’ve run a number of stories with advice about improving performance. After looking over those pieces and brainstorming with Forbes Leadership Editor Fred Allen, I’ve put together ten tips that should help you get ahead in your current role.
1. Get organized. With the onslaught of email, texting, tweeting and everything else, it can be challenging to stay on top of your workload. We ran this story about conquering your email inbox, which recommends a system of prioritizing urgent items, dealing with short requests quickly, deleting junk and putting less pressing matters on a to-do list. One more tip: Consider imposing some discipline on email interruptions. Check your inbox once a half hour or once an hour, to give yourself time to complete tasks that require concentration.
2. Stop trying to multi-task. In 2009, a group of Stanford researchers released a study that showed how people who do heavy multitasking, keeping up several email conversations at once while texting, jumping from one website to the next and trying to work at the same time, do not pay attention as well as those who maintain a more streamlined work flow.
3. Put yourself in the mindset of your boss. We’ve run several stories about dealing with difficult supervisors. The most effective strategy: Empathize, and discover your boss’s style, so that you can imagine what he or she is looking for in an employee. We ran this piece about dealing with a younger supervisor, this story about a series of questions you can ask your boss, which will help you get to know her (what was her previous job? what are her career aspirations?), this story about dealing with a lousy manager (set an agenda, don’t yell back), and this piece about managing up a difficult boss (treat him like a difficult client). The overarching lesson: figure out your boss’s style and orientation and try to stay one step ahead.
4. Cultivate strong relationships with colleagues outside your immediate area of responsibility. In his best-selling book Getting More: How To Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World, Wharton Business School professor Stuart Diamond notes that “companies, even small ones, can be very political places.” Diamond recommends allying with people who can help you, including employees who have been there a long time and who may be overlooked by others, those who work in human resources, staffers in the information technology department, even security guards and cleaning staff who have probably absorbed much more about your firm than you realize. Diamond calls it “building your own coalition.”
5. Focus on listening. Listen to your boss of course, but also pay close attention to your colleagues and subordinates. At work we often feel like we have to perform by doing verbal gymnastics, but listening closely to what others say can be even more useful and can garner more appreciation from co-workers.
6. Get in early. Even 15 minutes can make a difference. If you can swing an early arrival, you will get a step ahead of the day’s tasks. You can even reward yourself later with a longer lunch break or a departure for home that comes earlier than usual.
7. Give yourself genuine down time. We ran a piece on the importance of vacation. That means time away from the office when you don’t check work email or let yourself think about the next project. It can give you a sense of control, of purpose, it can shake up your perception of time, offer the space to expand cultural horizons and allow the kind of relaxed break everyone needs to refuel.
8. Aim for clarity and precision in everything you do at work. If an email won’t convey the subtlety of your decision to push for a colleague’s ouster, then pick up the phone or visit in person.
9. Do plenty of research and preparation before you undertake any task. Don’t take up your boss’s time before you’ve performed lots of legwork. Prior to a meeting, rehearse your strategies and objectives.
10. Try some humility. Most career advice seems to encourage relentless self-promotion. But Orville Pierson, author of The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search, says when asking for a raise or promotion, it’s better to avoid strings of hyped-up adjectives and instead to describe your accomplishments simply, without embellishment.