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14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career

14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career

I have a friend whose parents can be a little “absent.” They will disappear for months on end – meaning they don’t answer calls or emails and don’t reach out or connect. And then all of a sudden they appear with an invitation to go to dinner at a fancy restaurant and they give him $500 to go shopping. This is what my friend calls The Grand Gesture.

Sure, it’s nice – but it wouldn’t be necessary if there were just some regular check-in’s and opportunities to visit together from time to time.

I see improving work performance and getting a leg up on your career in the same light. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference – and there are a ton of little things you can do, day in and day out, to make that difference you need when promotion time rolls around next quarter, next season, or next year.

1. Set Goals

Goal setting can happen anytime you need it – you can set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, quarterly goals…shoot, you could set hourly goals if productivity was that important in your work.

We all need something to shoot for, so give yourself that target with your goal setting.

Don’t forget to make your goals as “SMART” as they can be: specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented, and time-bound. Write them down, and get them done!

2. Visualize Your Future

This is just another way of goal setting, but a little more bigger picture.

Where do you want to be next year? In five years? Ten years? Is an advanced degree in your future? Do you see yourself in a President or CEO’s office?

Visualize that future – really see yourself in the position of your dreams! And spend some time writing about it.

Check out this one simple technique to help you better visualize.

3. Know What You Want

This is not the same as knowing what you DON’T want. Do you want to work evenings and weekends? No, that’s something you don’t want. Do you want to be an account executive? Okay, that’s better.

Before I became a mid-level manager, I used to say that I didn’t want to advance in higher education because I didn’t want to be that far removed from students. And that was keeping me in lateral positions, not allowing myself to grow.

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Once I reminded myself that I could make the choice to be more connected to students, I gave myself permission to pursue more promotions. And I figured out what I wanted. Then I went out and got it!

4. Invest in Your Own Professional Development

You may work for a company who will pay for you to attend conferences and seminars; and you may be lucky enough to work for a company that will pay for additional degrees and training programs. Or, you may not.

Either way – professional development IS an investment, whether you are spending your own money or just your time. And it’s an investment to consider seriously so that you don’t waste time or money.

What skills do you want to develop? Is there a career path you wish to follow? How and where will you find the information about these things?

Figure out where and how to get it – and if you must develop your own curriculum do get it done, so be it. Equip yourself with these work related skills will get you a successful career.

5. Read more

This is a little similar to the previous point, but reading is something you should be doing more of anyway. Mental Floss cites six scientific reasons why you should read more,[1] including longer life, relieving stress, and helping you transform as a person. More benefits of reading can be found here.

I don’t know about you, but I feel strongly that transformation can help you with that getting ahead in the workplace.

We’re not just talking about non-fiction stuff either. Fiction reading actually aids in that transformation, as you are potentially identifying with the characters and taking yourself to places and worlds you may not see…EVER. Nothing like a little transformation to improve your outlook on life and work.

The flip side of this is also to read more about your vocational field and staying current in your industry. The last thing you want to do when you’re looking to get ahead in your job is to look out of date and unfamiliar with trends and new insights.

Go ask your supervisor which industry journals you should subscribe to and see what she has to say about that. I’m pretty sure you’ll get a positive response.

6. Network Naturally

My former student and good friend Jeffrey Harrington at CSU-Chico started taking Campus Walks when he was still a live-in hall director in his early 20’s. Those daily walks didn’t always have specific direction to them…until they did.

Jeff started making connections all over the campus and people began looking forward to seeing him in their halls. He made connections and friendships that last to this day. And it’s all because he got up from his desk and took a walk.

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While you may not have the luxury of a college campus in which to stroll, there should be other options to network naturally and visit other floors, sections, or departmental areas where you can see people and be seen.

You might find a mentor, a new friend, or a different understanding of your organization that will give you a leg up when you are looking for that promotion next year.

7. Ask Questions

You don’t know everything about your job or your company already…do you?

Maybe you do, but if you know everything then you have no need for growth.

That’s not going to help you.

Next big department meeting? Ask about the new project that was just introduced. Next one-on-one meeting with your supervisor? Ask her how she landed in this field. Having coffee with one of your team members? Ask him what he likes most about working here.

There really is no such thing as a stupid question, especially if you ask it with sincerity. Generally speaking, people do like to talk about themselves, especially if they are asked about something they do well.

Be thoughtful and strategic – that’s a ton of free knowledge getting dropped on you.

8. Shadow a Big Wig

This one might be a little tricky – but ask your boss if any opportunities exist for you to spend a day with the Big Boss. Or maybe just your supervisor’s supervisor. Or find the time to sit in on the open Board Meeting or Executive Session that no one else from your peer group considers.

Just ask. The worst that can happen is you get told no. Then do one of the other things on this list.

9. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

One of the most humbling lessons in my early professional years happened when I worked in the Saint Louis area. I was tasked with finding off campus housing for about 20 MBA students from China. For some reason the idea of this project infuriated me, and I was not really motivated to succeed.

I secured the housing and made arrangements for my department to make the deposit payment. I was about to drive over to the complex to deliver the funds when my supervisor called with bad news.

