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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 November 12, 2020

11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals

Thinking up a goal is the easy part. Pinpointing the specifics of a goal, developing a plan of action, and then following through with that plan of action and pushing past the inevitable obstacles that will arise is a different story altogether. As you can see, there are many reasons why we fail to achieve our goals.

Former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt is famous for having said:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

It would be easy to blame people’s avoidance of pain and difficulty for the fact that a great majority of goals fail to be met, but there has to be more to it than that, right? Well, there most certainly is.

Here are the reasons why we fail to achieve our goals and a few helpful tips to help you reach the goals on your own list.

1. Shifting Focus From Reward to Effort

Thinking about the end result and achieving the victory of reaching a goal is exciting: “Man, I can’t wait until I get that new job title” or “I’m going to look so good at the beach this summer” can be great motivators. It’s easy to start out full of energy and motivation at the beginning because our focus is on the end result.

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However, there’s a disconnect with our brain’s focus before we start our goals and after we actually begin. Before we start putting the work in, we’re focused on the reward. Then, slowly but surely, we begin to focus more on the effort (i.e. hard work) it takes to get that reward. The key is to redirect our focus back to the reward as often as it takes to push through.

2. Goals Are Undefined or Unrealistic

Perhaps you want to write a bestselling novel or become the next viral YouTube star. Well, that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but how do you plan to make any of this happen? Without a clear definition of your goals, they’re just wishy-washy fantasies.

If you’ve never read a book or written anything longer than a tweet, writing a bestselling novel is unrealistic. Likewise, simply saying you want to be a viral YouTube star is too vague without putting some specifications in place.

Give some definition to those goals by setting smaller goals along the way, like “join a writers group” or “make one new video a week.” This will help give you some focus while you work towards those loftier goals.

3. There Are Too Many Things on Your Plate

Having multiple goals at the same time is not a bad thing. However, having so many goals that nothing ever takes a priority will yield poor results all around. If you feel like you’re never fully accomplishing one task or can’t seem to recognize which things are a top priority, there’s a good chance you have set too many goals at once.

A lot of us like to think we’re masters of multitasking, but science says otherwise. Be careful not to overload yourself, learn to prioritize, and you’ll reach your goals faster.

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4. Poor Planning Derails All Efforts

Just about every goal is going to require at least some planning, and others are, of course, going to need extensive planning. If you neglect to work out the steps for how to actually get from point A to point B, well, you very likely will never make it to point B.

Maybe you want to increase your business’s customer base by 30 percent in the next year. Will you need to hire more staff to make this happen? What new strategies can be put in place? Do old marketing efforts need to be reworked or discarded? Asking/answering these sorts of questions in the beginning and along the way is crucial.

5. Losing Sight of the “Why” Factor

Let’s say that you must uproot your family and move to a new town for a job. If you have teenagers, they’re almost certainly going to put up some fuss. When the inevitable “why?” comes up, it might be easy to say they have to move because mom or dad has a new job and leave it at that. That’s the reason, but it’s not the why.

Perhaps the move means a higher income for a more comfortable lifestyle or the security of living in a safer environment. It’s easy to lose focus of the why factor when it comes to working towards a goal, and this can hinder progress. Make sure you periodically reexamine why you have that goal in the first place.

6. Excuses, Excuses, and More Excuses

Everybody makes excuses from time to time. Rattling off excuses on why a goal isn’t worth pursuing or didn’t work out is often easier than pushing forward. While some excuses may very well be valid, others are just total cop-outs.

Excuses are a convenience when it comes to abandoning a goal, but they’re also paralyzing. If not kept in check, excuses can derail every goal you attempt. If you feel yourself in danger of hitting the brakes on a goal, take a good look and ask yourself if the reason is valid or just a flimsy excuse.

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7. Fear of Failure

Not reaching a goal because of the fear of failure is crippling and an insecurity that can seriously hold you back in life. Nobody wants to fail, and a fear of failure often stems from a need for perfectionism.

The avoidance of taking risks, however, is no way to go through life. The good thing is that by looking at why you may have a fear of failing, you can learn to overcome it and avoid letting it sabotage your goals.

8. Failing to Anticipate Obstacles

Guess what? That fantastic, shiny goal of yours with the too-good-to-fail plan is almost certainly not going to go perfectly to plan. Problems arise, and obstacles get in the way—that’s just how the universe works. If you fail to plan for some of these problems ahead of time, they may just prevent you from reaching your goal altogether.

Try building in strategies and incentives for when you may feel yourself losing focus or run into problems. Having a rock-solid plan A is always a good thing, but a pretty good plan B isn’t a bad idea either.

9. There Is No Set Deadline

Whether it’s trying to learn a new skill or becoming a tycoon of industry, set a deadline for yourself, and write it down! You’re 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down[1], and if you don’t put a deadline on them, they’re not going to happen.

So why is a deadline so important for accomplishing a goal? It holds you accountable for your time. Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. Okay, when? If you set a deadline of June 1st, you’ll either meet it or you won’t, and a deadline puts the pressure on you to get up and get to work!

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10. Allowing Naysayers to Doubt the Goal

The bigger the goal, the more people you may have doubting that you can accomplish it. It’s easy to listen to the naysayers and allow their doubt to sidetrack and even derail your goals, and this can be why we fail to achieve our goals. There are always going to be critics and haters, and a lot of that negativity is rooted in jealousy.

Don’t allow their doubt to get the best of you, and, instead, use it as fuel for the fire to buckle down on your focus and forge ahead.

11. Procrastination Delays Goals

Abraham Lincoln reportedly once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Out of all the reasons why we fail to achieve our goals, none are as deadly as procrastination.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll start tomorrow or reach an obstacle in your plan and decide to handle it later. Too many times though, later never comes, and motivation dies out.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the best ways to beat procrastination is to publicly commit[2]. Most people want to avoid looking lazy or like a failure, and telling others we’re going to do something reinforces our brain’s focus on the reward.

How To Stop Failing Your Goal?

Here’s an expisode from the Lifehack Show where Jade dives into the actionable ways to stop failing and finally achieve your goal:

The Bottom Line

Accomplishing goals is seldom easy and can often take a long time and a lot of mental and physical sweat. Now that you know some of the reasons why people don’t reach their goals, you can improve your chances of crossing the finish line to victory.

More Tips on Completing Goals

Featured photo credit: Mael BALLAND via unsplash.com

Reference

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