Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

Advertising
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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

  • 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

Advertising

Reference

More by this author

Kris McPeak

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

14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career How to Switch Careers and Get Closer to Your Dream Job How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position 8 Impressive Questions to Ask During an Interview 6 Important Interview Questions for Employers to Ask

Trending in Career Success

1 How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build 2 How to Make the Career Change You Need (The Complete Guide) 3 How to Find the Right Career When You’re Undecided 4 How To Be a Self-Starter And Take Initiative At Work 5 How to Become a Motivational Speaker (Step-By-Step Guide)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 5, 2021

How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

Advertising
How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

I don’t know about you, but it was nearly impossible for me to be proactive at work last year.

Every week, I would map out my game plan and color-coded my calendar. But when I tried to set things in motion, I faced ten-foot barriers that would force me to change direction. I’d have to reschedule meetings, push deadlines back, and reorganize my life because of all the twists and turns. Pivoting became my life, and it was taking over every part of it.

When I think back to 2020, it was like trying to survive the Tour de France blindfolded. By the end of the year, I was worn out, and I was in no mood to organize my 2021 goals. Being proactive was the furthest from my mind. In many ways, I didn’t even want to dream about new projects.

When January 1st entered the scene, I crawled back under my covers and hoped for the best—or at least a year that would be more predictable with less pivoting.

You want to be hopeful for this year, but a part of you is afraid of another year filled with more barriers and you’re tired of trying to survive the chaos. You’re not alone.

Over 100,000 businesses have permanently shut their doors because of Covid-19.[1] Start-Ups aren’t getting a second chance.[2] And according to Pew Research, one in four adults still have a hard time finding money to pay their bills.[3]

This reality is not the most inspiring for those of us who are business leaders. If anything, it feels like the grim reaper is right around the corner to destroy our dreams and add us to the rising number of failed companies.

Being proactive is one of the most challenging things to muster right now. But it is one of the most imperative traits that we need to embrace.

But first, let’s be clear, what does being proactive mean?

Defining the Term “Proactive” In-Depth

The word proactive often floats around the workplace, usually by well-meaning managers asking employees or their team to, “Be more proactive!” But have you ever stopped to think about what that actually means?

The dictionary definition of proactive is, “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.”

Advertising

Being proactive is about dealing with any obstacles or challenges before they even happen. Simply put, a proactive person plans ahead.

For example, you’re buying an older home. The seller tells you that it has a sturdy foundation and an engineer confirms it. Most people would be satisfied with this answer.

A proactive person, however, would think beyond what’s presented and look into any potential issues. They may ask questions like, “How long is the lifespan of the foundation?”, “Is it earthquake ready?”, or “Does insurance cover the foundation?”

Depending on the answers, proactive people would respond accordingly and put safeguards in place to avoid these problems or minimise its impact. While it seems like a lot of resources and effort are spent at the beginning, it can actually lessen your stress and save you time and effort because you’re either preventing a problem or already have a solution at hand when the challenge arises.

This doesn’t mean that proactive people never have to put out fires on occasion. However, when you have a proactive mindset, most of the issues that come up seemingly out of left field are already something you’ve considered. And this makes you better equipped to handle situations calmly and enact a solution.

If you want your business to succeed this year, you need to be proactive at work. Situations around the world are constantly changing and you never know what the next month, year or even hour might bring and how it would affect your work. Planning ahead and preparing for the future is incredibly vital in our current climate.

Proactivity vs Reactivity

We can’t discuss proactivity without exploring the other side of the coin: Reactivity.

Being reactive is the complete opposite of being proactive. A reactive person doesn’t feel the need to address a problem until it’s already occurred. They simply react to a situation because it’s already there.

Spontaneity and the ability to address problems as they arise is important in leadership, and in life. After all, we cannot predict the future no matter how hard we try. But oftentimes reactive people encounter problems because they refuse to take action even though there have been warning signs of imminent trouble.

Reactivity also comes from a place of panic. Because you have not thought or planned ahead, you react instantaneously. You may not offer the best solution because you haven’t had time to fully review the situation, and maybe even create more problems.

It won’t be easy, but it will be a lot easier with the following practical habits that I’ve put together for you. These tools will make all the difference for you and your organization.

Advertising

7 Practical Habits to Turn Reactivity into Proactivity

Even proactive people can exhibit reactive behavior. No one is perfect and the corporate and business world can be unpredictable. But you can turn things around and be proactive even when you have not anticipated challenges that face you. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t Be Busy

Repeat after me: only do what is necessary—no more and no less.

If you’re anything like me, as soon as January 1st comes along, you cram in all your five-year goals into one packed year. You love seeing your schedule filled. But being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Being proactive requires you to take a step back, reevaluate your priorities, and actually take things off of your plate before adding new goals.

The brain is not designed to always operate at full capacity twenty-four hours a day.[4] It needs a break. If we’re constantly immersing ourselves throughout the day with frivolous tasks, then we don’t have time to concentrate on our goals.