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The President of our college learned of the housing location and was beside himself. Not only did the housing I selected not have full kitchens for the students, the complex was more than five miles from the campus and not on a decent bus route. I had created a horribly unwelcoming situation for these students who were paying incredible amounts of money to study in the United States.

All because I had a negative feeling about something and didn’t do my best work.

After praying for hours and hoping that I would not get fired, my boss told me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: “Solve the problem first, and have your feeling later.”

So what does all this have to do with getting outside your comfort zone?

I didn’t want to be the housing locator – this was not in my wheelhouse and I obviously didn’t think it was my job. So rather than look at the silver lining – a chance to engage with some international students and give them a welcoming living experience – I opted to kick the dirt and stomp around rather than embrace the chance to learn a new skill or make the college President feel at ease.

So when you have the opportunity to do something different, new, or foreign to your own current experience, jump on it. Make it glorious. And if it’s not, then lesson learned.

10. Ask for More Work

What? Who wants to do more work? I’m sure you probably don’t…but what if asking for more work gets you a prime seat on the next big project that’s coming down the pike? Or volunteering for that extra committee gives you the opportunity to meet the VP from another department? These are small examples that could lead to big things.

Don’t go crazy – pick your extras carefully. And don’t ever shy away from the chance to learn something new.

11. Control Your Calendar

Unless you have an assistant who makes all your appointments and schedules all your meetings, I’m pretty sure that you can go in and hold blocks of work time on your own calendar to get stuff done.

Make time for this at least three times a week and close your door so you can really knock out some important tasks without interruptions. Show your laser focus when you turn in your project one day (one week?) ahead of time and you aren’t having to stay late to get things finished.

12. Get More Sleep

Do I really have to explain this one? Sleep deprivation is bad for your health, which can also be bad for your bank account. Forbes magazine cited research stating that increased sleep led to a 5% wage increase in its participants.[2] Not too shabby.

And if the wage increase doesn’t convince you, consider these other ramifications of sleep deprivation:

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  • plummeting memory and productivity
  • learning abilities slow down
  • poor relationships with your teammates

Unless you know something I don’t, these don’t sound like ways to get ahead in your career. Get some more sleep, already!

13. Exercise

I’ve had 9 different jobs at 9 colleges in 7 states – and the jobs where I felt the most successful were those where I developed a consistent morning exercise habit as part of my daily routine. Whether I was going to the gym, running, or swimming, I felt more energized and much sharper on my exercise days.

Exercise improves your mood, lessens your stress, and can also boost your productivity levels in the work place. Take this to the next level and organize a softball, kickball (yes, this is not just for grammar school anymore) or volleyball league with your colleagues and peers. Or challenge your supervisor to a racquetball game. Or not.

14. Enjoy Your Work…Or Find Something Else

Do you love what you do?

No? Why not?

Then why do you still work there?

Has anyone asked you these questions? If you just asked them yourself and you can’t come to any conclusions, then it may be time for a change.

Take the time to reflect on how you landed in this particular gig. Make a list of pros and cons about the position. Evaluate your real feelings about the work. And talk to someone.

It’s never too late to start again if you are miserable. We have a gosh-darn-rock-and-roll-American right to enjoy our vocation.

Final Thoughts

Advancement is still available through some of the old fashioned ways: who you know or how many hours you work. But any combination of these little things, done consistently and over time, should give you an edge to improve your work performance and get ahead in your career.

Enjoy all the new things you will learn…the new friends you will meet, and the journey that comes with it. Either way, you can’t lose.

Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Kris McPeak

Educator, Author, Career Change and Work/Life Balance Guru

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important?

What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important?

Have you ever wondered why some can come up with amazing ideas while others can’t? The ability to connect the dots and see the larger picture all rest in a certain skill – creative thinking.

Creative thinking is our ability to look at ideas presented or a scenario, and find new alternatives that solve the problem. Best of all this skill isn’t bound to the creative people like designers, musicians, or other artists. A lot of people can benefit from thinking this way from time to time. They can also receive a number of benefits on top of a wide variety of ideas that can spark change.

What Is Creative Thinking?

Defined by the Business Dictionary, creative thinking is:[1]

A way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions (which may look unsettling at first). Creative thinking can be stimulated both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, and by a structured process such as lateral thinking.

Creativity is, therefore, our ability to form something new out of what’s presented. It’s our ability to think differently and provide new angles and perspectives to a solution.

This can translate to a new solution that wasn’t there or even the realization that a problem doesn’t need a solution at the moment or at all.

The Importance of Creative Thinking

True that many people may not care so much about new solutions or angles but that’s the point. Our brains have a natural tendency to fall into certain ‘shortcuts’.

Have you ever been in a situation where you hear or learn one piece of information and you use it all the time?

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I bet you have, since we don’t need to relearn how to use a knife or a fork.

That way of thinking does have its perks in those situations but has some drawbacks in other situations. This is especially true with problem-solving.

Creative thinking and creative thinkers are needed in those situations because it pushes out of that linear way of thinking. It encourages us to look at other perspectives and even open up to the idea of new solutions.

Creative thinking is also important for other reasons:

Thinking creatively provides immense freedom.

