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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 24, 2020

50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

LinkedIn is an excellent platform to network with great people to help you in your career and businesses. However, with over 575 million people on the site, who should you follow? This list will steer you to the right people to follow, organized by categories of expertise.

Job Search Experts

You will likely have several jobs throughout the course of your career, and you will constantly need advice on new trends and strategies out there in the job market. Here are the LinkedIn experts who you should follow on these matters.

1. Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Her articles on job searching are filled with creative and colorful cartoons.

2. Lou Adler is the author of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.

3. Dr. Marla Gottschalk will help you make an impact in a new job.

4. Hannah Morgan runs CareerSherpa.net, where she gives expert advice on job searching and how to be more visible online.

5. Alison Doyle is the CEO and Founder of CareerToolBelt.com.

Management Experts

They say that people leave managers, not jobs. These experts in LinkedIn will help you become your employees’ dream manager.

6. Jeff Weiner. How can we leave out the CEO of LinkedIn himself?

7. Nozomi Morgan is an executive coach. She can help you transition from a boss to a true leader.

8. Mickey Mikitani is the CEO of Rakuten. He constantly shares his expertise in managing a global player in e-commerce platforms.

9. Andreas von der Heydt was the head of Amazon’s Kindle Content and now the Director of Talent Acquisition. He has extensive experience in management, branding, and marketing.

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Productivity Experts

By maximizing your productivity, you can win in all aspects of life. The following LinkedIn experts will help you win big in your career.

10. Gretchen Rubin is a happiness coach and the bestselling author of the The Happiness Project.

11. Carson Tate is the founder of Working Simply. She advises us to include play in our schedules.

12. Greg Mckeown is an essentialist. Part of being an essentialist is saying no to many things so that we can focus on the things that matter.

13. Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. provides strategies on how to be productive and happy at work at the same time.

Marketing Experts

14. Sujan Patel is VP of Marketing at When I Work, an employee scheduling software. He is an expert in content marketing and he even shares his ideas on content marketing in 2020.

15. Megan Berry is the Head of Product Development at Rebelmouse, a content marketing and AlwaysOn powerhouse.

16. Sean Gardner will help you navigate the social media landscape. This includes how to use different platforms to help accelerate your career. He is also the bestselling author of The Road to Social Media Success.

17. Christel Quek is an digital and marketing expert. She is the VP of South East Asia at Brandwatch. Their products help businesses utilize social media data to make better business decisions.

18. Jeff Bullas is a digital marketing expert. His blog has over 4 million readers annually.

19. Michael Stelzer is the CEO and Founder of social media powerhouse site, Social Media Examiner.

20. If you’re looking for inbound and content marketing expertise, follow Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO of Hubspot.

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21. David Edelman is a McKinsey partner and is at the helm of the Digital Marketing Strategy Practice Department.

22. Dave Kerpen leads the social media software company Likeable Local. He is the author of Likeable Social Media: How to delight your customers.

23. Clara Shih is the CEO of Hearsay Social and the author of The Facebook Era.

24. Aaron Lee is Grand Master of Customer Delight at Post Planner. He is an excellent resource for everything social media.

25. David Sable is the CEO of Y&R, one of the largest advertising firms in the world.

26. Content marketing trumps traditional marketing these days, and who else better to lead you in this area than Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute.

Personal Branding Experts

Part of what we market in our personal career is our brand. When people hear your name, what kind of brand comes into their mind? What traits and qualities do they associate with you?

Here are some personal branding experts from LinkedIn to improve your own brand.

27. Dorie Clark is the author of Stand Out and Reinventing You. He can help you craft the professional image you’ve always wanted.

28. Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding. If you’re a millennial, Dan is the guy to help you craft your personal brand.

Other Notable Experts to Follow

29. Lisa Gates is the expert to follow if you’re negotiating for higher salaries and promotions.

30. If you’re a Baby Boomer, Marc Miller will help you navigate the continually changing landscape of the workplace.

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31. To avoid getting your resumé moved to the “No” pile, read Paul Freiberger’s excellent advice.

32. James Caan provides insightful ideas on careers in general. He is also a serial entrepreneur.

33. Jeff Haden writes on various topics, such as leadership and management. He is the owner of Blackbird Media.

34. If you’re looking for expert business advice on getting new customers and keeping them, follow Jay Baer.

35. Suzanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, is a great human resources specialist.

36. If you need help in using Twitter to boost your career, Claire Diaz-Ortiz can guide you in the right direction.

37. Ryan Holmes is the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media management tool.

38. Customers are the lifeblood of a business and Colin Shaw focuses on revolutionizing this customer experience.

39. Brian Solis often reflects on the future of business and how technology can disrupt our world.

40. Nancy Lublin provides advice on more lighthearted topics, which are perfect after a long day’s work. She is the CEO behind Dosomething.org, a portal designed for social change; and the founder & CEO of Loris.ai and Crisis Text Line.

41. Katya Andresen provides advice on how to manage your career. She was the CEO of Cricket Media and now responsible for the SVP Card Customer Experience at Capital One.

42. Gallup has created a system to test what your strengths are and how to use them at work. Jim Clifton is the CEO of Gallup.

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43. Adam Grant is a Wharton Professor and the author of Give and Take, which provides advice on why being helpful at work can accelerate your career.

44. Hunter Walk is a partner at Homebrew Venture Capitalist Company and has specialty in product development and management.

45. If you’re running a nonprofit organization, follow Beth Kanter for expert advice on this area.

46. Emotional Intelligence is necessary to succeed in your career, and Daniel Goleman is your expert for that.

47. Rita J. King connects science, technology and business.

48. Tori Worthington Rose is a Creative Director at Mary Beth West Communications, LLC. She has extensive experience in sales and digital media.

49. If you’re looking for some advice on how to use writing and personal content marketing to boost your career, follow Ann Handley.

50. Tim Brown is the CEO at IDEO and shares his insights on Leadership and Creativity.

These are just some of the key thought leaders and movers in various industries. They will provide you with constant inspiration, as well as the willpower to pursue the career that you’ve always wanted. Their stream of expert ideas in their respective fields will help you become well-equipped in your professional pursuits.

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Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

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