This year, I’m taking a break from the chaos and learning to do fewer tasks with more investment.

Think of it this way. Planning takes time. It’s like painting an apartment. Before you can add color to the drab walls of your living room, you have to plan and prep the area. The same is true for being proactive at work.

2. Stop Trying to Run Everyone’s Race

If you want to direct the narrative of your life, you need to take a step back and get rid of the clutter. Figure out what you can delegate and then, focus your energy away from the distractions. Not every email needs a reply, and not every job is right for you.

Shakespeare said it best,[5]

“To thine own self be true.”

These six words need to become your mantra.

If you want to reach your goals this year and be proactive, you need to walk forward with laser focus. If you compare yourself or your business to the next big thing, you won’t contribute anything except a lesser copy of yourself and your organization.

Advertising

Part of being proactive is being creative. You have to be able to see the different angles and nuances in a situation or project in order to anticipate potential issues and come up with creative solutions. If you’re constantly looking over someone else’s work, you’re not focusing on what’s in front of you. And you could end up missing a lot of obstacles that you could’ve avoided if you were paying attention.

Stop looking around. Your purpose is not to run the race of someone else. If you want to be proactive at work, you need to stop comparing yourself to your neighbor and stick to running your own race. It’s the only way that you’ll win.

3. Make “Essentialism” Your 2021 Word

When you’re figuring out your 2021 goals, take time to weigh the cost. Ask yourself if it’s worth the investment. Being proactive means that you take into consideration all the variables before cementing your goals.

Before you map out your plan or get crazy with those highlighters, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Will this goal help create balance in my life?
  • Will this goal produce a return on investment?

If you can answer a resounding “yes” to both of these questions, then take these ideas and write them down on a piece of paper.

After you’ve compiled a list of 15 to 20 ideas, take a new sheet of paper and break it into two columns. The first section should contain a list of goals that take priority. These ideas would fall under the umbrella of being trend-related and financially profitable.

The second section should contain a list of goals that will increase your social proof and promote your priority goals. This column drives traffic and promotes awareness of your business and your product.

After you’ve compiled this list, break it in half and cut it down to three goals in each section. Three is the perfect number because it gives you leeway to pivot and bend if you need to make changes throughout the process.

The two excellent tools that have helped me develop a schedule of essentialism are Hilary Rushford’s Elegant Excellence Journal[6] and Jill Konrath’s book, “More Sales. Less Time.

Both of these tools have helped me focus on what’s important, make the best decisions for my business, and make a profit without sacrificing my health.

4. Order the Same Latte

When you look at the greats in the business world, they all encompass one thing: simplicity.

Advertising

If you minimize your choices and stick to the basics, you’ll have the ability to save time and focus your energy on decisions that require your creativity. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends not only sacrifices your time but also sacrifices your budget.

Remember, it’s not about looking successful. It’s about making choices that give you the ability to be successful.

Here are four things that you can do to save time to make you more proactive at work:

  • Buy multiples of the same outfit and mix and match throughout the week.
  • Order the same drink each day from the same coffee shop.
  • Prepare meals at the beginning of the week for lunch and dinner.
  • Set your alarm for the same time each morning, including weekends.

5. Don’t Pressure Yourself to Respond Immediately

It’s okay to be surprised or be blindsided. Sometimes things just happen that is out of your control. What you are in control of, however, is your reaction. There’s nothing wrong with not having a solution or response at hand. It’s okay to take a step back and think about it first before responding.

6. Put a Pin on It

If you find yourself being unable to come up with a good solution, you can put a pin on it. You may want to address another matter first, one you already know how to deal with. It may give you inspiration and confidence when you come back to your other issues. Unless of course the imminent problem is fire outside your door.

7. Prioritize What’s Important

The thing with problems that come up suddenly, is that they may have already caused damage you can’t reverse. You have to learn to accept the situation and instead of trying to solve the unsolvable, prioritize what’s important, see what you can salvage and take note of lessons that will help you in the future.

It’s impossible to be proactive if you feel rushed. But if you follow the above tips, you’ll gain more time in your schedule and have more energy to lead your business and operate with a well-organized game plan.

Final Thoughts

I think the majority of us are tired of feeling like we’re contestants in Survivor. After all, who wants to be filmed while living in the woods and surviving off of bugs and tree bark?

All kidding aside. This past year has been challenging. But we can learn a lot from these past twelve months.

If you want to be proactive, simplify your schedule, focus on your path, only take what you need, and be purposeful with your time and energy. Being proactive is not about filling up your schedule. It’s about creating balance in your life.

I know it seems daunting right now, and many of us are still trying to figure out how to pay this month’s rent with spare change from the couch. But if you take the time to prepare and figure out what’s a priority this year, you’ll not only meet your goals, you’ll enjoy the journey.

Advertising

You have all the tools you need to be proactive at work. Now, go map out your 2021 goals for the year!

More Tips on How to Be Proactive

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next