When we create, we have the opportunity to engage with the world without judging ourselves. It’s similar to what we felt when we were a child. Back then we didn’t care what people thought of us.

Creative thinking provides self-awareness.

We start to think with authenticity as we use our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This creates biases in our ideas, but we can learn to set those aside and deeply learn about ourselves.

We become more confident in our ideas.

Maybe right now, you don’t present ideas or your ideas get shut down. By tapping into creative thinking, we can build our confidence in our ideas and start to contribute to the group and our work at large.

What Are the Creative Thinking Skills?

Creative thinking isn’t barred to those who learn in creative fashions. Anyone can pick up creative thinking skills and use them to enrich their lives and those around them.

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Because anyone can learn this, there is no one “right” method or a set of skills you absolutely need. Some of us may need to strengthen one area while others may need to do more. Regardless, here are some skills that can complement creative thinking.

1. Perception & Empathy

Feeling surprised that this is one of the creative thinking skills? Being perceptive and empathetic works hand in hand with creative thinking. Being able to read the mood of a meeting or a discussion you’re having with people can help immensely.

This is key because there are times and places to share ideas. Specifically, you may find the best opportunities to share ideas when:

  • You’re facing a major problem or issue and can’t seem to find a way to proceed and solve it.
  • During times of change, when the future is more obscure than usual and you’re thinking of possibilities.
  • When there is a clear divide between what people think needs to happen. It’s especially needed when no compromises can happen without considerable effort.
  • When something new is needed and hasn’t been tried before.

Empathy also helps with how an idea is presented. Maybe in your workgroup, people aren’t always receptive to your ideas. However, there is that one person who always has a plan and people support.

Empathy is letting that person take “ownership” of that idea and be the voice behind the idea. In these sorts of scenarios, you build up more than empathy. It also builds the belief that your idea will prevail in the hands of someone else.

2. Analytical

Analytical skills help us in understanding many other situations outside of the social environment. Being able to read text or data and have a deeper understanding of what they mean will serve you in a variety of ways.

I find that with creative thinking, the first step is being able to intake information and digest it in various ways. Being able to analyze information is often the first step in the creative thinking process.

3. Open-Mindedness

Once you’ve taken in the information, it’s important that you have an open mind. This means you need to set aside your biases or assumptions and encourage yourself to look at a problem in a new way.

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Biases and assumptions are some of the mental barriers you’ll face. But looking at the other barriers, they often stem from that sort of thinking. A strict and “this is how it should be” way of thinking. Other examples of limitations are that you’re thinking of a problem too logically or that creative thinking is somehow breaking the rules.

These are limiting because we know that to have an open mind is to succeed. Every successful entrepreneur in the world today had to break rules at some point in their lives. Consider Richard Branson or Elon Musk whose work revolutionized or created an entirely new industry. All because they didn’t back down to how things were. You can do the same thing within your own group in some fashion.

4. Organized

The last thing people associate creative thinkers is that they’re organized. While we think of great minds have messy rooms or desks, that’s not the case at all.

Being organized plays a crucial role in creative thinking in that it allows you to better organize our ideas. Not only that, but it also helps to present it as well. When we present ideas, it’s similar to a speech. There ought to be a structure, a vision, and have it easy to follow and understand.

Furthermore, if your idea is given the green light, you’ll need to form an action plan, set goals, and have specific deadlines. Being organized will keep you on your toes and prepared for almost anything.

5. Communication

Communication plays a vital role in all this as well. You can’t sell a group or an individual on an idea if you can’t communicate effectively. This applies to both written and verbal communication skills.

This goes back to empathy a bit in that you need to understand the situation you’re in. This also means you need to be a good listener and being able to ask the right questions.

6. Dissect Ideas

The last skill I’ll offer is a challenging one but can pay off in so many ways. Sometimes creative thinking means taking two ideas and merging them.

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This helps because in most situations ideas in their base form might not be able to satisfy the original goal or problem. That or maybe the idea is outright terrible but, there are some good pieces of information in it.

The ability to look at ideas and be able to break them down and dissect them and merge with other ideas is a great skill to have. This could easily help solve disputes and help to find a middle ground.

Some Examples of Creative Thinking

The list of creative thinking examples is endless. In most situations, these examples will boost your creative thinking as well so I encourage you to try them out yourself:

  • Designing anything from a logo, to a simple webpage layout, to a poster and more
  • Creating a lesson plan for a group training course
  • Writing in a journal, a blog, or any social platforms
  • Creating a test or quiz from scratch just for fun
  • Brainstorming project ideas at work, or decor/renovation ideas at home
  • Finding procedures to improve the quality of a product or service
  • Suggesting solutions to improve a product or service

Bottom Line

The number of examples of creative thinking is endless but they are all challenging. This is a good thing as the world continues to change and grow. This pushes us to learn new skills, to think differently, and to start asking the more important questions. “Why?” and “Why not?”

These are skills and abilities that can change the world and that anyone can adopt. So long as you have the patience to learn and develop yourself, you too can be a creative thinker!

More Tips to Boost Your Creativity

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Business Dictionary: Creative Thinking

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